Better Pillow – Better Health

Doctors agree that a person’s overall health is influenced by the amount and quality of their sleep. Using the right pillow, in the right position on the right bed does not have to be a complicated proposition, but the key is protecting the neck. It is home to the brainstem, which houses nerves and sensors that control our whole body.

The proper positioning of our neck, head and shoulders allows for a stress-free brainstem and better health.

Avoid feeling sluggish, over-all tiredness, increase in chronic pain, stiffness of joints, back pain, muscle spasms and headaches by checking your sleeping position against the height and shape of your pillow. Correct sleeping positions lead to better living with increase energy, better healing and fewer aches and pains. Waking up feeling worse than at bedtime most likely means the brainstem has been strained. Trauma in the brainstem can occur from accidents and injuries leading to conditions like stiffness, physical pain, numbness and tingling in the extremities. When we sleep poorly on an already stressed brainstem, it can lead to more symptoms when we wake. For example, stomach sleepers twist their neck to the side, pinching the brainstem. That negatively affects the nervous system and breathing center.

The best way to change a stomachsleeping habit is to change the body’s position. If will power alone fails, duct tape a tennis ball to the stomach area (over a cloth, not on the skin). Every time you roll onto your stomach during the night, the discomfort of the tennis ball will prevent you from doing so. When sleeping on your back, the pillow should be soft enough to cradle the head and neck. The pillow should not be too thick, to push the head forward, nor so thin that it hyperextends the neck backwards. The size of the pillow depends solely on the height of your shoulders. If you are a back and side sleeper, it is crucial to find a pillow that satisfies both needs.

When sleeping on the side, the shoulder and body should be neutral; just like when we’re standing upright. The top shoulder should be slightly behind the bottom shoulder to avoid falling forward into a stomach-sleeping position. Avoid placing the hands and arm under the pillow or the head, which pushes the head upward and stresses the brainstem.

For some people, naps are an essential part of the day. If sleeping on a recliner, make sure your neck is properly supported to prevent bobbling of the head. A travel pillow may help keep the head from falling forward. If you move the travel pillow off to the side, so the ends are facing left or right, the thickest part of the pillow will then allow for support. For babies sleeping upright in car seats, support the head and neck so it maintains the upright position. Travel is a big reason for people losing their alignment. During a voyage, use the travel pillow during naptime. Once reaching the hotel, request a feather pillow; they are much easier to mold into shape.

Good sleep is not just about expensive, high-tech mattresses, but about good pillows and proper positioning of the body. Good pillows are not only about the material, but about the support they give on an individual basis. The only way to check a pillow’s suitability is by checking your alignment while on it.

These simple guidelines will ensure a proper sleeping position. If neck health has suffered from poor sleeping habits or from neck trauma, go to a local chiropractor or neck and back specialist to check the condition of your brainstem. As spine specialists, they can check what you have been sleeping on and suggest remedies. Start dreaming your way to better health today.

Cecilia Yu, a doctor of chiropractic with Synergy Balance, in Dallas, will be conducting a free pillow check from 5 to 6 p.m., Oct. 15, and from noon to 1 p.m., Oct. 16. For more info or to register, call 972-387-4700 or visit

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