How To Best Rest Your Head: The Science of Pillows

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Of the many ways to get good sleep, having comfortable pillows is one of the most essential yet often overlooked way of achieving this. Pillows serve to keep the upper body in alignment while one sleeps, relieving pressure and counterbalancing points in the body.

However, pillows come in different shapes and sizes and one type of pillow doesn’t work for everyone. This is why expert orthopaedic and spine surgeons have come together to help you choose the pillow of your dreams.

How To Best Rest Your Head: The Science of Pillows

According to experts, each pillow is made of different material and hence all pillows can fall under five main categories based on this.

1) Microbead Pillow

These pillows are filled with tiny polystyrene capsules and are used because they contour to the shape of the sleeper’s head and neck. These pillows allow the spine to revert to its S-shaped structure and helps with posture correction. These pillows are often recommended to patients suffering from back or neck problems. They are also given to patients after surgery.

These pillows are also hypoallergenic and are thus used by people who might be allergic to dust mites, bacteria or fungus. Most microbead pillows are small and therefore, portable. They can be used during rides on planes, trains and other automobiles.

How To Best Rest Your Head: The Science of Pillows

2) Memory foam Pillow

These pillows are made out of polyurethane, a type of plastic found in sofas and mattresses. These pillows are called memory foam pillows because they change their shape when pressure is applied and revert back to their original form when that pressure is relieved.

These pillows are beneficial as they support the natural curve of one’s cervical spine, this relieves the pressure on the muscles and keeps the airways aligned. The synthetic material also restricts the growth of microbes and allows these pillows to be cleaned and sanitised easily.

How To Best Rest Your Head: The Science of Pillows

3) Water Pillow

The water pillow was invented by Mediflow. It’s a therapeutic pillow designed for people suffering from chronic neck or back pain. The pillow is made up of a water base technology that provides responsive support and a top layer of varying comfort material that helps one fall asleep faster.

The pillow can be also described as ‘adjustable’ as adding more water to the pillow makes it firmer while adding less will make it softer, thus this pillow is suitable for any kind of sleeper.

How To Best Rest Your Head: The Science of Pillows

4) Scented Pillows

These pillows are made of foam, feather or fibre which is infused with essential oils like lavender or peppermint. These pillows are however hard to come by and therefore they now come in the form of liners that contain different essential oils and can be stuck inside the pillow cover of your pre-existing favourite pillow.

These liners last a few days before they have to be replaced and come in a large number of sleep-inducing scents like jasmine, eucalyptus, lemon, sandalwood and chamomile.

How To Best Rest Your Head: The Science of Pillows

5) Latex foam Pillow

Latex is denser than memory foam and offers a medium resistance. It moulds to one’s individual shape and creates the right level of support for one’s head, neck and shoulders. Latex is also impression-resistant and can hold its shape for many years while still feeling soft and giving you the right level of sleep support.

These pillows are breathable and last longer. They also have hypoallergenic properties and naturally stay cool which is why they are recommended in warm regions.

How To Best Rest Your Head: The Science of Pillows

A rectangle-shaped pillow is everyone’s favourite, but the progression of time has prompted the evolution of the basic pillow resulting in newer shapes that have distinct advantages.

The Roll

This pillow is shaped like a bolster and can be used either between the knees or under the neck to improve one’s posture while sleeping. These pillows are also called ‘hugging pillows’ because of their unique shape.

How To Best Rest Your Head: The Science of Pillows


This pillow has an ‘S’ shape and helps keeps the neck in a position that is the healthiest for the airways and spine during sleep. Contoured pillows also provide relief and comfort when used by people who might be suffering from neck or back injuries. These pillows are also excellent for side sleepers as they keep their spine perfectly aligned.

How To Best Rest Your Head: The Science of Pillows

Lumbar Support

This pillow is a soft rectangular pillow. This pillow is recommended for people who spend large amounts of time behind an office desk or a steering wheel. This pillow supports the spine by filling the gap between the chair and your lower back. This promotes good posture and supports the natural curve of one’s back.

How To Best Rest Your Head: The Science of Pillows

Wedge Pillow

This pillow is triangular in shape and is used to keep the upper half of the body in an elevated position. They reduce back pain and ease snoring. They are also great for reducing swelling in the legs and reducing heartburn.

How To Best Rest Your Head: The Science of Pillows


So, get the pillow that best supports your body’s need and get the best possible sleep from now onwards!


How do I clean my pillow?

Pillows don’t need to be washed as regularly as bed sheets or comforters and blankets. They should be washed to remove harmful bacteria and unwanted odours. Pillows can be washed in washing machines and rinsed thoroughly to remove detergent residue after which they can be left to air dry in a sunny place.

How often should I replace my pillow?

Sleep experts recommend replacing pillows once a year or as soon as you start experiencing neck pain or if your head doesn’t naturally align with your spine while using the pillow.

Featured Photo by laura adai on Unsplash

Written by Iba Inam

Iba is a sleep enthusiast who loves bucket hats and cat memes. You can get in touch with her via email!

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