Most of us are taught less about good sleep habits than about, say, geometry.
But knowing how to sleep with pillows to keep our neck and back at the right angles for spinal alignment is one of the essential elements of better sleep, especially as we age.
If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, waking up feeling unrested, or experiencing neck, back, or shoulder pain, your pillow approach may be part of the problem. It’s important to learn the proper pillow position for sleeping. Read on as we list some best pillow practices to improve sleep quality in every position.
Side sleep is the most common sleep position, and is often considered the best position overall for sleep health.1 Although side sleepers may wake from a time-warping nap with a few charming creases on one side of their face (which can be avoided with a silk pillowcase), side sleeping provides many advantages.
To reap them, follow these tips to sleep correctly with a pillow on your side:
- Use a soft (but not too soft) pillow – Side sleepers will fare best with a lofted pillow that fits between the neck and the mattress and is sturdy enough to keep the head from sagging down. Be careful to avoid too-firm pillows that crane the neck upward and can cause neck pain.
- Look straight ahead – We spend enough time looking down at our phones and computers when we’re awake. Try to keep a neutral position in the forward and backward tilt of your head when sleeping on your side.
- Put a pillow between your knees – A helpful practice of side sleeping is to put a thick, firm pillow or body pillow between the legs, with the knees even or the top knee slightly staggered to keep your hip from pulling forward and straining your lower back.
- Put a small pillow under your waist – A small pillow can help prevent bending too much at the waist—say from a sagging mattress—which can also stress the lower back.2 This helps bring your spine back into alignment for a more restful sleep.
Fewer people sleep on their backs than on their sides, but it is thought to be the best position for alleviating neck and back pain.3 Those with back-sleeping partners may be familiar with the extra snoring that comes with this position, but with the right strategies, comfort can be maximized on every side of the bed.
How to sleep on your back with pillows? Take a look:
- Use a thinner pillow – To keep the neck in a neutral position when you’re on your back, choose a pillow with a lower loft.4 It could also be helpful to spring for material with more body, like a feather pillow or buckwheat pillow, to fill in the space between your neck and the mattress while still supporting your neck.
- Look up – As with side sleeping, you want to make sure that your chin remains in a neutral position, neither tucked into your chest nor pointing at the wall behind you.5
- Support your shoulders – During back sleep, neck support is at least as important as head support, so the tops of your shoulders should reach your pillow. Be wary, however, of sleeping too elevated on the pillow, as any gap between your shoulders and the bed can cause back and shoulder pain.5
- Use a small pillow under your neck – A contoured pillow or smaller neck pillow can accommodate the extra head and neck support back sleepers need.6 In a pinch, you can add a small round pillow or a rolled towel to your pillowcase.
- Put a pillow under your knees – Propping the knees with a pillow more closely imitates our natural standing posture and can help relieve lower back stress.3
- Surround yourself with pillows – If you’re trying to train yourself to sleep on your back, you may find it useful to surround yourself with a couple of body pillows to keep yourself from rolling to a more familiar position, like on your side or stomach.7
Stomach sleep is typically discouraged for adults (though it comes highly recommended for babies). However, it can be the right choice for those with respiratory concerns and acid reflux. If you like to belly-flop into bed and forget the world behind you, follow these tips for maximum comfort.
Position your pillows in these ways to get the most out of your stomach sleeping:
- Put a pillow under your pelvis – Even on a firm mattress, sleeping on your stomach can tilt the waist forward, making this position stressful for the lower back. A pillow under the pelvis can maintain proper spine alignment.8
- Use a thinner pillow, or skip it entirely – A thicker pillow can force the neck to tilt back too far, so opt for a thin pillow with some flexibility. Alternatively, stomach sleepers may benefit from forgoing a pillow for their head altogether.8
Now that you know the right positions, the next step is to pick the right pillow. Fortunately, there are different types of pillows to choose from. There are latex pillows, buckwheat pillows, memory foam pillows, pillows for back pain, and pillows for neck pain. What matters is you get the right tools for quality sleep.
Lay Your Head Comfortably on Pillows from Casper
Discovering the proper way to sleep on a pillow in your preferred sleeping position can make a world of difference in your comfort, sleep quality, and overall health. Until schools start implementing more Sleep 101 classes and fewer lessons on the Pythagorean theorem, we’re here to help guide you in the right direction.
At Casper, we’re obsessed with quality sleep. We’re constantly exploring cutting-edge technology and the most recent science to deliver people their most restful sleep. From pillows and bedding to mattresses and bedframes, Casper is your one-stop shop for better sleep.
Ready to wake up refreshed and ready to tackle the day? Who knows—you may even feel like brushing up on your high school geometry.
- Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic Minute: What is the best sleeping position? https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-minute-what-is-the-best-sleeping-position/
- University of Rochester Medical Center. Good Sleeping Posture Helps Your Back. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=4460
- New York Times. Discover Your Ideal Sleep Position—Then, Train Your Body to Use It. https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/your-ideal-sleep-position/
- Sleep Foundation. Best Sleeping Positions. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleeping-positions
- Cleveland Clinic. Best Sleeping Positions for Back, Neck, and Shoulder Pain. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/best-sleeping-positions-for-pain/
- Harvard Health Publishing. Say “good night” to neck pain. https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/say-good-night-to-neck-pain
- Sleep Foundation. How to Sleep On Your Back. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleeping-positions/how-to-sleep-on-your-back
- Sleep Foundation. Sleeping On Your Stomach – Is it Bad for You? https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleeping-positions/sleeping-on-stomach
- Cleveland Clinic. Is Your Pillow Giving You a Stiff Neck While You Sleep? https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-your-pillow-hurting-your-neck-7-tips-for-better-sleep/
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Choosing the Best Sleep Position. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/choosing-the-best-sleep-position
- Mayo Clinic. Slide show: Sleeping positions that reduce back pain. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/multimedia/sleeping-positions/sls-20076452?s=2
- Sleep Foundation. Side Sleeping: Which Side Is Best and How To Do It. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleeping-positions/side-sleeping
- Sleep Foundation. Sleeping Without a Pillow. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedding-information/sleeping-without-a-pillow
- Harvard Health. Say “good night” to neck pain. https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/say-good-night-to-neck-pain