Sleep experts like to say “the pillow makes the bed”—which is just an insider’s way of saying that, when it comes to quality sleep, your pillow is ultra-important. You can find the perfect mattress for your sleep style that provides just the right balance of comfort and support but, if you’re sleeping on the wrong pillow, you might continue to experience pain and stiffness in the morning.
Since pillows play an important role in maintaining proper spinal alignment, it’s important to understand how your sleep position affects which pillow is best for you. Consider these important tips for each sleep position.
Pillows for Back Sleepers
Back sleepers make up about 10 percent of all sleepers, making it the most uncommon sleep position. That said, sleeping on your back is great for spinal alignment and overall health, and is the recommended position for those that suffer from neck pain or poor circulation.
Since sleeping on your back can sometimes pull your neck out of alignment, it’s important to have a pillow that amply supports your neck and head. A pillow with a higher loft is ideal for back sleepers—be sure to choose a firmer pillow if you mainly sleep on your back.
The best pillows for back sleepers are:
- Medium memory foam pillows: These pillows gently contour to the curves of your neck and head while providing ample support and proper spinal alignment. Memory foam pillows tend to sleep hotter, though—if you love the conformability of memory foam but have trouble with night sweats or sleep hot in general, choose one with a pin core ventilation design to increase air circulation and maintain a more ideal temperature.
- Medium-firm latex foam pillows: If you want the contouring support of memory foam but need extra help sleeping cool, a latex foam pillow might be a perfect choice. Latex pillows have similar contouring properties to memory foam but are naturally more breathable and have quicker reactivity to movement.
- Shredded foam pillows (with customization): Shredded foam pillows usually come over-stuffed, and can easily be adjusted by removing some of the foam to make them softer. The adaptability of shredded foam pillows is what makes them a popular choice for just about any type of sleeper.
Are you a back sleeper? Check out these sleep tips for back sleepers.
Pillows for Side Sleepers
Side sleepers make up about 74 percent of all sleepers, making it the most common sleep position. Sleeping on your side isn’t necessarily bad for your spinal alignment. However, because the position can cause pressure on your joints and back, it’s especially important for side sleepers to choose the right pillow.
Since sleeping on your side leaves your head significantly higher than the mattress, it’s important to have a pillow that has enough loft to keep your neck and upper back aligned. A pillow with a higher loft is important for side sleepers, so make sure you choose a firmer pillow if you sleep primarily on your side.
The best pillows for side sleepers are:
- Firmer memory foam pillows: Memory foam is a great choice for anyone that needs additional neck and shoulder support since its natural contouring properties help keep the spine and neck in alignment. Just make sure you choose a firmer memory foam pillow since you’ll need the extra loft to keep your head from collapsing into your shoulder.
- High loft latex foam pillows: Latex foam is naturally more breathable and responsive than memory foam so those who don’t like the “sinking” feeling of memory foam might opt for a latex pillow instead. Because latex is both supportive and contouring but responds more quickly to movement, it's a great option for those prone to tossing and turning.
- Shredded foam pillows (with very little stuffing removed): Shredded foam pillows usually come over-stuffed, and can easily be adjusted by removing some of the foam to find the right loft. As a side sleeper, it’s likely you’ll only need to remove a small amount of foam, or perhaps none at all. To determine the right loft of a versatile pillow like this make sure you’re able to lay on your side without your neck bending, or your shoulder pressing too far into the mattress.
Are you a side sleeper? Check out these sleep tips for side sleepers.
Pillows for Stomach Sleepers
Stomach sleepers make up about 16 percent of all sleepers, making it more common than back sleeping. Sleeping on your stomach is considered one of the worst positions for spinal alignment, but it’s possible to sleep on your stomach without causing profound pressure on your neck and upper back.
Since sleeping on your stomach forces your neck and upper body to curve unnaturally, most sleep experts will suggest that stomach sleepers prop their body up with a large body pillow in order to reduce excessive twisting. More than anything, stomach sleepers need to be especially mindful of the type of pillow they use so they can avoid excessive pressure on the neck, jaw, and shoulders during sleep.
The best pillows for stomach sleepers are:
- Down or down alternative pillows: Down and down alternative pillows (sometimes referred to simply as feather pillows) are especially soft, so they make a great choice for stomach sleepers. Stomach sleepers need to keep their head as close to the mattress as possible, so the fact that down pillows are easily flattened makes them perfect for reducing pressure on your neck and upper back.
- Low loft latex foam pillows: Latex foam sleeps cooler and responds immediately to your every move. A low loft latex foam pillow is a great option for creating the ideal space between you and the mattress while maintaining proper spinal alignment.
- Shredded foam pillows (with plenty of stuffing removed): Shredded foam pillows can make a great choice for stomach sleepers as long as a large portion of the stuffing is removed. Most quality shredded foam pillows will come overstuffed, so removing half or more of the foam is easy. As a rule, stomach sleepers should aim for the head to be no more than an inch or so off the mattress, unless your body type is such that more space is needed.
Are you a stomach sleeper? Check out these sleep tips for stomach sleepers.
Regardless of your sleep positional preference, looking for cooling features is key for all types of sleepers. It’s important to remember that while memory foam pillows can be delightful, they do sleep hotter. Many different factors go into maintaining your ideal sleep temperature, and a pillow is the best place to start.
Image courtesy of The Joint Chiropractic
Even more important is having the right mattress that suits your unique sleep needs and preferences. If after choosing the right pillow you still experience back pain or soreness in the morning, your bed might be to blame. If you’re still suffering from neck pain despite finding the right pillow and mattress for your sleeping position, there could be an underlying issue.
We recommend seeking out chiropractic services to take a more in depth look at your spinal alignment (check out our friends over at The Joint Chiropractic). With them, you can quickly and easily find a reputable chiropractor near you without any insurance hassle. With proper spinal alignment and regular adjustments, you may find that your muscle imbalances simply disappear.