As sleepers, we seriously underestimate the power of our beloved pillow. From a carved stone for the wealthy to keep the bugs away (in ancient times), the pillow has transitioned to the soft, plump, cloud of dreams we sleep on today. Just as our pillows have transformed over time, how we use them has evolved as well.
Does your pillow satisfy your sleep needs?
Whether you’re a back sleeper, side snoozer or take stomach siestas, it’s time to understand pillow protocol. But first, let’s go back in time so we can appreciate how far our pillows have come.
The pillow dates back to approx. 7000 BC within the early civilizations of Mesopotamia. It was a primitive time – and an uncomfortable time. They used wood or stone to prop their heads up during sleep to keep the bugs and insects from crawling into their ears, nose, mouth or hair. Yuck! While our ancient ancestors weren’t enjoying proper pillow fights just yet, their version of the pillow set the stage for its transformation among other cultures throughout history.
Ancient Egyptians made pillows in the form of wooden or stone headrests, which were mainly used by the wealthy and the deceased. Egyptians believed the head was the essence of life and very sacred – the pillow was thought to “uphold body vigor, stimulate blood circulating and keep the demons away” (Wikipedia).
In ancient China, pillows were created from various hard materials but porcelain pillows became the most popular. They were mass produced under various Chinese dynasties and were ornately decorated. Perhaps history’s first decorative pillow?
Under Greek and Roman influence in ancient Europe, the creation of softer, more practical pillows emerged. Cloth sacks stuffed with reeds, feathers and straw made for much more comfortable pillows, which were often used in religious practices in order to kneel on while praying.
The Middle Ages saw a digression in human advancement, to include the use of pillows. Men believed using a pillow while sleeping a weakness. Only pregnant women were allowed to use pillows for comfort. (Hangerking for History)
When the Industrial Revolution hit, it was pillows for everyone – especially appreciated after long hours at the factories. And now, we have almost every kind pillow we can think of:
Bed pillows, orthopedic pillows, lumbar pillows, travel pillows, body pillows, decorative pillows, hypoallergenic pillows, donut pillows (not to eat!), boyfriend pillows (yes those exist!). Can you name anymore pillows?
With the plethora of pillow options today, how will you know what pillow is best for you? The position you sleep in can help determine which pillow to choose and tell you how you should be using your pillow.
Ask yourself these questions:
A fluffy pillow is the one for you. When you lie on your back, your pillow should fill in the space behind your neck and shoulders. If your chin is positioned too close to your chest, the pillow may be too fluffy. Your pillow should support your head and neck without tilting it at too extreme of an angle.
Back pain? Place a pillow under your knees to lengthen your spine and alleviate pressure on your lower back.
Sleeping with no pillows while on your back is ideal to keep your neck and spine in a neutral position. That, of course, does not satisfy our comfort needs, so limit the number of pillows as too many in this sleeping position can make breathing difficult.
A firm, thick pillow is best for you. Your pillow should fill in the distance between your ear and shoulder to support your head and neck in a neutral position.
Back pain? Place a pillow between your knees to help keep your spine aligned.
This sleeping position is the perfect opportunity to use more than one pillow. While lying on your side, your shoulders and hips prop you up and hold most of your weight. Using more than one pillow can help align your head and neck in a more neutral position.
Many side sleepers find themselves dreaming away the entire night in the fetal position. Although your doctor and chiropractor would rather have you straightened out, one plump pillow can help make sure your neck and head are supported properly.
A thin pillow or none at all is the best recommendation for you. Stomach sleepers turn their heads and hold their necks at an awkward angle, which puts pressure on the spine. The less you elevate your head and neck, the least amount of strain you will put on your upper back and shoulders.
Back pain? It may be aggravated more because you sleep on your stomach. Sleeping on your stomach can strain your back muscles, cause your neck to be rotated for long periods of time and can lead to a stiff neck. If you’re a tried and true stomach sleeper, try placing a pillow under your lower abs or pelvis area to maximize sleep comfort and minimize back pain.
Start to channel your ancestors from the Middle Ages because for stomach sleepers, no pillow at all is recommended. Using the suggested zero pillows can be much more comfortable for those who like to sleep belly down. Take it from a lifelong stomach sleeper, my pillows are often tossed overboard by morning.
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