Pillow Talk: It’s Not Worth Losing Sleep Over

Pillow Talk: It’s Not Worth Losing Sleep Over

It’s time to talk about a question that I get all the time. I get this question so often; in fact, I almost feel like there should have been a class when I was going through chiropractic school to help me to answer this question! I’ve had to do a lot of study through the years to give patients the answers that they’re looking for to this question: “Which pillow am I supposed to use, Dr. Merrill? How am I supposed to navigate this pillow stratosphere? I can get pillows in all these different places, all these different claims about what a good pillow is and what a good pillow isn’t. I need to know once and for all what the best pillow is.”


We are here to help you to figure out which pillow is best for you. Before we start talking about pillows, though, we need to go over sleeping postures. We need to talk about how you sleep, because that’s going to help us to determine what pillow you should be using. And while we’re on the topic of sleep, I hope you’ll take a look at my blog post about choosing the best mattress for you and optimize both your mattress AND pillow choices!

Side sleeping is the most common, and it’s what we recommend because the research says that it’s the best for you. It can help to prevent snoring. It can help prevent gastroesophageal reflux, and it’s also the best posture for our pregnant patients.   The downside is if your arm starts to go to sleep or you start to get shoulder issues. If you’re a side sleeper and you’re on a hard surface or sleeping with your arm underneath you, have you ever woken up and your arm’s asleep? That’s because you’re compressing that neurovascular bundle while you’re sleeping. One of the easier tricks to fix that is actually to hug a pillow when you’re on your side. That’s going to help to keep your shoulders and your arms in the right position.

Sleeping on your back would be the second-best sleeping posture. Unfortunately, it does encourage snoring just a little bit. Many patients can’t seem to find a good, comfortable position because when you’re lying on your back, your mattress has to be extra supportive to keep the nice curvatures in your spine. So having the right mattress is really important if you’re going to be sleeping on your back.

Stomach sleeping would be the least recommended. We do not recommend sleeping on your stomach. It has been shown that it’s bad for your neck because it turns your neck from one side to the other while you’re sleeping. It also reduces your spinal curves, which can make you more prone to have disc herniations.

 So first, you need to figure out your sleeping position. And if you don’t know, it’s easiest to ask your partner. But if you don’t have a partner, or if they’re not willing to tell you what position you’re sleeping in because they’re tired of jabbing you if you’re snoring, you can get crafty. Do whatever you need to do to figure out what position you typically sleep in. If you’re waking up in a certain position, that’s probably a good place to start.


Once you’ve determined your sleeping position, you need to get yourself a sleep tracker, either a Fitbit or a smartwatch. Testing for how well you sleep is better nowadays than it has ever been before. Get yourself some sleep tracker before you start doing some of this other testing with pillows. Otherwise, you’re never going to know what worked and didn’t work. Just saying, “Oh, I woke up great one night, and I didn’t have pain one day,” is not a very good way to test some of this stuff.


Third, we want to test. We actually want to change our pillow. Researchers agree that you’re supposed to change your pillow every two to four years. I can’t tell you how many patients come in, and they’re like, “What pillow should I be using?” And I say, “What pillow are you using?” And they say, “I don’t know.” I say, “How old is that pillow?” They say, “I don’t know. It’s old,” From high school, maybe, right?

When you’re changing it up, you want to find a pillow that you can test. I actually like the MyPillow. I have a few MyPillows because they’re adjustable just a little bit. I’m more of a back sleeper, and this thing is paper-thin when you crush it all the way down. And it works for me because I sleep on my back.

For a lot of our patients, we’re actually recommending the D-Core pillow. I like it, but I don’t love it. It’s designed for side sleepers, and this thing is solid, four or five inches across maybe. What it is doing is helping to keep good posture between your neck and your shoulder when you’re sleeping on your side.

Keep in mind while we’re doing some of this testing and changing out pillows, the name of the game is sleep. I love when you wake up, and your neck feels better, your back feels better, everything else. But it can’t be at the expense of sleep. So one of the things that Dr. Bass, my associate doctor, and I talk about here in the office a lot is when we’re correcting pillows, we’re trying to help somebody’s posture in the evening while they’re sleeping by changing out their pillow for one of these guys. We don’t want too much discomfort for the sake of correction.

Sleeping posture is essential, but getting enough sleep is much more important. If you look at all of the research put together for sleep, it easily outweighs any amount of comfort that you might get from different sleeping postures and sleeping patterns. So that’s where we’re going to use our sleep tracker to make sure that we’re not feeling better at the expense of sleeping worse. I recommend my patients get out there and get testing because that will allow you to figure out the pillow that’s best for you, not what pillow I think is best for you, but what pillow actually works the best for you.

About Dr. Merrill

headshot of Dr merrill
Dr. Andrew Merrill is a passionate active clinician and owner of Nightlight Chiropractic Orlando where him and his team treat hundreds of patients each month. With a strong background in exercise science from Stetson University, clinical skills from Palmer College of Chiropractic, and continued postdoctoral training in spinal disc injuries and clinical nutrition, Dr. Merrill is very well versed in the healthcare landscape. With topics ranging from "what to do for common ailments" to "why the medical system is failing you" Dr. Merrill and this blog in particular aim to keep readers up to date on what the research shows and how you can put it into practice NOW to keep yourself healthy for a lifetime.