Why the right pillow is important
The wrong pillow isn’t just a source of discomfort. If your neck is in an uncomfortable position for a long time, it can lead to uncomfortable or even painful sensations.
In general the rule is: when you sleep your spine should be straight and your neck should not bend – which means that the pillow should fill the space between your shoulder and head (if you sleep on your side) or support your neck if you sleep on your back. If there is not enough support and your neck is bent the vertebrae will be moved a bit and consequently the nerves in the cervical spine will be pressed. Because of poor blood circulation or muscle tension you may have a headache – and even if the pain goes away quickly it’s a signal from the body that you should not ignore.
In addition, a bad pillow affects the quality of sleep. Trying to make ourselves more comfortable, we toss and turn and wake up more often, and our sleep becomes discontinuous and shallow. Scientists link lack of sleep with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease  and the development of atherosclerosis . Not to mention mild nervousness, reduced concentration and inattention during the day.
In general, if you wake up in the morning with a desire to stretch your neck muscles, a headache or just a systematic lack of sleep, it’s time to change your pillow.
Photo: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty
© JOSE LUIS PELAEZ INC / GETTY
What is the difference between orthopedic and anatomical pillows
To begin with, you need to understand that the word “orthopedic” means that the pillow is designed to treat and prevent diseases of the cervical spine, which means you should order it by doctor’s appointment. This pillow has a special shape to keep the spine and neck in the correct position.
Anatomic pillow is made of material that adapts to the shape of the body, repeating the curve of the neck and spine – usually latex or memory foam. The advantage is that such a pillow will help relieve fatigue and relieve stress on the neck muscles. However, when choosing, it is worth considering the position in which you usually sleep: for example, the “wave” shape (with a small roll under the neck) is not suitable for those who sleep on their side or on their back.
There are several factors that go into choosing a pillow—so let’s do some pillow talk.
When is it time to replace your pillow?
As a general rule, bed pillows need to be replaced after 18 months. Memory foam pillows typically last longer, up to three years. Natural pillows tend to last longer than synthetic pillows. And higher quality pillows will last longer than inexpensive ones. If you’re using pillow that’s five or six years old, you’re not getting the support you need—and you’re not sleeping as comfortably as you could.
It may seem like a short life, but think about it: your pillow gets used about 7-8 hours a night—that’s more than 2,500 hours a year! Like your mattress, your pillow is an investment in high-quality sleep, which pays dividends across your waking life.
If you’re not sure whether your pillow has life left in it or not, you can do some simple tests:
First, take off the pillowcase and over, and examine your pillow. Does it have stains from sweat? Is it torn? Does it smell? These are all signs of a pillow that needs replacing. Pillows collect dead skin cells, mildew, mold, fungus, and dust mites (as well as their feces). Over time, as much as half the weight of a pillow can be attributed to these unwelcome organisms, which can trigger allergies, interfere with breathing during sleep, and put out odors that make it harder to sleep well.
If your pillow passes the sight and smell test, it’s time to do the fold test:
Fold your pillow in half. If it just lies there folded, rather than springing back to its original shape, that is a dead pillow. With natural fill pillows, you can do this test over your arm. Does your pillow drape and hang down over your extended arm? That’s a pillow that’s exhausted its useful life.
With synthetic pillows, fold in half and add some weight to the top—a sneaker or shoe works well. Take the weight away, and if your pillow doesn’t spring back to its original shape, it’s time for a replacement.
With large, king-size pillows—whether natural or synthetic—you’ll want to fold into thirds, rather than in half.
Your Pick-a-Pillow guide
Selecting a pillow is a very individual process. When it comes to picking the right pillow, there really is no one pillow-size, shape, or material that fits all. The best way to find the pillow that’s right for you is to determine your individual criteria—using the six elements below as a guide—and then use your instinct about what feels most comfortable and appropriate for you.
Peculiarities of anatomy during sleep
When a person sleeps the surface of the bed should follow the curves of the body, thereby providing uniform relaxation of the muscles. Since in the lumbar, thoracic and sacral spine these curves are insignificant, mattresses of medium hardness cope with this task perfectly.
In the cervical spine, things are a little more complicated. In order to maintain its natural horizontal position during sleep, a roller should be placed under the neck, and a recess should be left in the head area. A normal pillow does not provide this position and there is an angle between the neck and the head. This prevents the muscles from relaxing, and cartilage tissue in the intervertebral joints deteriorates over time, which leads to osteochondrosis. Because of sleeping on the wrong pillow, a deterioration in general well-being is possible, which is manifested by the following symptoms:
pain in the neck at rest and when turning;
impaired memory and attention (due to insufficient blood flow to the brain).
Such a small thing as a pillow can greatly affect your health.