Why Doctors Ask How Many Pillows You Sleep With And Why Pillows Might Be Your Best Friend

I could never figure out why doctors kept asking me how many pillows I slept with. Chiropractors, naturopaths, general practitioners, specialists of varying kinds. I didn’t dwell on it until after my fibromyalgia diagnosis in 2003. That’s when I connected my ‘pillow problem’ and my chronic illness. I require a rather high number of pillows (five, sometimes six) if I wish to have a half-way decent sleep. But why do doctors ask how many pillows you sleep with?

Why Doctors Ask ‘How Many Pillows?’

Your doctor is checking to see if you have a ‘pillow problem’. The number of pillows under your head can affect your airway. Keeping it open has its obvious benefits. 🙂 For most people, keeping your head and neck fairly flat during sleep – with a single pillow – is the best way to breathe easily by keeping your airway open.

What if you find you breathe better with two or three pillows? That could be an indicator of two things:

  1. You may suffer from acid reflux, which is gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Stomach acid and sometimes stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus and irritate the lining.
  2. Heart or lung issues. If you find you are breathless when lying flat, or you awaken while lying flat, it could be a sign of heart disease. This is because the heart is having trouble clearing the lung congestion that results from more area of the lungs being ‘wet’ as you lie flat. Think about a bottle of water that is about a third full: more of the area of the bottle’s surface is wet when the bottle is lying down than when it is standing upright.

If either of these two scenarios describes you, it’s time to talk to your doctor.

If this does not describe you, but you still sleep with more than two pillows, or five-six like me, then you likely suffer some sort of pain issue. I’m guessing.

How Many Pillows?

If you’re reading this agog at the thought that anyone could actually sleep with that many pillows, let me assure you I am not talking about the decorative pillows that often adorn a well-appointed master bed. I am not talking about the fancy schmancy silk-covered cylinder-shaped things that never touch a cheek.

I’m about to describe the type of pillows I use and why I use them. If your eyes are glazing over and you’re happy with your spinster pillow, go ahead and skip to the next section where I talk about pillow and sleeping styles and provide links to help you decide what’s best for you.

I’m talking about regular pillows. And I use six.

Two Under My Head

I use two under my head: one fairly flat and foamy on the bottom, and a down pillow on top of  that. The down pillow is really malleable and fluffy, and my face likes it. I turn it over a few times in the middle of the night so that I get the cool side next to my skin. The foam one below helps ensure that – as a side-sleeper – I reduce both the pain in my bed-side shoulder and the propensity for my bottom arm to go to sleep.

2 x 2 Along Each Side

Then I have one or two more pillows lying down each side of my body. Not body-pillows. I’ve tried those, but find that the one long pillow doesn’t give me the flexibility I need as I toss and turn.

I like the pillows I keep near my upper body on either side to be fairly bulky: fluffy but with personality, if you get what I mean. On these I rest my top arm so that it doesn’t collapse onto my body. If I do not have a pillow for this position, I get pain deep inside my top-side shoulder. Pain that either wakes me up or keeps me from sleeping.

The two pillows I keep near my lower body on either side need to be more like the down pillow at my head: fluffy, but a little wimpier. These two do the job of keeping my knees from touching (did I mention I’m a side-sleeper?). Or when I must roll forward slightly to relieve the pressure on the pain-point on my lower hip, that lower-body pillow gives my top leg somewhere to rest comfortably and prevents me from rolling too far onto my stomach. (Which I hate. Hurts my low back immediately.)

What Type of Pillow Is Best?

What type of pillow and how many you use is a very personal decision. Did you know there are at least 25 different kinds of pillows, and probably more? There are pillows defined by their shape, like wedge or bolster or contour. And there are pillows defined by what they’re made of, like feathers or down, foam or buckwheat, just to name a few. For optimal sleep and optimal health, you should match your pillow with your sleeping style.

Are Pillows Your Best Friend?

I take my pillows everywhere. Ok, not all six, but definitely two, and often three or four. Depends how we’re travelling, of course. By air? I take two. Road trip? Easy, I take four. I’m just not myself without my friendly pillows, because I can’t sleep and my pain spikes both at night and the day after.

Do you have a close relationship with your pillows like I do? How many do you use, and how do they help you?

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