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Physical Friday: Pillows, Sleep and Chronic Illness

21 Feb 14
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(c) Megan S, December 2013

(c) Megan S, December 2013

Everyone suffering from a chronic illness would have had someone say to them “if you get enough sleep, you’ll feel better” and I’m sure most of us have also had that unrelenting feeling of not being able to sleep even though you need to.

Today I want to talk about one of the things I find really interferes with my ability to sleep. Before I start, I want to say this isn’t the only thing that interferes, but it is one I think I’ve found a solution to for now.

Problem: Finding pillows that allow you to be comfortable

One of the stacks of pillows around our house. Photo (c) Megan S, Feb 2014

One of the stacks of pillows around our house.
Photo (c) Megan S, February 2014

I’m sure I’m not the only one that struggles to get comfortable at night, and one of the things that has always annoyed me is my pillow. I have never been able to find one that actually feels comfortable enough for me to get to sleep without tossing and turning.

Just a quick google search for pillows and sleep turns up multiple articles on how to find the best pillows and what are the best positions to sleep in.

Experts on WebMD give the following advice on choosing the correct pillow:

  • If you sleep on your back: “Back sleepers need thinner pillows, so their head is not thrown too far forward,” Bernard says. Also look for a pillow with extra loft in the bottom third of the pillow to cradle your neck.
  • If you sleep on your side: Side sleepers need a firmer pillow to fill in the distance between the ear and outside shoulder.
  • If you’re a stomach sleeper: Look for a very thin, almost flat pillow. You may not even need a pillow for your head, but consider tucking one under your stomach to avoid lower back pain, Breus suggests.

and shares their top picks for pillows on their site.

Another two pillows tried and rejected next to the bed. Photo (c) Megan S, Feb 2014

Another two pillows tried and rejected next to the bed.
Photo (c) Megan S, February 2014

I’ve tried multiple types of pillows; firm and soft, down and foam, but I’ve never found anything comfortable enough. I also struggle to choose based on sleeping position because I don’t stay in one position all night.

My solution for now

After my laparoscopy last year, I was having trouble sleeping on my side because my tummy would hurt where the doctors had gone in. One of my best friends, V, had recently had a baby and one day while we were at their house I needed a rest and used the bed in the baby’s room. The pillow on the bed was one of those pregnancy pillows that supports your tummy, V suggested trying it and it worked well for my post-laparoscopy tummy as well. V lent the pillow to me.

Pregnancy Pillow on my bed. Photo (c) Megan S, February 2014

Pregnancy Pillow on my bed.
Photo (c) Megan S, February 2014

To begin with I was using the pillow as recommended (to support my tummy) but as that as healed the pillow has migrated upwards and become my main pillow.

I like it because it has varied support levels. If I want a high support I can lie on one of the sides or flip the pillow over, and when lying on my side I tend to use the lower bit which allows room for my arms to wrap around the pillow. I’m not sure why, but I find this pillow much more comfortable than any of my normal ones.

If you’re reading V, thank you for lending me this pillow! It’s definitely helping me get more sleep than I was on any of my pillows.

Have you found a pillow that works well for you?

Do you have any other suggestions for improving sleep with chronic illnesses?

No Comments

  1. jmlol February 21, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    I used to use mine the same way! It’s also great for between the legs. Have you tried that yet?

    • Megan S February 21, 2014 at 2:51 pm

      Yes, I haven’t quite worked out a comfortable position there though.

      • jmlol February 21, 2014 at 3:02 pm

        I find that it has to be super thin to feel nice.

  2. positivepain February 21, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    I’m feeling the lack of sleep today ao can relate! I’ve found one of those v shaped pillows is helpful when sitting on a bad day. As for sleeping….still yet to find the perfect pillow. It’s out there somewhere!

    • Megan S February 21, 2014 at 4:21 pm

      Let’s hope we find it soon 🙂

  3. Jenn M February 21, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    My pillows work for the most part. I’d still like to get some better ones though! 😉

    • Megan S February 22, 2014 at 11:41 am

      Great! 🙂

  4. Trisha February 22, 2014 at 11:02 am

    I’ve tried and rejected many pillow too! Right now I use a contoured foam pillow for my head, a small, thick pillow to wrap my arms around and a small, thin pillow for between my knees. It’s a pain keeping track of all of them because I turn from side to side all night long. The pregnancy pillow seems like a good shape to support the head and the arms. I’m glad you’ve found something that works!

    • Megan S February 22, 2014 at 11:40 am

      Thanks Trisha, still experimenting but it seems to work well 70% of the time. 🙂

  5. It’s a lonely place February 22, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    That’s great I have one of those. I move around too and use two pillows one harder underneath and one soft thinner on top and I tend to punch and work it until it’s comfortable x

    • Megan S February 23, 2014 at 9:52 am

      Seems like we all struggle with pillows and sleep. 🙂

      • It’s a lonely place February 24, 2014 at 12:09 am


  6. Wildflower Women February 27, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Ahh yes, the pillow issue and waking up without pain. I will be interested to see how this works for you. I too have many, many pillows that no longer serve me. Wishing you the best.

    • Megan S February 27, 2014 at 9:21 am

      I’ll definitely keep you updated with any changes. 🙂
      Thank you for the well wishes.

  7. Laura April 1, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    C and U pregnancy pillows are great, if your bed is big enough most definitely you should choose U. It’ll give you full body support, also great for those who turn a lot during sleep. You just turn over and go back to sleep. C is good too, but if you flip on the other side you might have to readjust the pillow too.Some find it annoying, some don’t care.

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