Dr Clare Bailey: Is your pillow the key to better sleep?

Last week, I awoke to the sound of rain trickling down the window – but when I opened the curtains, the sun was shining and there wasn’t a raindrop in sight. It was part of my search for a pillow that would help me to sleep better – in this case, a high-tech one that plays soothing sounds.

Sally Caulwell / Folio Art

A huge number of us struggle with sleep – whether it’s too short, disrupted or poor quality. This can have a serious impact on our health, particularly as we get older, creating a cycle of tiredness, stress, low mood, impairment in thinking and memory, as well as contributing to health issues such as diabetes.

In the past, I could sleep anywhere. But over the years, like many of us, I’ve found I’m becoming a lighter sleeper and that I get neck pain if I have a pillow that is too firm and plump. So when I came across Soundasleep (£50, soundasleeppillow.co.uk) – a Bluetooth speaker pillow that claims to ‘create your perfect sleep environment’, whether it’s playing music, an audiobook or wave noises – I had to try it out.

Despite containing a speaker, it is fairly comfortable and the neutral sound of rain was comforting and relaxing. However, my husband Michael woke several times during the night thinking it was a water leak trickling into our bedroom!

Next I tested the Nanu (£30, nanusleep.co.uk) – a personalised pillow that also ticks the eco-friendly box as the filling is made from recycled plastic bottles. You design one to your specification according to height, weight, whether you sleep on your side or back, and preferred firmness. It is just as soft and plump as a feather pillow.

The only problem was that I woke worrying about the next stage of recycling: when it’s old, should I open it and empty the contents into the plastic bottle bin? And what happens to all those tiny micro plastic particles when its time is up? I rolled over wondering if I was breathing them in – although the manufacturer assures me that this is not a problem.

I also wonder whether feather- or bamboo-filled pillows might be less of an issue for the environment than the Nanu, though I liked the tailor-made approach. I’m now enjoying the Soundasleep pillow and have moved on to playing the sounds of lapping waves. It might even benefit someone with tinnitus, to reduce disturbance from the ringing in their ears.

So what makes a good pillow?

  1. Whether you are a side or back sleeper, it is best to find a position that keeps the spine comfortably in a fairly straight position.
  2. Side sleepers usually prefer a thicker and firmer pillow for support, whereas a tummy sleeper needs a very slim one or none at all.
  3. If you suffer from neck pain, you need to have some support, but the pillow shouldn’t be too firm as this may make it worse. If your pillow is too thick and firm or you are using more than one, it can force your neck forwards, deforming its shape and causing pain. some specialists suggest avoiding pillows altogether for this reason.
  4. It may be worth looking at a gel or memory foam pillow which is soft and flexible but also provides a base of firmness. They can also be pre-shaped for extra comfort.

Want a cooler brew? Go green

Green tea
Getty Images

My niece is a big fan of green tea and the Japanese rituals around it. I mentioned that I sometimes find the tea a little bitter and it turns out I have been burning it by using boiling hot water, which brings out too many tannins and causes the bitterness.

The Japanese tradition of pouring the hot water into the teapot from a height cools the water to a temperature closer to 80 degrees. To make this easier my niece has a smart digital kettle that can be set to heat water to certain temperatures. Green tea contains antioxidants and nutrients that could have health benefits, including reducing the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and strokes and may improve brain function.

In a Japanese study, those who drank more cups tended to live longer – so I’m off to make a brew…

If you have a question you would like answered, email drclarebailey@you.co.uk