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What type of pillow should you use - can a good pillow help reduce neck pain?

As we all know, sleep is very important to us. We sleep for about a third of our lives and it is how our bodies recharge. Many people suffering from neck pain or headaches ask themselves whether they have the correct pillow or should change size, material or position.

There are literally hundreds of pillows out there, so you might get stuck with analysis paralysis: Which pillow is right for me?

Before we can answer this question, we need to know a few important things: what is your sleeping position, what size of person are you and which mattress are you using? A 100kg person who sleeps predominantly on their back on a soft surface will need a different pillow compared to a 50kg person who sleeps predominantly on their side on a hard surface. Let’s start with sleeping position:

Sleeping position

Sleeping position

Sleeping on the side

In this position, the pillow should fill up the space between the shoulder and the head. The bigger the person or the wider the shoulders, the bigger the gap will be between the shoulder and the head. Hence, different pillows will be required depending on your individual needs. As a golden rule, it’s better to have a pillow that is slightly too thin compared to a pillow that’s too high.

When laying on the side, your shoulder will also roll a bit forward, so the gap between the shoulder and head will be reduced by that.

Sleeping on the back

When laying or sleeping on the back most of the time, there is no need to have a thick pillow, for everyone! A small or low pillow can be used, but a thick pillow is not recommended, as it will put strain on the neck. A high pillow can act as some kind of brace, which will push the spine in an unnatural, flexed curve.

Sleeping on the tummy

When sleeping on the tummy, no pillow is required. This position is the least recommended position, as the neck or cervical spine will be twisted in rotation (either left or right) to be able to breathe. Because of that, the discs in between the vertebrae (bones in your spine) will not be able to recover well. A disc is filled with fluid (it’s actually 90% of fluid); during the day this fluid will slowly reduce because of the compressive forces of sitting, standing, being active, etc…

During the night your discs should slowly recover, to be ready for the next day. When your neck is twisted for extended periods of time, this process will not be optimal and after months / years of tummy sleeping, neck issues can occur.

So there are basically 3 good sleeping positions: the back, the left side and the right side. Ideally, we should move and turn regularly during our sleep. On average, people tend to turn about 35 - 40 times a night, this is normal. Just like we would switch positions during the day to stay comfortable, we need to turn at night to shift the load.

Size of the person and mattress

For the purpose of this blog, we will not go too deep into the mattress quality and specs. Generally speaking, the softer the mattress, the more you will sink in and the lower your head will go towards the mattress. Hence, a thinner pillow will be required.

A harder surface (mattress or other material) will let you sink in less, so the gap between your shoulders and head will stay bigger, and a thicker pillow will be needed to give your head and neck a comfortable position.

As mentioned above, the size of the person will also have a big impact on the choice of pillow: bigger people with wider shoulders will need a higher pillow compared to a smaller person.


There are 3 main types of material used for pillows:

- Feathers / down

- Latex

- Foam.

All 3 will feel different and have their own pro’s and con’s. Feather pillows can be squeezed in a preferred position, but are potentially allergen and can be more expensive. Foam pillows are hypoallergenic and can mould to your body shape, but they are firm and they might feel hot in summer. Latex pillows are durable, give you good support and are also hypoallergenic.

The ideal pillow

This is personal preference, there is no right or wrong or one fits all. As long as you take these tips into consideration and keep a neutral position of the spine…


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