We spend a third of our lives in bed, so it’s important to be comfortable. Sleeping comfortably can revitalize energy levels, promote wellbeing, reduce pain, and improve posture. The positions we sleep in and the pillows we sleep on play a key role in determining the quality of our sleep.
For some, memory foam pillows can dramatically improve the ergonomics of sleep. 20% of the U.S. population are dissatisfied with the quality of their sleep. In a quarter of cases, back and neck pain are blamed as the source of sleep disruption. For many sleeping on a memory foam pillow can effectively treat back and neck pain -and prevent it from reoccurring.
Sleeping on a memory foam pillow adjusts the body, so it’s in an optimal position. Switching to a memory foam pillow can achieve short-term, immediate improvements to sleep. Also, they can promote many health benefits.
Originally developed by Aero Engineers in 1966, memory foam is now widely used in the construction of mattresses, pillows, and shoes. The polyurethane material is susceptible to temperature and pressure.
When placing your head on a memory foam pillow, warmth and pressure encourage it to ‘mold’ to your body. The foam ‘remembers’ the imprint, so after you’ve woken it will not return to its original structure immediately.
They are quite a lot firmer than feather or fiber pillows. However, once they’ve been ‘molded’, they take on a bespoke shape that is comfortable for the individual. As such, they can dramatically improve the ergonomics of sleep.
Because of its sensitivity to heat, memory foam can become particularly warm. Some people find it difficult to adjust because they feel overheated at night. However, newer forms of memory foam have been designed which offer improved temperature regulation.
It’s common to sleep with two or three fiber pillows stacked on top of each other. However, when it comes to sleeping on a memory foam pillow – one is more than enough. It should be placed as flat to the bed as possible. On the top of a standard memory foam pillow, there are two ‘curves’ or ‘waves.’ You should ensure the larger curve is closest to the foot of the bed.
They are not typically recommended for people who like to sleep on their front. Sleeping on your front on a memory foam pillow can cause the neck to become unusually elevated which can lead to neck ache.
According to the Sleep Journal, it’s healthiest to try and sleep on your side. It’s also acceptable to sleep on your back if adequate support is provided to the neck – though people suffering from a condition called sleep Apnea should always try their best to sleep on their side. Some manufacturers have designed memory foam pillows to suit specific sleeping positions, such as front sleeping. It’s advisable to follow any instructions provided by the manufacturer and take specialist advice if you are concerned.
As mentioned, when first using a memory foam pillow, it can feel a little firm and uncomfortable. As the heat from your body slowly warms the pillow, you should feel your head, neck, and shoulders relaxing into the pillow. Try to ensure your head and neck are not too cold when going to bed. The warmer you are, the quicker you’ll be able to ‘mold’ your pillow into its required position. If, after several nights, the pillow feels too stiff and is making you uncomfortable – do not persevere. They are not for everyone!
As they can be heavy, specialists warn these pillows are not suitable for children under eight years old.
Some who’ve tried them claim they could never go back to sleeping on a conventional pillow. However, others are not so convinced about the benefits of memory foam. Are memory foam pillows better than feather or fiber pillows for improving sleep?
We’ll discuss 8 key benefits of sleeping on a memory foam pillow and let you decide.
Approximately 40% of adults snore. Snoring can interrupt sleep and negatively impact the sleep of others in the household. A memory foam pillow may reduce snoring because it supports and encourages effective breathing.
Snoring can be aggravated by a variety of factors. Sleeping on one’s back is a leading cause because, in this position, the tongue slips into the back of the throat and partially restricts air flow. In their book, ‘Snoring and Destructive Sleep Apnea,’ researchers found that raising the neck and chin with a firm pillow or neck brace helped improve breathing and reduce snoring in most cases. There are also ways to block out snoring.
This research might suggest that propping oneself up with a pillow will be useful for preventing snoring, so long as the chin and neck are raised. Although this may be true, propping oneself up with lots of soft fiber pillows can cause strain on the lower back.
One of the benefits of a memory foam pillow is that it encourages alignment between the head and the spine. When these are in the alignment, the chin remains high enough to support adequate air flow, but the spine remains relaxed and neutral. As such, sleeping with a memory foam pillow or neck brace will help discourage snoring in a way that’s healthy for the spine.
Also, allergies have been known to cause snoring. Memory foam material is hypoallergenic, so there’s a very low risk of it causing an allergic reaction.
Approximately a quarter of all sleep disturbances are caused by orthopedic pain. Orthopedic pain refers to any disease or injury caused to the musculoskeletal system (i.e., joints, muscles, bones). Pain can be caused by poor posture, intense exercise or post-operative damage.
Fiber and feather pillows are soft and provide little support to the head and neck. Because of their composition, the head can easily slip off the during the night. So, even if someone falls asleep in an ergonomic position, there’s every chance that this will change during the night.
In contrast, memory foam pillows provide a high level of support, so they reduce pressure on muscles, bones, and joints. For example, if someone had a shoulder injury, it would not become aggravated during sleep because most of the pressure would be relieved. At best, it can encourage an injury to heal faster. At the very least, it should soothe the area and reduce pain.
A paper published on NCBI found that sleeping on a specialist pillow (memory foam and cervical pillow) was an effective treatment for neck pain – especially when combined with other forms of treatment such as massage, exercise, and manipulation.
Chiropractors believe that supportive pillows can improve posture because they help to align your spine. Good posture is essential for wellbeing and prevents neck and back pain from developing. It is likely to be a good investment in overall orthopedic health.
The spine consists of seven vertebrae and is a very flexible part of the body. In most cases, the spine should be a slight ‘C’ curve or a lordotic curve. This will strengthen the back and improve posture. If the spine is imagined as a ‘C’ – the hollow of the C can be thought of as the neck.
Traditional pillows do not always encourage a ‘C’ curve. Often, fiber pillows are too flimsy to support neck elevation. This can have a negative impact on posture and spine health.
It should be noted that there are ‘custom made’ pillows prescribed to encourage a healthy lordotic curve. These are referred to as ‘cervical cushions.’ Much like custom orthotics, they are made especially for the individual to take into account the current curvature of the spine. These can be an expensive option as they require specialist intervention. Many argue that they offer a similar degree of spine support for a lot less money.
Fiber pillows require frequent re-adjusting throughout the night as they become flattened, moved or displaced. This can cause restlessness and frustration.
Memory foam pillows are firmer and heavier than standard pillows so are less likely to become displaced. Also, because it’s protocol to use one memory foam pillow, you won’t need to worry about waking up in the night to rearrange the pillows. Moreover, because you have only one pillow to worry about, your bed will be less cluttered – allowing you to focus on getting a good night’s sleep.
Because they relieve pressure on the head and shoulders, the body is less likely to experience discomfort while sleeping. As such, there’s no need to reposition the body to relieve pressure points.
When the spine is aligned, and the chin is sufficiently elevated, this allows the shoulder blades to melt away from the neck towards the feet. This relieves tension in the shoulders and stops them from becoming tight.
Workers who spend a lot of time at a desk or a computer tend to have tight or hunched shoulders. As such, a memory foam pillow may be particularly helpful for relieving the tension and poor posture brought on by occupational stressors.
Many yoga poses focus on elongating the neck and pulling the shoulder blades down – such as Bow Pose (Dhanurasana) or Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Studies have shown that yoga is useful for healing pain-related sleep disturbances. This is because yoga encourages positive posture and body alignment. Memory foam pillows are likely to help in a similar way by preventing hunched shoulders developing into disruptive shoulder pain.
Although they may be slightly more expensive than conventional pillows, they are highly durable and can last 5 years or more. Fiber pillows can disintegrate and become flattened or baggy over time.
When the temperature is cold, they do tend to ‘firm’ up. However, once body heat and pressure are applied, they’ll soon mold into shape and provide firm yet comfortable support. Incidentally, they are also low maintenance because they don’t need fluffing or rearranging.
In addition, they provide consistent support because they adapt to your changing needs. If you suddenly develop a shoulder strain or neck ache, there’s no need to go out and buy further pillows or modify your sleeping arrangements. Because memory foam molds to your body, it will accommodate new injuries and provide effective support whilst you sleep.
When sharing a bed with your partner, it can be particularly disruptive if one person tends to move a lot in their sleep. As mentioned, memory foam pillows encourage restful sleep by relieving pressure and reducing the need to toss and turn.
However, if there is a small degree of movement, the sturdy foam will help to absorb this movement. This means that a partner sharing the bed is less likely to be woken up by any reverberations.
Many doctors, chiropractors, and sleep charities recommend sleeping on your side. Sleeping on your side helps protect the spine and neck and can alleviate symptoms of sleep apnea. Sleeping on your side can also prevent heartburn and improve circulation.
Many people find it difficult to sleep on their side using conventional pillows because they don’t feel their neck and head are supported. However, it’s often reported that sleeping on the side is much more comfortable.
Some people feel that they are too warm to sleep on. Since its conception, improvements have been made to improve the ‘breathability’ of memory foam. Second and third generation foams now use gel particles which help dissipate body heat.
Also, some pillows are covered with rayon. This is helpful for absorbing body sweat during sleep. As such, this issue can be avoided by purchasing good quality, modern formulations of memory foam.
They often have a chemical smell when purchased. Manufacturers recommend ‘airing’ the pillow for a couple of days to dissipate this smell. However, some people claim the smell lingers for a lot longer than this. Companies have tackled this issue by adding Aloe Vera or aromatherapy oils to their pillows to mask smells and aid sleep. If you’re worried about the smell, it may be worth considering one of these options.
Finally, if you sleep in a cold environment – perhaps near an open window – a memory foam pillow may not be suitable. In cold environments, memory foam becomes very firm and will take longer to ‘mold’ to your shape.
According to chiropractors and sleep specialists, comfort, support and safety should be your main priorities when choosing a pillow. Customers are more likely to focus on the cost, durability, and aesthetics of a pillow. We’ll conclude by considering which type of pillow ticks the most boxes.
Memory foam pillows – particularly those that feature ‘3rd generation’ gel technology – can be quite expensive when compared to fiber pillows. However, only one pillow is required when sleeping on memory foam, whereas most people purchase two or even three fiber pillows per person.
Also, a good quality memory foam pillow can last five years or more. As such, many argue the overall cost of memory foam pillows is no more than conventional ones.
The issue of ‘comfort’ has people divided. When choosing a pillow, you should consider whether you prefer a firm or soft model.
Those who find ‘firm’ fiber pillows comfortable will generally transition well to memory foam pillows. However, those who like to sleep on soft or thin pillows will find a memory foam pillow challenging to begin with. Whereas conventional pillows are comfy from the get-go, memory foam pillows may take some getting used to.
Although the clinical evidence is limited, most people would agree that they promote better orthopedic health than conventional pillows. Conventional pillows are less able to support the spine and neck. Even if traditional pillows are stacked in an optimal position to support the spine, they can become displaced throughout the night.
They can last for five years or more, so they are highly durable. Good quality conventional pillows can also last a long time, though they will tend to lose their ‘bounce’ after a while. As such, many consider memory foam pillows to be the better investment.
They prevent tossing and turning by aligning the spine and relieving pressure within the body – they promote restful sleep.
Nonetheless, large numbers of people achieve deep and restful sleep with regular pillows. For some people, indulgent feather pillows provide the most relaxing conditions for sleep. To decide whether one will offer you the best chance of rest, consider whether you favor indulgence or practicality.
They can look quite clinical. Depending on your tastes, they may not coordinate with the overall aesthetics of the bedroom. Conversely, conventional pillows, stacked in columns of two or three, can offer a plush and indulgent feel to the bedroom.
Companies are designing more modern and attractive versions of the pillow, and some people do value the ‘minimalist’ style that they offer.
They are not considered suitable for the whole of the family, particularly young children. Because of their weight, it’s possible they would become an asphyxiation hazard. Babies younger than 18 months do not typically use a pillow. As they get older, it’s likely that a light and conventional pillow will be most suitable.
There have been some concerns raised over the safety of memory foam and its flame retardant covering. Polyester pillows do not require a flame-retardant covering as they are slow-burning. As such, it could be argued that conventional pillows present less of a risk to long-term health.
However, more research is needed to confirm the hazardous qualities of flame retardant coverings. For those concerned about this risk, there are also pillows on the market made from wholly organic products, but which mimic the effects of memory foam.
On balance, it seems that they are a beneficial and cost-effective sleep aid for most people! Memory foam pillows are likely to invaluable for people with poor posture or orthopedic complaints.
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