Pillow talk – what’s your angle?

Imagine that you are standing up and looking straight ahead. Now turn your head 90 degrees as if you were to look over your shoulder. From there, tilt your head backwards. Here is a question for you, if you were to hold that position for about 7 hours, do you think that it would impact how your neck feels? I am confident that your answer is yes! Well, what if I were to tell you that when you are sleeping on your stomach this is the very position that your neck is in, which isn’t exactly great, so let’s see if we can improve on that.

In the previous post we learned about the best position for standing up. What is really interesting about that, is that to work on our posture standing up, we started with an exercise laying down. Huh, so does that mean that I can improve on my standing position while sleeping? I believe you can – which is pretty exciting news, I think. The key thing in the exercise was to keep the spine neutral. When we lay down we actually do this automatically, until we introduce the pillow.

“I realized that my ever-present pillow was, in fact, preventing the very motion of my neck I was practicing during my “stretch time.” -Katy Bowman [1]

When using a pillow, it puts our spine at an angle, like in the example above, or for the people sleeping on their backs, it moves their head much closer to their chest, which looks almost identical to the poor posture that many of us will be in while texting on the phone for instance. Using a pillow  just reinforces that same bad posture.

So why do we use a pillow?
It feels good because it allows us to stay within our limited range of motion. Take away the pillow and it is immediately obvious where our restrictions lie after a little while. We have gotten so lazy and stiff in our bodies that we are unable to conform to any surface unless it has thick, soft cushioning. And just because so many people are stiff in their necks we think that it is common to have this problem and we blame the poor pillow. Remember, common does not equal normal.

Animals and young children sleep in all sorts of weird positions, yet you never hear or see them complain about neck pain. Why? Because they are still very flexible in their bodies and can easily conform to different situations. Over time though as we get more and more rigid in our bodies we loose this fine suppleness, and that is when the problems starts to add up.

“Just as constant shoe-wearing and flat, unvarying terrain have left you with poor foot mobility and strength, always sleeping on something flat and squishy has altered the mobility and sensitivity of your parts. The joint-alterations required for ground-sleeping are natural and they’re currently under used. Your muscles are simply out of (sleep) shape.” -Katy Bowman [2]

About a year and a half ago I came across the book Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman where she talks about this. Your pillow is an orthotic is also a great article on the subject. Her solution was to get rid of the pillow, which really intrigued me, and so I decided to test her thesis. As per her recommendation I gradually reduced the height of my pillow, until I felt comfortable daring to give it up completely. The first days without a pillow felt weird, I mean I had been building up this habit my entire lifetime, but the cool thing was that my neck felt so much better. My range of motion improved with time, and that simply from sleeping. Genius!

All in all, it probably took me anout 3 months to get completely comfortable without a pillow. Sleeping on my side without a pillow took even a little longer to get used too, but these days I do not even think about it anymore. The best part? No more complaining about the bad pillows while staying in hotels. Whoop, whoop!

“Adaptation, people. Your body is the result of what you have done. Want a different body? Do something different.” - Katy Bowman [3]

When did we become so rigid and stiff in our bodies that we decided to blame the super soft pillow for being at the root cause of our neck problems? Stop for a moment and THINK about that.
Clients are often asking me which type of pillow I think is the best and they are often willing to spend a lot of money on one too. My advice would be this, invest that time and money in you instead. Work towards becoming more flexible and supple in your body, and start by (gradually) getting rid of your pillow.

What’s my angle?
Improving my neck and spine health while sleeping  😉
What’s yours?




[1] Katy Bowman Move Your DNA, release your Pillow p.155

[2] [3] https://nutritiousmovement.com/your-pillow-is-an-orthotic/