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Living Space: Your pillow could be robbing you of a good night's sleep

Sept. 29, 2011 at 4:29 a.m.

Kathryn Weber

By Kathryn Weber

There's no doubt that a good day starts with a good night's sleep. But your choice of pillow may be standing in the way. Worse still, it could be the source of your daytime neck, shoulder or back stiffness.

Some workers are more prone to such aches and pains. In fact, employees who work at a computer for long hours and then sleep with an unsupportive pillow could worsen their daytime discomfort."Probably 90 percent of my patients complain about shoulder and neck pains that could be directly related to pillows," says Dr. Jeannine Brisley, an Atlas Orthogonal chiropractor based in Austin. Atlas Orthogonal chiropractic treatment was profiled on the TV show, "The Doctors." This specialty chiropractic practice treats neck pains, and specifically, the atlas, a saucer-like bone at the top of the neck that connects the spine and cradles the head.PICKING A PILLOW

According to Dr. Jeannine Brisley, an Atlas Orthogonal chiropractor based in Austin, the choice of a pillow can make a difference in the way your neck, back and shoulders feel while sleeping or awake. "The human head weighs between 10 and 17 pounds on average, and too often, people choose a pillow that supports the weight of their head and not the neck. The pillow should support both head and neck and should touch the shoulder (while you're) sleeping," said Brisley.

Another good gauge is the width of a pillow. Most people are side sleepers and should choose a pillow that's the width of the ear to the shoulder, referred to as the instep. "A broad-shouldered, tall man will have a larger instep and therefore need a larger, thicker pillow than a petite woman. But more important than size, is support," said Brisley. Just because a pillow is fatter doesn't mean it's more supportive."

Brisley says pillow material is critical in determining support. She recommends using foam pillows vs. polyfill. A polyfill pillow will go flat faster and lose its support because of the weight of the head. "Latex foam or memory foam pillows offer more support for the head and neck and can last two or more years," says Brisley. Some polyfill pillows have a foam core.

Back sleepers need less thickness in their pillows because the area between the neck and mattress is small. They can opt for a slimmer pillow such as a foam contour type. Stomach sleepers, she says, often have neck problems, but still need support. "They have to turn their head to breathe and that torques their neck, just like wringing a dishrag." For stomach sleepers, a thin pillow works best.

Kathryn Weber is a home and decorating columnist and publishes the Red Lotus Letter feng shui ezine. For more information, contact Weber through her website, www.redlotusletter.com.

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