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Whether its everyday stress, major life events, or just too much screen time, most people aren't getting enough quality sleep. Your pillow choice can help make a difference in getting some refreshing shut-eye, particularly if neck pain is a symptom or the cause of your stress.

A comfortable bed that you can look forward to is part of a good sleep routine and managing stress. Contoured pillows made out of memory foam are some of the most popular for those wanting to upgrade where they rest their head every night, especially for those dealing with neck pain. Memory foam pillows work based on the heat from your body, softening into the ideal shape to support your head and neck. There are ways to use a memory foam pillow to improve your sleep, as well as ways to use it incorrectly.

What is memory foam?

Urban legend has it that NASA invented memory foam in the 1970s to cushion the astronauts on space flights. While NASA says that it did have a hand in the development of memory foam, Charles Yost is credited with the invention while under contract with NASA in 1966 to use in airplanes. Yost dubbed the viscoelastic foam “temper foam,” and marketed it primarily for medical use. The viscosity of the foam allows your body heat to soften the pillow which supports your head differently from conventional pillows, helping alleviate neck and back pain.

Choosing your pillow

Shop for memory foam pillows from reputable stores or websites. There are several companies, like Tempur-Pedic, which have extensively researched and developed their product for maximum benefit. The best pillows are contoured—flat on one side and curved on the other. The larger of the two curves is designed to cradle your neck.

Be careful that you are getting viscoelastic foam and not eggshell crate designed to look like the expensive pillows. You can tell you are getting the right type of foam if you press your hand firmly into the pillow and the indentation not only looks like your hand, but springs back within a few seconds. You also want a dense foam, as that will provide more support. A foam density of five or six pounds is ideal.

How to sleep on a memory foam pillow

Place the flat side of your pillow down and orient the pillow with the larger of the two curves toward the foot of your bed. This will provide maximum support for your head and neck, regardless of whether you sleep on your side or your back.

Settle into your pillow and let your head sink in. Even if the pillow seems too hard at first, stay with it. In a few minutes, you will feel the pillow conform to your head, neck, and shoulders due to your body heat. It will take a little while for the foam to change position when you do. As the foam cools, it becomes stiffer. This is an ideal time to take a few cleansing breaths or to meditate for a few minutes to prompt your body and brain to have a deep and stress-relieving sleep.

Memory foam pillows not ideal for stomach sleepers

It is recommended that you do not sleep on your stomach with a memory foam pillow. The pillow's unique shape can put a stomach sleeper's head and neck at unusual angles, which can increase neck pain and headaches.

Sleeping on your stomach, regardless of the type of pillow you use, can cause you to awaken with a stiff neck and can negatively affect your shoulders, upper back, jaw, and vital organs. Using a contoured pillow can prevent sleeping on your stomach due to general discomfort.

Regardless of the position you prefer to sleep in, memory foam pillows can help you have a better rest each night, even if it means teaching your body not to sleep on your stomach. And better sleep aids in decreasing stress and increasing alertness.