Shape memory pillow: Opinion of a health professional

memory foam pillow

Article reviewed and approved by Dr. Ibtissama Boukas, physician specializing in family medicine 

227. That's the average number of hours of sleep in a lifetime.

Knowing that we spend almost a third of our lives sleeping, it is normal to think that sleep should ideally be achieved in the best possible conditions.

The problem is that sleep disorders affect a large proportion of the population. If you are reading this article today, you are probably looking for ways to optimize your sleep to reduce your back pain, neck pain, etc.

Could a memory foam pillow improve your nights of sleep already disturbed by your pain? Would it allow you to wake up without morning stiffness, and full of energy?

In this article, I give my physio opinion on memory foam pillows by covering the essential points (benefits and disadvantages, practical application, recommendations, etc.). If you ever consider buying a pillow, you'll have everything you need to make an informed decision.

The importance of the pillow

To doubt the importance of a good pillow is to doubt the importance of restful sleep.

Today more than ever, the sleep disorders affect a large portion of the population. When you suffer from back pain, low back pain, neck pain or headaches, it becomes even more important to get a restful night's sleep.

Interesting statistic: 80% of people with chronic back pain also have sleep problems. The problem is that a vicious cycle sets in where the poor quality of sleep aggravates the pain, which further disrupts sleep later on.

It is with this in mind that a quality pillow can be your best ally in improving the quality of your sleep. In fact, it is often said that memory foam pillows are the best type of pillow available. Is it true?

We will discuss memory foam pillows in the next section, highlighting their pros and cons.

Memory foam pillow: Positives

Developed in 1966 by NASA to improve sleeping conditions and comfort in space shuttles, memory foam pillows are now among the most used pillows for those who suffer from back pain and neck pain.

Memory foam pillows are made of viscoelastic foam, a polyurethane-based material that serves to improve density and viscosity. This material is also thermo-sensitive, which makes it react to the heat released by our body by deforming to mold our physiognomy.

What are the positives of memory foam pillows? The list is long, and described below:

Summary of the benefits of memory foam pillows:

  • Fits your spine (adapts to any body type)
  • Supports the neck and cervical
  • Maintains its shape at all times
  • Better durability compared to traditional pillows
  • Made of hypoallergenic materials
  • Does not release airborne lint that can be inhaled
  • Smooth and soft contact surface promotes comfort
  • Easy to maintain and wash
  • Ergonomic
  • Aesthetic
  • Best long-term investment

Because of their comfort, support and hygiene qualities, memory foam pillows are an excellent choice for those who wish to improve their sleep.

On the other hand, there are certain disadvantages which it is advisable to name to have a more exhaustive idea in connection with these pillows.

Memory foam pillow: Cons

The first concern related to memory foam pillows concerns especially those who have a very developed sense of smell. Since most foam pillows are wrapped in plastic at the end of production, this also traps chemical odors in the packaging.

Thus, it is not uncommon to smell the smell of chemicals when unpacking these products. Fortunately, these odors dissipate within a day or two, but people with highly developed senses of smell may be bothered for longer.

Another concern is related to the visco-elastic properties of memory foam pillows. Some pillows are so dense they can make you sweat. Note, however, that technological progress now allows the majority of memory foam pillows to have better breathability.

As for the thermo-sensitive properties of memory foam pillows, it directly affects the firmness of the pillow. Memory foam is temperature sensitive.

If your house is exceptionally warm, then the pillow will become very (too?) flexible. Conversely, if the temperature is too low, the foam may feel stiff and inflexible. Fortunately, standard room temperatures should not affect the firmness of the pillow.

Summary of disadvantages of memory foam pillows:

  • Involves chemical processes in the packaging process
  • Can retain heat and cause sweating
  • Variable malleability
  • Generally more expensive

Practical application

If you're reading this, you're probably looking to get a pillow, and are considering buying a memory foam pillow to improve your nights sleep.

Before we discuss practical applications and the best things to consider when buying a memory foam pillow, let's make sure it's really time for you to change your current pillow.

When to change your pillow?

We sometimes forget it, but a pillow does not last forever. Sometimes it becomes uncomfortable over time, which prompts us to change it. But sometimes we don't even realize that our pillow is completely obsolete.

In general, we recommend changing your pillow every 1-2 years, but the following situations may tell you that it's time for a change.

How do you know when it's time to change your pillow? :

  • If your memory foam pillow is deformed
  • If you fold your pillow and it doesn't return to its original position
  • If you see stains on your pillow (it may have accumulated too many bacteria)
  • If you wake up sneezing (your pillow may contain dust mites)
  • If you are achy in the morning, or if you have more aches and headaches than usual
  • If you constantly adjust your pillow during the night

Now you know if you need a new pillow. Whether that's the case or not, it's worth discussing the best use of the pillow to improve sleep.

In the next section, we discuss the best pillow layouts based on your sleeping position.

Best use of the pillow for sleep

Is there a sleeping position to prioritize when suffering from back pain, neck pain, Arnold's neuralgia, headaches, etc. Let me share some untold facts with you!

Contrary to popular belief, there isn't necessarily a "best" sleep posture per se. Likewise, there is no contraindicated posture that is systematically “bad” for the back (yes yes, sleeping on your stomach is not as bad as some people might claim!).

On the other hand, there are certain postures that reduce stress on the cervical, dorsal and lumbar vertebrae. In the presence of pain, I often recommend that my patients adopt one of the following three positions to see if there is a beneficial effect on the symptoms.

  1. Lying on your back with a pillow under your knees

This position reduces the anteversion of the pelvis (lumbar hyperlordosis), which reduces stress on the facet joints. Basically, keeping your knees slightly bent will prevent your back from arching excessively, reducing the stress on your vertebrae. For people who see their symptoms worsen in extension (for example with prolonged walking), this position can be comfortable and thus improve the quality of sleep. 

  1. Lying on the side

This position avoids lumbar twists. If the height of the pillow is adequate, it allows a neutral and comfortable position of the neck.

Some memory foam pillows are half-moon shaped to provide support for the arms, in addition to support for the cervical region. These pillows are regularly used by pregnant women.

For those who do not know where to place their arms during sleep, there are curved pillows that provide great freedom for the arms. For example, they can be very useful for men complaining of numbness in the upper limb after a night spent with their partner.

Finally, keeping a pillow between the legs increases comfort. Although any pillow can be used, there are knee pillows specifically designed to be placed between your legs during sleep.

  1. Laying down on the chest

This may go against what you have heard in the past. Indeed, it is sometimes said that sleeping in this position will cause your lumbar spine to hyperextend, and also damage the cervical spine due to the excessive twist on the neck.

Not necessarily. In reality, it all depends on your mobility and comfort. Moreover, the prone position (and even the cobra position!) can potentially relieve symptoms, and are sometimes used in the McKenzie method.

On the other hand, make sure to avoid the position on your stomach if it ever aggravates your pain (and/or causes irradiation in the arm or leg). If the pain is only in the lower back, an alternative would be to place a pillow under the stomach to minimize hyperextension.

  1. In a seated position

Sometimes you have to sleep in a sitting position, for example when traveling by car, train, bus, or on the plane.

It is not uncommon to develop a torticollis and cervical stiffness after adopting a prolonged poor sitting posture. With this in mind, a memory foam travel pillow can come in handy.

U-shaped, these pillows support the neck and avoid extreme positions of the cervical spine.

Note that the above suggestions do not address individual issues. Obviously, we move a lot during sleep, but starting in a position that causes less pain or stiffness can help improve your condition overall.

It goes without saying that a consultation with a health professional will allow you to treat your specific problems.

Cervi-care memory foam pillow

At this point, you are more comfortable with the memory foam pillow concept, and know their pros and cons.

You also know if it's time for you to change your current pillow. If so, I recommend the following model which is the most popular and recommended on Amazon.

For a more economical option, there is a memory foam pillow that contains bamboo fibers in addition to memory foam. Less expensive, it will still allow you to benefit from the properties of memory foam pillows. It should be noted that its size is however smaller.


Sleep constitutes almost a third of our life. If it is neglected, it regularly results in physical ailments (lumbar and cervical pain) and others (trough, overweight, heart problems, etc.).

We spend a lot of time testing and choosing our mattress, why not do the same for our pillow?

Memory foam pillows have a lot of benefits, especially when you suffer from neck pain, headaches, recurrent torticollis, and morning aches.

Used properly, these pillows can greatly improve our sleep, and thus improve our quality of life and our mood.

“A little sleep gives you a lot of things back.” JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit

Good night, and good recovery!

If you want to know the opinion of health professionals on other products focused on back pain:

Lumbar belt (heating)

Posture corrector

acupressure mat

massage gun 

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