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  • Natalie Collins

Time for some pillow talk

James Wilson, The Sleep Geek, spills the beans about pillows…

Pillows, we’re just not very good at them, are we? We go to our local supermarket, buy 2 pillows for £5, take them home, use them for a couple of weeks, realise that they are rubbish, chuck them in a cupboard and then when guests come to stay, we own the cupboard and chuck them at our guests saying “try these rubbish pillows!”

We put no value on our pillows, but they are so important to us feeling physically and emotionally well. Most of us spend very little on our pillows, but for example, if you spent £160 on a pillow, this would equate to 22p per night, over the two years that this pillow would last.

We’re also not very good at laying on pillows. Often we put both our head and our shoulders on the pillow. This prevents the pillow from doing the very thing that I pillow is supposed to do, which is to support your head properly by filling the gap between your mattress and your head. However, this is not our fault. Have you seen how people lay on pillows in films and on the TV? Nobody should be sleeping like that!!!

Generally, we keep our pillows for far too long, when our existing pillow starts to fade we will often buy another pillow, and then put that pillow on top of our existing pillow. Then when that pillow starts to get shallower we then put another pillow on top. We often think it is how many pillows we need that’s important, not understanding what a pillow is supposed to do.

The people who make pillows don’t help us either. Feathers and down might look lovely when they’re sitting on the bed. Put your hand on them and they just collapse. No support, no structure and you’re left looking like a pillow is attacking your face. If we were starting with the job of creating a product from scratch to support our head while we sleep we 100% would not use feather and down as the material of choice.

Finding the perfect pillow for me has been like finding the holy grail, I am sensitive to changes in posture and I have pretty broad shoulders. I have had years of going through pillow after pillow after pillow. I now have found the right pillow for me, and I will share what I have learned from my quest.

Why do we need pillows?

Let us start with the question, “What's a pillow supposed to do James?”. A pillow’s function is quite simple. It should keep your head straight, in a neutral position while asleep. So if you sleep on your back it fills the space between the mattress and the back of your neck, so it needs to be a bit more shallow. If you sleep on your side it fills the space between your head and your mattress filling the space where your shoulder is. It needs to be deeper and for people with very broad shoulders (like me), it needs to be very deep.

If you sleep on your front you need to try and stop it. Sleeping on our front puts our necks into an engaged position, and puts pressure on our body, from our shoulders right down to our knees. The right pillow to sleep on your side is extremely helpful in gently starting to sleep on your side. If you sleep on a combination of your side and your back, as I do, well you can get pillows with firmer, deeper edges and shallower and softer middles. When I'm on my side, I sleep on the edge of the pillow, and when I'm on my back I roll to the middle of the pillow.

When trying to fill these gaps it’s far better to use one pillow, rather than 2, 3 or 4. It’s easier to replace the support we get from one pillow than it is for us to replace multiple pillows.

The pillow test

If you suspect your pillow is not supporting you properly then if it's a fibre, feather or down pillow, there is a simple trick you can use, that I like to call Happy Pillow/Sad Pillow.

Place your pillow flat on one of your hands. If the pillow droops either side of your hand, this is a sad pillow and is ready to be replaced. If when you place it on your hand it stays proud and strong then it’s ok and this is a Happy Pillow. And as long as it’s the right depth for your body shape and how you sleep, it’s good to go.


So, there we go: Consider your body shape, do you have broad or narrow shoulders? Consider your sleep posture, do you sleep on your side, your back or a combination? If you sleep on your front, start to do something about it. Consider what materials you prefer, but seriously try to steer clear of down and feathers, and finally spend the money you need to get a pillow that supports you properly. Your neck and shoulders will thank you.

And what pillow have I got? It’s this one, the Astro pillow from UnikBed.

Sleep well,


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A note from Beingwell: If your organisation would like James to deliver a workshop, or want to find out more about the many ways he can help your employees to sleep better, pop us an email

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