The basic rule of thumb when deciding on the type and number of pillows you need is to make sure your head is in alignment with your body when you are in bed. This will depend on the position you sleep in, so if you are on your back then you will want a thinner pillow which supports your head but does not push it forward. If you lay on your side, then you need the pillow to fill the gap between the mattress and your ear.
Ask yourself these 3 questions to find the right pillow for you:
Do I need a new pillow?
The normal lifetime of a pillow is 2-4 years (less if it’s particularly poor quality). Over this time they becoming increasingly less supportive for your neck. There are a few signs you should keep an eye for that will indicate whether your pillow needs changing:
Is your pillow discoloured? All of us sweat when we sleep which over time can stain our pillow cover and leads to the build up of bacteria in the filling. If you’re pillow is turning yellow, it’s time to go.
Do you wake with a stiff, achy neck? It’s likely your pillow was either wrong for you in the first place or that it’s no longer able to support you properly.
Are you waking up sneezing or with a running nose? This can be a sign of allergies brought about by dust mites in your pillow which build up over time.
What position do you sleep in?
The whole purpose of a pillow is to support your neck in a neutral position all night (i.e. keep your neck positioned directly over your shoulders as it should be when standing) so the way you lie at night often dictates the correct number and type of pillow you should have.
If you sleep on your back then you should have one fairly soft pillow which gently supports your head and neck.
If you sleep on your side then you need a pillow that will fill the gap between your mattress and your neck. For people with broad shoulders, particularly men you will often need 2 soft pillow or a large but firmer pillow to ensure your head is supported and aligned with your spine.
For those that change position throughout the night, one fairly plump feather pillow is ideal as it will let your head sink into it when you lie on your back and can also increase its volume to support you on your side.
If you have children then ideally they should start sleeping on their back with a thin very soft pillow to avoid any neck strain.
We advise against sleeping on your front due to the rotational stress that puts on your spine.
Do I need a firm or soft pillow?
In many ways this comes down to personal preference. If you are using a natural pillow filling such as feather or down the ratio of feathers (which give firmness) to down (which give softness) will determine the overall feeling of the pillow. Feather pillows are ideal as they are very comfortable, supportive and mould to your shape.
If you suffer from allergies then a non-allergenic filling such as hollow-fibre may be best for you. In this case it’s important not to buy a cheap pillow as these tend to get lumpy and uncomfortable much more quickly.