Pillows are important because they give support to your back and neck. This is an important role because the human spine is naturally curved. Having this support means that your head, neck and spine are properly aligned. This helps to support proper posture and prevents headache, stiff neck, shoulder pain and backache in the morning. This means that choosing the right pillow is very important to get a good night’s rest.
But did you know that pillow size can impact sleep quality?
The right pillow size is one of the key ingredients to a restful night. Different people need different size pillows. This is because not all of us have the same height. Some of us are shorter and, therefore, need smaller pillows. The standard pillow size in the UK is 51 x 66 cm or 20″ x 26″. Queen-size and king-size pillows are larger.
The Standard Pillow Size
What many people do not know is that the standard pillow size is just a measurement of how big a pillow is. It does not mention the height of the pillow. This is why some people use a pillow that is standard in size but wrong in height or thickness. Using the wrong height for pillows can leave you unsupported as you sleep, which in turn leads to muscle pain and aches.
With this in mind, let’s check the recommended pillow sizes based on a user’s height who favours the side sleeping position.
|User’s height||Recommended Pillow Height (cm/inches)|
|Less than 135 cm||7cm to 8cm/less than 2.5 inches|
|135cm – 145cm||9cm to10cm/less than 3 inches|
|145cm – 155cm||10cm to 12cm/3 to 4 inches|
|155cm – 165cm||11cm to 12cm/3.5 to 4 inches|
|165cm – 175cm||11cm to 13cm/3.5 to 4.5 inches|
|175cm – 185cm||12cm to 13cm/4 to 5 inches|
|185cm – 195cm||13cm to 15cm/4.5 to 5.5 inches|
|195cm and above||Above 15 cm/above 5 inches|
Now let’s take a look at the recommended pillow height for back sleepers.
|User’s height||Recommended Pillow Height (cm/inches)|
|Less than 135 cm||Below 8cm/less than 2.5 inches|
|135cm – 145cm||8cm to10cm/less than 3 inches|
|145cm – 155cm||7cm to 10cm/2 to 3.5 inches|
|155cm – 165cm||8cm to 11cm/2.5 to 3.5 inches|
|165cm – 175cm||9cm to 12cm/2.5 to 4 inches|
|175cm – 185cm||10cm to 12cm/3 to 4.5 inches|
|185cm – 195cm||10cm to 13cm/3.5 to 5 inches|
|195cm and above||10 to 15 cm/above 3.5 inches|
Pillow Height & Sleeping Position
You might be wondering why sleeping position impacts pillow height. When you sleep on your back, the head, neck and spine are naturally aligned. If you use the correct pillow height, your chin won’t touch your chest. This means you are more comfortable and the head and neck are supported properly. However, if you use a pillow that is too high for your height, your chin will touch your chest and make you uncomfortable all night. The same is true if you use a pillow with no loft. You will feel unsupported during your sleep.
Side sleepers need more support than back sleepers. This is because side sleeping distorts the positioning of the neck and spine. Side sleepers who use a pillow with low height end up with stiff neck and shoulder pain. This is because their neck and spine are unaligned and the shoulder is bearing the weight of the head. Those who use too much also suffer the same pain. This is why side sleepers need to find the correct height so that their neck and spine are aligned correctly while shoulders are supported.
Back sleepers are recommended to use the thinnest possible pillow regardless of their height. Some sleep experts even suggest nixing the pillow completely. This is because back sleeping puts pressure on the face and neck. Adding a pillow under the head causes the neck to stretch upwards at an awkward angle. No or low pillow means better neck alignment and less pressure on the face.
The most important thing to remember is to keep your head, neck and spine aligned when you sleep. Pillows that have the wrong measurement for your height can put pressure on your head, neck and shoulders. They will also cause you to sleep in the wrong posture. Poor or too much support in the wrong areas can cause pain and injury if you keep on doing it.
Height vs Firmness
Height and firmness are not the same. Some people think that it’s all right to use a firm pillow just because it meets the measurement requirement for their height. Firmness refers to how soft or hard a pillow is. Some people like to use soft, cloud-like pillows while others prefer firm pillows because it feels comfortable for them.
Actually, there is no right or wrong firmness. It’s better to experiment and find the right firmness for you. However, it is also good to note that too soft or too firm pillows lead to the same problems as using pillows with the wrong height.
How Often to Change Pillows
A good rule of thumb is to change pillows every 2 years. This is especially true if you’re using fibre-filled or polyester pillows. This is because these types of materials degrade over the years and lose their loftiness. This means that they won’t be able to maintain the recommended height after around a couple of years. You can extend their lifespan by fluffing them but they will ultimately become unsupportive. It’s best to toss them out then.
Down pillows usually last longer. They usually lose their height around 4-5 years. Latex and memory foam pillows are hardier. They maintain their loft for up to 8 years. However, materials can start to degrade after this time. Dirt, oil and sweat deposits also build up, so changing them for support and hygiene reasons is a good idea.
There is no such thing as a standard pillow for everybody. All of us have different needs and preferences. This is why pillow choice should be personal. Finding the right pillow can be confusing at first especially because there are so many choices, but taking time to experiment can lead to better quality of life and sleep.