Pillow Talk

Quality sleep is an elusive commodity for millions. Statistics indicate that more than 130 million North Americans have trouble sleeping, which can impact your physical and mental health. The complex process of attaining a quality sleep pattern can be compromised by a number of factors that you may or may not have even considered. One such factor is simply the wrong pillow. If you think of the time we spend in contact with our pillow, you would surely be amazed. You might want to think twice before going out and spending more money without getting some real insight on what we are laying our heads down on each night.

The following describes some of the characteristics and considerations when picking a pillow that is right for you.

 What is your sleeping style?

 Your sleeping style isn’t as complicated as it sounds. It is simply the manner in which you normally sleep – how you typically arrange yourself and your body when preparing for sleep. Do you lie on your back, side or your stomach when you sleep? Or, do you toss, turn and change positions frequently during the night? Since pillows are not created equally, different pillows cater to varying styles of sleeping. Understanding how you usually sleep will help you select the best pillow to help you to enjoy restful nights.

If you’re not sure what your sleeping style is, pay attention to the position you are in when you fall asleep, and then again when you wake up. Are you in the same position, or has it changed? The position in which you find yourself most frequently is your sleep style.

A Good Pillow is designed to keep the spine in natural alignment.

The human neck has a slight inward curve called a cervical lordosis which is designed to sustain the weight of the head when upright and provide shock absorbency. It is very important to maintain and support this curve when in a resting position. If the height of the pillow is too high when sleeping sideways or on the back, the neck is bent abnormally forward or to the side, causing muscle strain on the back of the neck and shoulders. This type of position may also cause narrowing of the air pipe, resulting in obstructed breathing, and sometimes snoring, which can hinder sleep. Conversely, if the height of the pillow is too low, the neck muscles can also be strained.

A good pillow will support the skull and neck without applying undue pressure, as it conforms to and supports the exact shape of the sleeper and our normal alignment, thus spreading the weight evenly and uniformly along the vertebrae. Based on the body’s measurements and personal preference, the pillow should maintain a height of 4 to 6 inches, properly supporting the head and neck (and shoulders when lying on back).

A Pillow must feel comfortable.

A large part of what makes a good pillow is personal preference. If the pillow feels comfortable, it is likely to help one relax, get a good night’s sleep, and feel well rested in the morning. The pillow’s surface can also be a source of comfort – some people prefer a pillowcase with a cool, smooth feeling (such as cotton), some prefer warmth (such as flannel), etc.  The softness of the pillow is a personal preference to consider. However, the pillow should not be too soft that it does not provide adequate support.

A Pillow should be a custom fit and adjustable.

To help the pillow conform to various sleep positions, it is best if the pillow can be adjusted to fit the unique shape and curves and sleeping position of the user. A pillow should mold to one’s individual shape and alleviate any pressure points. Many quality pillows will also come in various sizes to accommodate for different size people.

There are many different types of custom designed pillows to choose from and below are a couple of popular types that we recommend and keep in stock at our clinic. For those who are allergy sufferers or concern about the materials, check to make sure the pillow is Hypo-allergenic.

Foam/Polyester Fill Pillows

Foam pillows are typically filled with a synthetic material, most popularly polyester, and makes for a firm, long lasting pillow. Devotees of the foam pillow often scoff at a down or feather pillow, accusing them of being too squishy to be comfortable. Again, this comes down to personal taste, but if you are looking for a very sturdy, firm pillow, you’ll want to investigate the foam pillow.

Memory Foam Pillows

The original and memory foam pillow is made by Tempurpedic. Many companies now produce equal quality memory foam pillows and they have gained in worldwide popularity for its softness and comfort. Memory foam is designed to remember the contours of your body, providing support exactly where your body needs it.

These types of pillows have fans as well as detractors, and again, the choice comes down to a largely personal preference. Memory foam material is certainly very different; the pillow is “squishy” and doesn’t bounce back quickly, but instead holds the shape of your head and neck. When you shift positions, it takes a few seconds for the pillow to rebound and readjust to your new position. The most popular type of memory foam pillow builds in a ridge of neck support, making it great for many back sleepers. Some people absolutely love these pillows, while others have a very hard time getting used to the feel of them.

Pillows for each sleep position.

One’s sleep position will dictate how a custom pillow can be used to provide the appropriate support.  

Using a pillow while sleeping on one’s back. When lying on the back, a pillow should support the natural curvature of the cervical spine, with adequate support under the head, neck, and shoulders. When sleeping on the back, the height of the pillow should be lower than in the sideways position. Placing a pillow or two beneath the knees further alleviates any back strain, and is the gentlest position on the back. 

Using a pillow while sleeping on one’s side. When lying on one’s side, a pillow should support the head and neck such that the spine maintains a straight and natural horizontal line. Weight should be evenly distributed so as not to create unnatural bending or pressure. Some people may prefer placing a small pillow or rolled up towel under their waist while lying on the side for additional support.

Using a pillow while sleeping on one’s stomach. If sleeping or resting on the stomach is preferred, the pillow should be relatively flat, or the head should rest directly on the mattress, so that the head and neck aren’t turned unnaturally to either side. In this position, it is often best to place another relatively flat pillow under the stomach to help the spine keep its natural alignment.

Over time, cotton filled pillows will begin to lose their firmness and no longer support the neck adequately. The pillows that we recommend do not have such a problem and therefore, last a very long time

When using a cervical support pillow, most people experience an increase in sleeping comfort within a couple of days. Other, however, may require up to two weeks before the neck and back muscles adjust.

Chiropractors are well- known for helping patients overcome the problems and pain associated neck problems including making the right pillow recommendations. Start with calling our office to schedule yourself, or someone you know, in for a check up appointment to see what treatment options are available to you. You’ll be glad you did!

Don’t Be A Laptop Loser!

Laptops and Ergonomics: this is almost a contradiction! With a fixed design, if the keyboard is in an optimal position for the user, the screen isn’t and if the screen is optimal the keyboard isn’t. This results in a higher incidence of repetitive strain injuries than the desktop computer. Laptops were originally designed for convenience during travel, meetings and for their portability. They were not designed for continued or permanent usage. However, the incidence and popularity of usage as a user’s primary computer has increased dramatically. Walk into any coffee shop in Yaletown, and one could make a study of poor ergonomics! Ouch!

There are several factors will increase the likelihood of future chronic pain.  The furniture in hotel rooms, trains, cars, or planes, and at home, is invariably inadequate for laptop use. Lighting conditions are often not adjusted for laptop use. Therefore, glare, combined with improper viewing angle and lack of display adjustability often results in awkward posture. The narrow viewing angle of Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD) is poorly suited to sharing, discussion, and collaboration with multiple people.

Research carried out by Dr Benedyk discovered that 57 per cent of respondents to their student survey had experienced aches and pains as a result of their laptop use, with an overwhelming majority unaware of proper ergonomcis on using laptops. 649 undergraduate and postgraduate students from a range of nationalities completed the set of survey questions. 166 teaching staff responded to a separate online survey. The most prevalent aches and pains were in the neck (21 per cent), shoulders (21 per cent), wrists (16 per cent), back (15 per cent) and eyes (11 per cent). Many survey respondents admitted to having frequently positioned their laptop on their laps (42 per cent), in bed (29 per cent) and on the floor (13 per cent).

Common Signs and Symptoms of Overuse Injuries from Poor Laptop Ergonomics:

  • Muscle fatigue, aches which initially subside during rest
  • Tight band of pain across shoulders or back
  • Pain or stiffness when changing positions, or rising from bed in the mornings
  • Difficulty in finger, thumb or wrist movement
  • Difficulty gripping things
  • Numbness, tingling, weakness, burning or pain
  • Headaches
  • Blurry vision
  • Difficulty concentrating due to discomfort
  • To name a few!!

Some Simple Tips:

1. Put the laptop in a docking station or sit it on some books so that the top of the screen is roughly level with your forehead

2. Attach an external keyboard and mouse and set these up in an ergonomic fashion whenever possible. A wireless keyboard and mouse can be purchased relatively inexpensively these days.

3.  Move the laptop close enough so you do not hold your head forward to see what is on the screen. Sit back in the chair and keep your head directly over your shoulders.

4. Avoid working on the hotel bed or at a table that is too high or low. Use a small pillow to support your lower back.

5. Buy a roller bag or backpack with straps to decrease strain while transporting the laptop, instead of a shoulder or handbag.

6.  Avoid working in lighting that is too bright or behind your screen to avoid leaning in to see the screen creating eye strain.

7. Set your Outlook reminder to pop up to let you know when it is time to stand up and stretch!


The reality is that our bodies are really not designed to be sitting for the amount of time that we do these days. We are designed to be in motion!!  Our joints, bones, ligaments and muscles respond best and are the healthiest when they have regular use. So if you have a job that requires sitting for long periods of time, make sure you incorporate a regular exercise routine into your leisure time activities. You should stand up every half hour just to get the blood flowing through your neck, back & legs. Stand up and stretch by walking around a bit. This will relieve tension from your system and reduce overall stress.

If someone you know is suffering from the results of poor work ergonomics needlessly, start with calling our office to schedule yourself, or someone you know in for a check up appointment to see what treatment options are available to you.

~Dr. Gertz