What is the Proper Pillow Position for Optimal Sleeping?

December 24, 2022 | Casper Editorial Team

Fact checked by Jonathan Eilenberg, CPE

Nothing beats falling into a feather-soft bed topped with cozy flannel sheets, warm blankets, and squishy pillows after a long day of work or play. But while you might start snoozing in a matter of minutes, optimizing your sleep environment to promote REM cycles and deep sleep can help ensure your slumber is restful and rejuvenating.  

So, what’s the optimal pillow position for sleep?

Like many things in life, the answer is, it depends. Whether you habitually sleep on your side, back, stomach, or a combination of these can influence your ideal pillow position.1 Knowing the best way to place your pillow regardless, however, can help you give your body the support it needs for all-night comfort.

The Best Pillow Positioning for Each Sleep Style

So, you want to know how to sleep with pillows correctly? Generally, you’ll want your head and neck in alignment with the rest of your spine and torso when resting on the pillow.1 Find out which types of pillows work best for your preferred sleeping position. Your sleeping position will help determine whether a sturdy memory foam pillow, squishy down-alternative, or mid loft hybrid will work best to promote a restorative night’s sleep. 

Here’s how your sleeping position can help determine how and where pillows should be placed while you sleep:

Back Sleepers

If you’re a supine sleeper, congrats on mastering one of the most beneficial sleeping positions.2 The best pillow position for sleeping on back is to have your head and neck fully on the pillow (but not your shoulders). Your cervical spine should be resting parallel to the mattress and your head gently cradled in a relaxed position. 

To achieve your best supine sleep positioning, look for:

  • Firm pillows that contour to the shape of your spine, like memory foam or hybrid pillows. These two are also ideal pillows for back pain.
  • A pillow with a mid-range loft or height. A thick pillow without much give will hold your head and neck too high, and a too-thin pillow won’t provide enough cervical support, resulting in poor spinal alignment. 

Back sleepers can also benefit from pillow use in other locations, as well. Positioning thin pillows below your pelvis or knees is an excellent way to minimize pain for back sleepers by keeping your body neutral and relaxed, so you can rest well without being bothered by discomfort. 

Side Sleepers

If you’re a side sleeper, the distance between your head and the mattress means you’ll need a little more head lift than when you’re on your back or stomach. To keep your head and neck in line with the rest of your spine while on your side, you can double up your pillows or choose one with a mid or high loft. Too flat of a pillow can lead to a stiff neck, back pain, and general discomfort. Alternatively, too thick of a pillow will also leave your neck uncomfortably high.

When you’re sleeping on your side, try:

  • Positioning an additional pillow between your knees with your legs slightly bent. This can help to promote proper hip alignment, relieving stress on the spine and keeping your body in the ideal neutral position.3,4 
  • Body pillows. These are also a good option for side sleepers, as they’re designed to support other parts of you beyond your head and neck. 

Side sleeping is also the recommended position for pregnant women, especially later in pregnancy.3 If you’re begrudgingly altering your sleep style from stomach or back sleeping to side sleeping temporarily, you’ll appreciate the support of adding extra pillow padding between the knees and under your belly.

Left Vs. Right Side—Which is Better?

Did you know that the side you sleep on can impact your health? Because of the way our organs are positioned in our bodies, sleeping on the left or the right side can either compress or relax various organs. For example, left-side sleeping could help with digestion, while sleeping on your right side is recommended for heart health.5 The left side is also the preferred side during pregnancy for better circulation and alleviating organ pressure. 

Stomach Sleepers

If you like to sprawl out belly-first on your bed, you’re a stomach sleeper. Whether you stay in one spot all night or adjust your limb positions as the night goes on, you’ll benefit from the help of properly placed pillows to ward off pain and keep you comfy through all your sleep cycles. 

Keep these considerations in mind for comfortable stomach sleeping:

  • For your head, a thin pillow is best. The low loft will keep your neck in line with your torso while not adding too much stress to the neck twist that lets you comfortably rest. 
  • Only your face and neck should be on the pillow, again keeping shoulders separate. 
  • Consider adding a moisture-wicking pillowcase as well to avoid excess smooshing and sweat on the side of your face that’s pressed into the pillow. 

Tucking another thin and soft pillow under your torso is a good way to keep your spine aligned and relieve pressure points while you’re deep in dreamland. Your torso will get enough lift to keep your spine neutral and minimize chances for lower back pain.6

Combination Sleepers

Combination sleepers need a little of everything for the best sleep. If you’re not committed to one sleep position and instead rotate around through the night, you’re a Goldilocks type—meaning you’ll need a pillow that’s not too firm and not too soft but just right. 

You’ll want to look for the best pillow for all sleep positions—a pillow that is firm and supportive but able to adjust and form to your many movements. While you might be rotating in your sleep and unaware of how you move, you should at least start the night with proper head and neck alignment. 

If you find yourself switching to your side a lot, you can stash an extra pillow within reach to place between your knees or under your pelvis to maintain body alignment and get comfy quickly. 

How Pillow Positions Can Help You Sleep Better

When you top your bed with the right pillow for your sleep needs, you may find better quality sleep sooner than you think. Pillow type and positioning can also play a role in promoting healthy rest. Here are some of the ways the perfect pillow position can lead to better quality sleep: 

  • Sleep disorders – Correct pillow usage can be beneficial in alleviating sleep issues such as snoring and sleep apnea. A recent study utilizing memory foam pillows found a positive influence on snoring, suggesting that sleep positioning and pillow type warrant further study for improved sleep quality.7
  • Medically necessary pillows – Although neutral body positioning is typically the name of the pillow game, sometimes doctors might recommend special pillow adjustments such as elevated angles to counteract health issues like heartburn and sinus problems, or custom pillow shapes to help support nighttime CPAP use.8 They may even recommend certain pillows, such as cervical pillows or latex pillows, for physical therapy or other health conditions.
  • Back pain – Sleep-related back pain can disrupt your deep sleep and leave you lagging in the morning. When you use the right pillow for your sleep style in the proper positioning for your head and cervical spine, your body is aligned, which improves posture and can reduce lower back pain. 

Beyond the physical health benefits, overall pillow comfort plays a big role in sleep quality as well. When you feel cozy and comfortable, it’s easier for you to go to sleep. And a comfortable sleeping area encourages you to stay asleep longer, allowing you to complete your full sleep cycles and wake up feeling rested and refreshed instead of cranky, groggy, and tired. 

Pair Your Pillow With a Supportive Mattress

Now that you’ve mastered the proper pillow position for sleeping, make sure your mattress matches up as well. Many of the same features that make a pillow perfect for bedtime carry through to your mattress, too. When you’re looking for the perfect mattress to meet your sleep needs, consider some of these features:

  • Firmness
  • Support
  • Comfort
  • Breathability
  • Cooling

While your pillow will have your head and neck properly supported, the best mattress for quality sleep will make sure the rest of your body is aligned, relaxed, and comfortable as well. And don’t forget to complete your sleep space with soft, cozy bedding that will make you want to keep hitting snooze when the sun comes up. 

Why Does Proper Pillow Position Matter? 

Your pillow position may seem like just a preference—but when it comes to the changes you make for better quality sleep, it’s important to understand just how beneficial improving our sleep environment can be. 

There’s a big difference between tossing and turning all night due to discomfort and peaceful, uninterrupted sleep. But why is good sleep so important? Clocking in a complete, restful night’s sleep does more than just make you refreshed for the next day. Sleeping helps your body to heal and rejuvenate while supporting essential life functions such as:9

  • Healthy metabolism
  • Immune system reinforcement
  • Cognitive function 
  • Heart and circulatory support

Creating the ideal bedtime environment to help you sleep deeply and comfortably—including a supportive pillow and mattress—will get you on the right path to a successful snoozefest.

Enjoy Sweet Slumbers With Sleep Accessories From Casper

Prop your head and neck up on a supportive pillow, stretch out on your ultra-comfy mattress, and tuck yourself into your fluffy down duvet—because you’re perfectly positioned to drift gently off to dreamland in your sleep oasis. 

At Casper, we live, breathe, and sleep the science of slumber, seeking out new innovations for better sleep quality every day. Whether it’s sustainability, durability, ergonomics, or body temperature, we’re always improving our products to bring you the most modern advances in pillows, mattresses, and every other snooze-worthy sleep accessory. 

Find optimal sleep with Casper today.


  1. Sleep Foundation. Best Sleeping Positions. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleeping-positions
  2. Casper. Back Sleeper Guide: How to Embrace the Best Sleep Position. https://casper.com/blog/back-sleeper/
  3. 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/
  4. 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
  5. AARP. What’s the Best Sleeping Position for Your Health? https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2022/best-sleeping-position.html
  6. CNET. How to Relieve Lower Back Pain by Sleeping With a Pillow (For Every Sleeper Type). https://www.cnet.com/health/sleep/relieve-lower-back-pain-by-sleeping-with-a-pillow/
  7. Frontiers in Medicine. Memory Foam Pillow as an Intervention in Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome: A Preliminary Randomized Study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8967243/
  8. Harvard Health Publishing. Is your pillow hurting your health? https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/is-your-pillow-hurting-your-health
  9. NHLBI. Why Is Sleep Important? https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep/why-sleep-important
  10. Spine-health. Best Pillows for Different Sleeping Positions. https://www.spine-health.com/wellness/sleep/pillows-different-sleeping-positions

Casper Editorial Policy

Casper blog articles are written by skilled authors and periodically reviewed by our team of sleep experts at Casper Labs. Driven by comprehensive research and evidence-based practices, we ensure that the content we publish is reliable, actionable, and practical for enhancing sleep quality and wellness.

Our articles incorporate trusted third-party sources, cited within the content and listed at the end for easy reference. At Casper we strive to be an authority and trusted resource for all things sleep.