I think my pillow might be the reason for my stiff neck. I can’t seem to find one that’s comfortable. What do you recommend? ~ FAQ
Every time I see someone in a movie sleeping with their head propped up on a super high pillow I cringe. And hotel pillows – aargh – so thick and never comfortable! A pillow that’s too high keeps your neck at an unnatural angle. Over hours, that can contribute to discomfort or pain.
I used to recommend choosing a height that supports your head and neck in neutral alignment. Not too high, not too low, just right in line with the rest of your spine. But if you’re waking up with a stiff neck or a headache is your pillow really to blame?
Balance Your Body
A well-balanced body requires both stability and mobility. Gray Cook describes how this alternates through the body joint-by-joint.
Source: Fix.com Blog
Immobility in your upper back, and between your head and neck, overworks the mid-neck. Picture stereotypical laptop posture and ‘text-neck’. Your muscles tense and may even spasm as your body attempts to “correct” the instability. Remember, your body’s biological imperative is to protect your brain & spinal cord.
Ideally, we should be adaptable and comfortable in a variety of positions. If we sleep for hours with our head and neck restricted we are further reducing our mobility. In Move Your DNA, (recently expanded) Katy writes about releasing your pillow:
I realized that my ever-present pillow was, in fact, preventing the very motion of my neck I was practicing during my “stretch time.
– Katy Bowman, Biomechanist
Makes sense. I tried to wean myself when I first read your pillow is an orthotic back in 2013. Even though I’ve always preferred a thin pillow, I didn’t find it easy so abandoned the effort. My down pillow was easy to squish it into the desired shape, but I started to get hot at night. Horribly sweaty hot. I switched to wool, a better thermo-regulator but not as malleable. I wasn’t sleeping well and was occasionally waking with a stiff neck.
So I started working more diligently on upper body corrective exercises. I especially enjoy floor angels and thoracic stretch over half-dome.
Here’s Petra Fisher demonstrating Floor Angels:
And Alison Crouch with Thoracic Stretch over Half Dome:
Check out Beyond the Core: How to Flex Your Neck for two more of my go-to moves. To fine-tune: Keep your ribs down. Place a hand on your sternum as a guide; it should remain vertical. Be gentle. Your neck needs stability. Focus on flexing between your head on your neck (a small nod) and elongating the base of your neck and upper back. Think about creating space to ease and relax.
Back on the pillow front, I switched to eco-friendly buckwheat on a client’s recommendation. (I have the most awesome clients!) It’s annoyingly heavy and makes crunchy noises when you move it. But it holds a shape superbly! A wool layer on one side helps me stay cool too.
After a few nights making as much fuss creating my hull “head nest’ as my dog does with her blankie at bedtime, I got it right. Almost entirely flat with elevated sides. Within a few weeks, I was pushing it over the head of the bed and out from under me altogether. I’m sleeping better, waking more rested and my neck feels fantastic. No more pillow fights!
I credit the mobility work for helping me make the switch. Experiment for yourself. Spend time every day gently moving your back, neck, and shoulders with the exercises above. Change it up with Susan McLaughlin’s Balls to Back sequence for a fun between-the-shoulder-blades soft-tissue release.
Save your money. Slowly reduce your neck ‘orthotic’ with different thicknesses of cushions, pads, and towels. If you’re still not feeling it, try a buckwheat pillow. It was a perfect transition to help me become (mostly) pillow and pain-free.
Are you fighting with your pillow? Let me know if changing your body helps you win the battle.