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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Does Your Pillow Cause Headaches?

Did you have a good night's sleep or did you wake up with another headache?

What could have caused your head pain? Could the culprit be, perhaps, your pillow?

Headaches don't happen for no reason. They happen because your neck, head or shoulder muscles get tight and cranky and complain. They let you know they are unhappy by creating head pain.

Muscles cause headaches. Pillows can help them be better or worse.

Do you sleep on your side or on your back?

If you are a stomach sleeper, we won't be addressing that much today. Stomach sleeping puts a lot of strain on a neck, and most stomach sleepers I have observed tell me they tend to sleep on the same side all the time. So, stomach sleeping isn't the best option for anyone. If you do that and can change it, your neck will thank you.

But, there is one benefit to stomach sleeping, especially if you could switch from side to side and not stay locked in one position. The benefit is it helps you maintain the slight curve in your low back that we are supposed to have. In order to keep our head over our shoulders without strain when we are upright, we need a slight low back curve. The curve goes in the direction of our abdomen or belly - forward, not rounded backward. The curve creates a hollow in our lower back.

So back to your headache and your pillow.

If you sleep on your back and your neck is pushed into a too-straight position during the night, either by your pillow or the lack of a pillow, that creates head pain. There are muscles on top of your shoulders, at the front/sides of your neck and at the base of your skull. If any of those get strained, a headache results. If you are prone to migraines, this is a good way to get one.

Also, if you sleep with a fat pillow pushing your head forward that causes two problems.

1. It can definitely cause head pain.
2. It perpetuates the "head forward" posture that we would like to eliminate.

I have found three pillows which are helpful in maintaining the curve in the back of your neck and preventing waking up with a headache.

1. The Tempurdic pillow or a similar memory-foam construction pillow. It softens and sinks under the weight of your head, but supports the backside of your neck. Warning: Most are way too big for back sleepers. Get a junior/child size or, at most, a medium size pillow.

2. Interestingly, a down "stomach sleeper" pillow is good for back sleepers. Fluff it up, punch to make a depression for your head, and enjoy. There should be enough down beneath your neck to keep a nice curve in it as you sleep. You can even pull up the wings, or bottom corners, of the pillow to stabilize your head. This is especially helpful if you get migraines during the night. It prevents you from tilting your head sideways and straining your neck muscles while sleeping.

3. You can make your own custom pillow from a fiberfill batt. This is similar to cotton batting, but it is made of polyester fiberfill, which is soft and cushy. You can buy a fiberfill batt (not the loose stuffing) at a fabric store or department. Take it out of the package and roll it into a neck roll which feels like the correct size to you, for your neck. If you feel you need a little more lift under your head, leave a tail on your roll. The flat tail will go under your head and the rounded neck roll goes under your neck. You can just place the part of the batt you are using into a pillow case and roll it up; no sewing necessary! You can always add more or take some away to be most comfortable. You can have two or three in different sizes around, and switch as desired. It's very inexpensive.

If you are a side sleeper and wake with a headache, the reason is most likely that your head (and therefor your neck) was tilted either up or down. Your pillow is too fat or too flat. Your neck and base-of-skull muscles get shortened or pulled on (strained) during the night and those muscles cause your head pain or migraine.

Side sleepers should use a pillow which allows their neck to be in neutral all night, not tipped chin to ceiling or floor. It's the tipping or tilting that causes neck and head pain. You may find it useful to stack two flatter pillows, or place a down pillow on top of a firmer pillow. You can also generate your own custom pillow, as discussed above, and place it on top of your bottom pillow. You may find a nice, expensive pillow especially designed for side sleepers which has a firmer core and cushy outer layer.

The idea for side sleepers it to support your head in a neutral position and to support your neck, also. That means slightly more cushioning under your neck.

When you buy a pillow, check on the store's return policy. If you try it for a night or two and it doesn't work out for you, some stores will let you return it. That way you won't end up with a bunch of unusable pillows that cost a lot of money.

Here's to a good night's sleep! Yours!