As Seen in the Nov / Dec 2022 Issue of Golf Tips Magazine
Evaluating the quality of your sleep is a vital part of your performance and more importantly, your overall health. Many people are quick to blame their mattresses as the reason they’re not getting the recommended seven-to-nine-hour dosage of sleep each night, or they settle for a self-diagnosis of insomnia and learn to deal with it. Blaming your mattress or putting an incorrect label on your health is an ineffective way to solve an easy problem, in most cases, and poses a major threat to your mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing when ignored. These are the reasons we must examine the patterns and conditions of our sleep.
Our ability to get into that deep REM sleep relies heavily on our environment. It's typical to bring immediate attention to the quality of your mattress as you assess your sleep environment, and for good reason, but what about your pillow? Your pillow is just as important as your mattress because it influences your sleep posture.
Similar to the posture in your golf swing that can set you up for success or failure, the same goes for your sleep posture, which ultimately controls spinal alignment- again, another important aspect of the golf swing. When our spine becomes misaligned because our pillow is too flat or lacks the firmness that is necessary to support our head, neck and shoulders, it sends a message to our brain that something is not right, which activates the fight or flight response from our autonomic nervous system and sends us into overdrive.
Not only will this keep us awake counting sheep, but it also promotes anxiety, panic and increased muscle and tissue tension commonly leading to neck and back pain. Investing in a good pillow is important for your health and your ability to perform not only on the golf course but also in your daily life so that you’re clear-headed when making decisions or doing things that require focus, attention and critical reasoning.
Patients always ask me for my recommendation on a good pillow, so I’m going to share that with you here because I would be doing a disservice if I did not. I’ve come across many pillows in my career, but nothing that has even come close to this one-of-a-kind product. This special pillow developed and engineered by Nora Boyd is called the Hullwinkle pillow for the all-natural buckwheat hulls that make up the firm consistency of the pillow, providing endless neck support and postural stability through a full night of sleep.
More than half my patients use this pillow, and the common feedback I have received is that they no longer wake up in the middle of the night. When they don’t sleep with it, they notice a significant difference in their ability to sleep and the physical impact it places on their bodies, which re-exacerbates a stiff, sore neck or back. Let’s dive into some pillow talk with Nora to understand the influence it has over your quality of sleep and life.
NORA BOYD: Sleeping pillows have existed for a long time, and evidence of their use can be traced back to ancient Egypt, China, and beyond. While pillows have evolved and continue to evolve, “fluffy pillows” have become the status quo. Commonly, these are filled with some type of compressible material (e.g., feathers, polyester, foam). While fluffy pillows make our beds look dreamy, they do pretty much nothing to help our bodies with stability, support, and relief during sleep.
As Dr. Napolitano pointed out, body misalignment can lead to sleep deficits that build up over time and take a toll on our health and wellness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over a third of U.S. adults fail to get seven-plus hours of sleep each night. Insufficient sleep increases the likelihood of heart disease, stroke, weight gain, depression, and other illnesses. While various factors contribute to insufficient sleeping, pillows are a common complaint. Since we spend a third of our lives sleeping, pillows can help or get in the way of our sleep.
How do I know if my pillow is hurting my sleep?
First ask yourself: does my pillow compress too much or not enough? If you answer yes either way, your pillow is causing your head to come out of horizontal alignment with the body. To achieve the best sleep, you should be aligned horizontally with the mattress without having the head titled too much at an angle up, down or to either side. For people managing through surgeries, injuries or pain, particularly around the neck, adequate support is critical to sleep, recovery and renewal.
Then ask: are the materials in my pillow synthetic?
Many pillows are manufactured without regard to human health and environmental impacts. Foam, synthetic down and polyester pillows not only tend to trap body heat and make us sleep hot but are also made from petroleum-derived plastics, which can have negative environmental and health impacts during production, use and disposal. Some manufacturers include additives in their formulations (e.g., flame retardants) that can harm health. Memory foam products have been known to emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs); studies have linked VOCs to a variety of respiratory health problems.
What should I look for in a sleeping pillow?
Firm is the new fluffy. The purpose of a sleeping pillow is to alleviate tension while supporting our bodies, especially during back and side sleeping. A well-designed pillow should minimize extreme bulges and dead spots of filling to promote consistent alignment throughout sleep. Ideally, it should be weighted, so it does not slip away from underneath you at night (triggering unnecessary wake ups and sleep deficits). It should also promote air flow and not retain body heat and sweat. Because one size doesn’t fit all body types and conditions, the pillow filling should be adjustable to suit individual needs.