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 and can help alleviate neck and back pain.

Choosing Your Pillow

Obtain a memory foam pillow from a reputable source. There are several companies like Tempur-Pedic who have extensively researched and developed their product for maximum benefit. The best pillow is 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. According to Memory Foam Buyers Guide, you want a foam density of five or six pounds.

Pillow Orientation

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 and in five minutes or so, 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.

Tummy Sleepers

It is recommended that you do not sleep on your stomach with this type of pillow, as that can put your head and neck at unusual angles, which can increase neck pain and headaches. According to Neck Solutions, sleeping on your stomach in general 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 your sleeping on your stomach due to general discomfort.