PAB Newsletter #21 – The importance of an appropriate pillow: a tool for improving your sleep

Feb 12, 2024 | Home News, Media, News, Performance

Authors: Julio Calleja-González, Igor Jukic, Francesco Cuzzolin, Baris Kocaoglu, Mar Rovira, Antonio Santo, Jaime Sampaio.

The importance of a good sleep in basketball

We spend one third of our lives asleep. Apart from improving cognitive performance, mood state and quality of life both, sleep quality and getting enough sleep, have a major impact on health conditions and life expectancy.There are many methods that can help improve sleep quality including sleep hygiene education and behavioral therapy (Nishinoue et al, 2012), which can also be applied to basketball performance. Furthermore, the evidence shows that sleep plays a crucial role in player’s recovery and basketball performance, and consequently impacts also risk of injury.2 Therefore, a good sleep has an important role in basketball given the high weekly volume of games in the Euroleague. In addition, a good sleep affects athlete’s performance the next day3, so coaches should take this into account when planning and determining the intensity of workouts and schedules. For that reason, sleep scientists use various tools they have at their disposal to improve our sleep. For example, one of such tools are pillows, which are an important part of the sleep process4, given that using a suitable pillow with appropriate support reduces neck and shoulder pain.5

The importance of an appropriate pillow  

Pillow plays an important role during our sleep and helps us achieve a restful sleep by keeping our body in a neutral position. In addition, it also provides support to our body parts  preventing pain in the cervical spine or other discomforts related with our sleeping posture. Thus, an appropriate selection of a pillow can optimize the sleeping posture and help facilitate high-quality sleep (Bernateck et al. 2008). Furthermore, body shape can also influence pillow size according to pillow performance research largely involving testing pillows of novel shape and design (Erfanian et al., 2004)

Effects of a pillow on sleep

A pillow provides support to our head and neck while we sleep. It is important that pillows have the right height maintaining the position that allows the cervical area to be aligned with the spine. Improper use of the pillow can cause back, neck and head pain. In addition, it can also lead to discomfort in the ears, due to the pressure of certain postures and can also cause discomfort in the jaw due to uncomfortable positions and problems when sleeping, subsequently also causing insomnia or bruxism. Pillows with firm support for cervical lordosis could be recommended for the management of neck pain and improvement of sleep quality (Persson and Moritz 1998).

Types of pillows

Pillows are equally important as your mattress for sleep health and quality; however, many sleepers overlook a pillow’s value and simply opt for generic pillows. While standard, rectangular pillows are perfectly supportive, innovative pillow shapes—such as a cervical or body pillow—can ease chronic pain, sleep conditions, and help you sleep more comfortably overall. Also, the pillow’s filling is important and impacts the breathability, comfort, and durability of your pillows, along with their cost.

The best type of pillow should promote a healthy spine, relieve pressure, and support your head and neck so you can sleep comfortably. The plethora of pillow options is daunting, but we clearly lay out your options to help you choose a high-quality pillow and achieve a good night’s sleep. Based on scientific evidence, rubber pillows and spring pillows may provide better performance than feather pillows (Pang et al. 2021).

Pillows and Sleeping Positions

The body contour and pressure distribution in the sleep system are highly individualized, with the body contour on the mattress surface being dependent on the individual’s sleeping position (Zhan 2022). This is the main reason why the sleeping position determines the pillow firmness and loft (height) needed to sleep comfortably and maintain a healthy spinal alignment. The pillow shouldn’t be so tall it makes your neck curl inward, nor so thin your head and neck curve backward. In fact, inadequate pillow support can contribute to neck pain and waking symptoms (Johnson Pang Chun-Yiu).

Table 1. Type of sleepers

Use of pillows at night, during micro naps and trips in Euroleague

Depending on the time of day, different types of pillows for rest are suggested:

Practical advice for players

It is highly recommendable for ELPA Players to use their own pillow not just at night but also in their daily life. An interesting fact about sleep is also that the cooling of the head due to the pillow during sleep seems to be linked to sleep depth (Liu et al. 2011). Similarly, reduced core and head temperatures could induce deeper sleep (Kawabata and Tokura 1996). Okamoto-Mizuno et al.  A pillow design helps reducing the temperature of the head can also reduce sweating and overall body temperature, thus indirectly contributing to an improved sleep quality.

Therefore…bring your own pillow when you are traveling!


Adriana SalvaggioAnna Lo Bue Serena Iacono Isidoro Salvatore Romano Oreste Marrone Giuseppe Insalaco …Gel pillow designed specifically for obstructive sleep apnea treatment with continuous positive airway pressure. J Bras Pneumol. 2016 Sep-Oct;42(5):362-366.  doi: 10.1590/S1806-37562016000000015.

Ochoa-Lácar J, Singh M, Bird SP, Charest J, Huyghe T, Calleja-González J How Sleep Affects Recovery and Performance in Basketball: A Systematic Review. J.Brain Sci. 2022 nov 18;12(11):1570. doi: 10.3390/brainsci12111570.

Clemente F.M., Mendes B., Bredt S.D.G.T., Praça G.M., Silvério A., Carriço S., Duarte E. Perceived Training Load, Muscle Soreness, Stress, Fatigue, and Sleep Quality in Professional Basketball: A Full Season Study. J. Hum. Kinet. 2019; 67:199–207. doi: 10.2478/hukin-2019-0002

Chun-Yiu JP, Man-Ha ST, Chak-Lun AF. The effects of pillow designs on neck pain, waking symptoms, neck disability, sleep quality and spinal alignment in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis.Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2021 May; 85:105353. doi: 10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2021.105353. Epub 2021 Apr 19.

R.A. Lavin et al.Cervical pain: a comparison of three pillows. Arch. Phys. Med. Rehabil, (1997)

Bernateck, M., Karst, M., Merkesdal, S., Fischer, M.J. & Gutenbrunner, C. (2008) Sustained effects of comprehensive inpatient rehabilitative treatment and sleeping neck support in patients with chronic cervicobrachialgia: a prospective and 188 M.Y. Jeon et al. randomized clinical trial. Int. J. Rehabil. Res., 31, 342-346

  1. P. Erfanianet al.Assessing effects of a semi-customized experimental cervical pillow on symptomatic adults with chronic neck pain with and without headache, Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, (2004)

Persson, L. & Moritz, U. (1998) Neck support pillows: a comparative study. J. Manipulative Physiol. Ther., 21, 237-240.

Johnson Pang Chun-Yiu 1Sharon Tsang Man-Ha 2Allan Fu Chak-Lun .The effects of pillow designs on neck pain, waking symptoms, neck disability, sleep quality and spinal alignment in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2021 May: 85:105353. doi: 10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2021.105353. Epub 2021 Apr 19.

Yuan Zhang 1Aiping Xiao 1Tianhao Zheng 1Huafei Xiao 2Ruiyan Huang 1The Relationship between Sleeping Position and Sleep Quality: A Flexible Sensor-Based Study Sensors (Basel). 2022 Aug 19;22(16):6220. doi: 10.3390/s22166220.

Johnson Pang Chun-Yiu 1Sharon Tsang Man-Ha 2Allan Fu Chak-Lun 3 The effects of pillow designs on neck pain, waking symptoms, neck disability, sleep quality and spinal alignment in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2021 May: 85:105353. doi: 10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2021.105353. Epub 2021 Apr 19.

Kawabata, A. & Tokura, H. (1996) Effects of two kinds of pillow on thermoregulatory responses during night sleep. Appl. Human. Sci., 15, 155-159

Okamoto-Mizuno, K., Tsuzuki, K. & Mizuno, K. (2003) Effects of head cooling on human sleep stages and body temperature. Int. J. Biometeorol., 48, 98-102


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