Have you put any thought in your pillow lately? No? Well, maybe you should as you spend 8 hours with your face on it. Firmness, feel, coolness, and covering on your pillow can not only contribute to a better night’s sleep, but your pillow can keep your spine in a good position to improve overall health.
Head and neck alignment with the spine is important.
Neutral spinal alignment actually looks more like an S curve than a straight line. Keeping the vertebrae in their natural position, stacked on top of each other, avoids muscular tension or nervous problems caused by irregular alignment. See, the spine acts like the central hose in a water system. If there’s a kink in the chain at any point, it’ll slow the natural flow somewhere down the line.
The head/neck region of the spine is known as the cervical spine. The primary roles of these 7 vertebrae include:
With 7 vertebrae very close to the brain (and at the top of the chain), any C-spine dysfunction will absolutely cause pain or stress elsewhere. However, the first two, the atlas and axis, are shaped differently than any other vertebrae, and thus have distinct functions.
The atlas is shaped more like ring, and true to its name, supports the head and allows for most of the forward/backward motion. The axis sits inside the atlas and, like the axle to the wheels of a car, controls the most rotation of the head.
As it turns out, these are also the vertebrae that are most likely to be out of position as they come in contact with your pillow. If you jam them up for eight hours while you sleep, the smooth running machine will tighten up and cause pain, dysfunction, and immobility.
Misalignment that lasts 8 hours can have tremendous impacts
Prolonged misalignment leads to muscle strain and lasting tension. Good posture minimizes stress on the neck and keeps the muscles from tightening to compensate. However, if your neck is constantly strained each night, crucial nervous outlets can become cramped, causing pain down the chain like sciatica or numbness. Over time, discs can start to crunch together, creating a greater likelihood of a herniated disk. Finally, tight neck musculature adds to tension headaches.
Sleeping with your neck in a bad position means that you’re putting a kink in the hose for ⅓ of your life - a hose that contains the base for all the nerves in your body, and acts as the central point for your skeleton. Basically, poor alignment will always create issues elsewhere in the body. There’s no escaping it. Get a pillow that puts your neck at ease throughout the night, and live more effectively and comfortably throughout the day.
Pillows Don't Last
If those glaring reasons above haven’t convinced you to change your pillow, consider this: pillows are breeding grounds for germs, mites, and other bugs.
Over time, your pillows accumulate the dead skin that falls off your body during the night. Dust mites love to feast on those skin cells. Furthermore, scientists found that after two years, 30% of a pillow is bacterial or feces from those very mites. Yep. Think about that when you lay your head down at night.
Change your pillows at least once a year to avoid the dirt and bacteria build up. While you’re at it, might as well choose a pillow that will put your spine in line. You might not be able to see a difference, but your health will thank you. Take our pillow test and find out.
-Kimber Rozier, CSCS