I quickly went from dreading going to bed, to craving every moment my head was on the pillow.
A few weeks ago, I went for a fitting.
Admittedly, this was the first time in my life I’d given my pillow any real thought. I tend to focus more time and cash into my mattress over anything else, when it comes to improving my sleep hygiene. My memory foam mattress is perfectly molded to my sleep position, and whenever I’m sleeping anywhere but in my own bed (and I’m using the word ‘sleeping’ here very loosely), I’m bound to make some type of snarky comment about how “lumpy” or “springy” a mattress is.
But the pillow? Meh. How much difference can a pillow even make?
I was about to find out, courtesy of a personalized pillow fitting session with BEDGEAR’s VP of international sales in Asia Pacific, Ross Stuart, and sleep scientist Dr Lorenzo Turicchia.
The session was early in the morning, and coincidentally I had a pretty rough night’s sleep beforehand. While I don’t have much trouble falling asleep, it is the waking up multiple times at night that really impedes the amount of shut-eye I get. And since this had been the case the night before, observable by the unconcealed dark circles under my eyes, I found myself closely listening to everything the experts said with determination to improve my own sleep patterns.
“Some of the causes of sleep deprivation may be unintentional such as not getting enough sleep because of late nights, family obligations, demanding jobs, or social jet lag. But another typical issue that can cause sleep deprivation is when you are sleeping on a pillow and mattress that are not fit to your sleep position and body type, you’ll be tossing and turning as your body looks for support and comfort, thereby causing you to lose out on time spent in bed,” Dr Turicchia said.
“Consistent sleep-wake patterns of going to bed late or waking up early can lead to sleep deprivation and the accumulation of sleep debt. Additional causes of sleep deprivation include medical problems such as depression, obstructive sleep apnea, hormone imbalances, and other chronic illnesses.”
In my zombie state, I was further awakened by the seriousness of sleep deprivation.
“A lack of sleep can affect your balance and coordination, making you more prone to falls and other accidents.”
Okay, this actually explained a lot. I’m regularly pretty clumsy.
“This is because sleep deprivation affects our reaction times, our ability to multi-task and memory. It can also give you the same repercussions as if you’re drunk and make it incredibly dangerous to drive and difficult to work.
“Sleep deprivation negatively affects your mental abilities and emotional state,” Dr Turicchia explained as I enthusiastically hopped onto the bed, ready to have my life changed.
“You may feel more impatient and can be prone to mood swings. It can also compromise decision-making processes and creativity,” she continued, as I settled into my regular sleeping position, so she could determine which pillow was best suited to me.
“A posture that promotes a straight spine is essential to neck and back health,” Dr Turicchia said.
“Your personal sleep position doesn’t matter too much as long as you have optimal spinal alignment, through personalized Performance Sleep gear fit for you and your needs.”
Since I’m a stomach sleeper, we were going through the flatter pillows. First up was the Balance 1.0 Performance pillow, which while it felt divine to lie on my back with, it was no good for me as I turned to my stomach and felt my back oddly arching.
Despite this pillow not working out, the experts continued to inform me about the importance of breathable technology in pillows.
“According to the Sleep Health Foundation, air circulation is key to a cooler and better night’s sleep,” Dr Turicchia explained.
“This goes without saying that if you dress your bed with breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics to help amplify your air circulation, you will most likely have a cooler night which in turn will keep you from tossing, turning and disrupting your sleep throughout the night.”
Moving forward, I tried the Level 1.0 Performance pillow, and while it was an improvement, I unfortunately noticed the same discomfort lying on my stomach.
Essentially, what the experts were looking for, was a pillow to support the natural curvature of my neck and upper back for the six to eight hours that I’m asleep (or SHOULD be asleep). Therefore it can take multiple attempts to find the right pillow since it is completely subjective to each individual. For people who sleep on their back, a pillow that supports the natural curve of the neck is essential, if you sleep on your side, a pillow that keeps your neck straight is best, and if you sleep on your stomach a thin pillow is ideal.
So we continued on the quest to find the best pillow for me.
And in true “third-time lucky” style, I tested the Balance 0.0 Performance pillow next and instantly melted in all positions.
It suddenly occurred to me how odd is was it had never dawned to me to do this before. Why do we try on clothes and shoes, and test drive cars, and even lie on mattresses, but not test out pillows??!
Even though I now had the perfect pillow in hand, I knew this wasn’t the “be-all and end-all” solution. I was particularly curious about just how much sleep I should be getting in each ‘sleep stage’.
“Sleep can be decomposed in three parts or stages – light sleep, deep sleep, and Rapid Eye Movement sleep also known as REM,” Dr Turicchia willingly explained.
“Over the course of the night, the body will go through this cycle four to six times, spending an average of 90 minutes in each stage. Each stage of sleep serves different restorative functions, including muscle recovery, hormone regulation, and memory consolidation, making it essential to allow enough time to cycle through all sleep stages.
“Without a full night of sleep, your body and mind are deprived of the essential elements needed to help you conquer the day. REM sleep has been shown to be important for memory, learning, and mood. During REM sleep dreams have a more coherent narrative. Light sleep promotes mental and physical restoration and deep sleep helps with physical recovery and aspects of memory and learning.”
Armed with my newfound sleep knowledge, I was uncharacteristically excited for bed that night. Would this be my first actual proper night’s sleep in forever?
The most noticeable difference, was I woke much less frequently during the night, And within a few weeks, I was barely waking up during the night at all. My Fitbit Versa (which has become increasingly valued to track a detailed record of my sleep) even provided me with proof.
With a busy life like most people, what became clear was that I didn’t need an increased block of time to get more sleep, I just needed to sleep better during the time that I did have. The comparison illustrates I was waking less frequently, and also spending a lot more time in deep and REM sleep.
Dr Turicchia had added that while sleep is becoming a much more popular topic in the media today, we aren’t always getting the best information.
“A lot of sleep in the media seems to talk about how to “cheat sleep” but what is important is staying asleep for the number of hours you do have rather than tossing and turning throughout the night.”
And even though some nights are still rough, getting a good night’s sleep is much more consistent for me now. Besides, once you find a pillow that’s right for you, you’ll want to keep it (or sleep on it) forever.
Comment: Do you have trouble sleeping? How do you deal with it?