Every good day starts with a good night’s sleep, so it’s time to upgrade how you catch your Zs. This time, we’re not talking about your mattressor the thread count of your sheets (although those are all cozy bedroom details to consider). Today, we’re talking about your pillow.
The pillow you choose can make all the difference between springing out of bed well-rested and spending the morning trying to massage away the kink in your neck, just so you can turn your head. But with the hundreds of options out there, choosing the right pillow can be tough. Best side sleeper pillow consumer report.
Many people—sleep experts and average Joes and Janes alike—swear that memory foam can be the key to a great night’s sleep. Originally developed by NASA, it is made of polyurethane that manufacturers say offers customized support. On the other hand, there are people who claim the pricey pillows are nothing but a waste of money. So what’s the deal?
Pros and cons of memory foam pillows
“People are drawn to memory foam for all sorts of different reasons, but one of the biggest attractions is the way the material conforms to pressure,” says Logan Block, director of content at Sleepopolis, an independent sleep product review website. “Memory foam is engineered to conform to your head and neck, securely cradling you in a way that helps your head to stay in healthy alignment with your spine.”
Dr. Allen Conrad, a chiropractor in North Wales, PA, agrees, saying that the contoured support “helps reduce neck pain when you wake up.”
But not every expert we talked to is such a fan of memory foam pillows.
“They can be good depending on the state of your neck and the quality of the pillow itself,” says Dr. Lev Kalika, DC, owner of New York Dynamic Neuromuscular Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy in New York City. “If you have a bad neck posture, which causes neck pain, the memory foam pillow should not be used until you are able to stabilize your cervical vertebrae … because if you have very poor alignment, the memory foam may take you back to poor alignment.” Best side sleeper pillow consumer report.
Characteristics of a good memory foam pillow
Memory foam pillows are not all created equal. Individually preferred sleep positions vary, as does the type of pillow you need.
If you sleep on your side, you’ll need a taller pillow to compensate for the added height of your neck and shoulders. Stomach sleepers, on the other hand, need a much thinner pillow to keep their head from being lifted higher than its natural position.
According to Kalika, you should buy a memory foam pillow that offers height adjustment, so you can ensure that your pillow is always exactly the right size for you. Best side sleeper pillow consumer report.
But height isn’t all you’re looking for.
“Quality memory foam pillows are going to use high-density foams, which are going to feel thicker, provide more support, and allow for great pressure relief,” Block says. “Higher-density foams will also be a bit more durable, allowing the pillow to last longer.”
He also says a great memory foam pillow will include gel infusions to combat heat trapped in the pillow.
Attention side sleepers: Regardless of whether sports are part of your active lifestyle or limited to your dreams, catching ZZZs with a pillow-gone-flat can predispose you to shoulder injuries similar to those once suffered by elite athletes and Maria Sharapova.
Nightly use of your hands or a shoulder to compensate for a pillow that is too flat to keep your head, neck and spine comfortably aligned while you sleep, places stress on your rotator cuff – the bundle of tendons that surround and keep your shoulder joint in place.
“People will be surprised to know that many rotator cuff tears originate with improper sleep habits,” says Dr. Gregory Primus, an orthopedic surgeon at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago. Best side sleeper pillow consumer report.
Over time, sleeping on the same side and in the same position with an improper pillow can place enough pressure on the shoulder tendons and underlying bone to cause a tear, Dr. Primus says.
Fortunately addressing poor sleep habits minimizes wear and tear on the rotator cuff and making muscles more susceptible to injury, he says.
Dr. Primus advises side sleepers to choose a firm pillow with enough cushion to comfortably lift your ear slightly above the shoulder, without needing your hands to elevate your head or a shoulder to support the pillow under your head. The best pillow for side sleepers will vary, depending on the sleeper’s height, weight and body type.
“Finding the right pillow for you may take some trial and error but the health benefits are worth it,” he says, adding that the wrong pillow can cause headaches, neck pain and allergic reactions.
Additionally, Dr. Primus suggests alternating between sleeping on your left and right sides to minimize potentially damaging pressure on your shoulders. Minor shoulder pain can be treated at home with cold packs, exercise and if necessary, over-the-counter pain medications.
Dr. Primus warns that some rotator cuff injuries are degenerative and caused by long-term overuse. Best side sleeper pillow consumer report. He recommends seeing your doctor for shoulder pain that is severe, restricts movement of your arm or lasts longer than four weeks, despite brief bouts of rest.