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How to choose a pillow and filler that ease your neck pain

Is your pillow hurting your neck — and your sleep?

Constantly looking down at your smartphone or computer will make your neck ache, a problem Andrew Bang, DC, has dubbed “text neck,” or tech neck.

“Sleeping on your back, with your head bent forward, will make the problem worse,” he says. “As will sleeping on your side, with your head bent drastically to the side. Or, even worse, on your stomach, with your head twisted and tilted at odd angles.”

A pillow should keep your neck parallel to the mattress, rather than bent down or up. Here are seven tips from Dr. Bang for choosing a neck-friendly pillow:

1. Pillows that adapt to your position are best
Cervical contour pillows work best for most people, he says. Your head rests in a depression in the center. Your neck rests on either a less elevated side when you’re lying on your back, or on a more elevated side when you’re lying on your side.

Foam contour pillows are next best at supporting your neck.

2. Latex foam is generally the best material
Natural latex offers support without heating you up like memory foam. “People may not realize that they become hot at night. This can make for restless sleep. By sleeping cooler, you sleep deeper,” says Dr. Bang.

Of course, if you’re allergic to latex, you’ll want to use memory foam pillows.

3. Feather pillows cause the most neck pain
They may be affordable, but feather pillows don’t provide much neck stability. “They feel super comfy when you first settle in. But the feathers move when you do, so you wind up with no support, causing you pain,” says Dr. Bang. Down pillows are somewhat more supportive but still require fluffing up.However, if you’re allergic to animal dander, neither of these fillers will work for you.

4. Buckwheat pillows are noisy
“The fun thing about buckwheat pillows is you sleep very cool. A lot of air circulates between the hulls,” says Dr. Bang. They are also cost-effective, have renewable filler, and support your neck when you sleep on your side.

But the hulls make noise as they move during the night, and that support can slip away as it would in a beanbag, he notes.

5. The benefits of mixed fillers are unclear
There isn’t much research on pillows with mixed fillers, such as memory foam or latex with shredded foam and a gel insert. “Pillows with too much material jammed in or that remain too fluffy can hold your neck in an awkward position,” cautions Dr. Bang.

Shredded foam can cool you but loses its stability over time if you sleep on your side.

6. Body pillows and side pillows can be useful
If you’re in the habit of sleeping on your stomach, which isn’t ideal, body and side pillows can improve your sleep posture. “They provide the pressure on the stomach you’ve grown used to, while keeping you in a side-lying position,” says Dr. Bang.

These pillows can help keep your spine aligned and support your growing belly during pregnancy, or if you happen to have large hips.

7. Consider your mattress’ firmness or softness
If you have a firmer mattress, you’ll need a thicker pillow, because your shoulder won’t sink into the mattress very much. “The pillow will need to fill a larger gap between your head and your mattress,” says Dr. Bang.

If you have a memory foam mattress topper or a pillow-top mattress, you’ll need a thinner pillow, because your shoulder will sink into the bed. “The pillow will need to fill a smaller space between your shoulder and your head,” he says.

Settling on the right pillow
“Each pillow has its pros and cons. There isn’t one type of pillow that will satisfy everyone’s needs,” says Dr. Bang. But these guidelines, based on research, can help you find a pillow that’s right for you.

A pillow that supports your neck and helps you sleep soundly — and pain-free.

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