Even when you get a good night’s sleep (which should be at least seven hours), do you still find yourself waking up with stiff muscles, or an ache in your neck or back?
Maybe you recently bought a new mattress—or are thinking of doing so—because you heard that the right mattress can help you get quality sleep.
That’s true—but it’s not just about the mattress. The quality of your pillow, or whether you sleep with one at all, can also have an impact on the quality of your rest.
Sleeping in Neutral
Chiropractors and sleep experts agree, it’s all about finding a neutral position to sleep in. By neutral, they mean a position that keeps your neck and spine in line while you sleep, without tilting or curving.
So, whether or not you sleep with a pillow should depend largely on the position you sleep in the majority of the night. The right pillow can complement that position by keeping your neck and spine in line while you snooze.
The problem is, who actually stays in the same position all night? Because we dream and naturally toss and turn when we sleep, most people are incapable of maintaining a neutral sleeping position the entire night. Because most of us change positions several times throughout the night, we need support from our pillow in key places to help keep our spines aligned while we sleep—regardless of the position we’re sleeping in.
When your body is out of alignment while you sleep, you can get aches and pains, as the doctors and chiropractors at Advantage Health and Wellness explain.
The key places that need support from a pillow can change depending on your go-to sleeping position. We’re breaking down what’s recommended based on your favorite position.
Did you know that sleeping on your side (especially your left side) is largely seen as the healthiest sleeping position of all by doctors? Sleeping on your side can be good for digestion and minimizing acid reflux. It’s also the position where you get the maximum amount of air flow, which is why it is the most recommended position for pregnant women. Receiving maximum air flow also means that sleeping on your side can reduce snoring.
As far as the spine goes, though, sleeping on your side without a pillow creates a gap between your neck and shoulders, which can cause the spine to curve. Over time, this will likely cause pain and strain on your neck and lower back. So, side sleepers need a thicker, more supportive pillow that fills that gap and lifts the head just enough to keep it in line with the spine. Be careful not to get a pillow that’s too thick, though. A pillow that’s too thick will tilt the head up and create a curve.
Bottom line—side sleepers should not sleep without a pillow, in order to keep their necks properly in line with the rest of their spine.
Pro Tip: Some chiropractors say a thin pillow between the legs can also be a good idea for side sleepers. This provides even more support to the hips and spine.
Try an experiment—lay flat on your back on the floor. Do you notice the gap between the back of your head, and your shoulders? Now, try and get your neck to lie flat on the ground. See? You can’t do that without lifting your head (if you can even do it at all). That’s because the human head is one of the heaviest parts of the body. When we sleep, our narrow necks and spines have a hard time supporting that weight.
If you sleep on your back, doctors always recommend you sleep with a pillow. For back sleepers, most doctors and chiropractors recommend a thinner, contouring pillow that will help fill the gap beneath the back of your neck and the bed while also supporting the weight of your head. The right pillow will keep everything in line with your spine, from your head to your feet. A thin pillow, rather than a thick one, will do the job while preventing your head and neck from tilting up too much, disrupting the line of your spine.
Some chiropractors also recommend placing a thin pillow under your knees to help relieve some pressure from your hips and encourage your spine to curve naturally.
Many people find they’re most comfortable sleeping on their stomach, especially with a deep, fluffy pillow to bury their faces in.
However, most doctors and chiropractors say sleeping on the stomach is one of the most unhealthy positions, because it forces you to turn your neck to the left or right. Having your head turned all night can strain the neck all night long, and naturally takes your spine out of alignment, whether you use a pillow or not.
Since the side of one’s face is relatively flat, sleeping on the stomach with the head turned to the left or right helps keep the spine more closely in line with the mattress. So, if you sleep on your stomach, it is recommended to either sleep without a pillow, or to use a very thin pillow. A thin pillow beneath the hip area can also help keep the spine aligned while you sleep, keeping your hips from sinking into the mattress.
Bottom line—sleeping on your stomach is the only position in which experts say you can get away with not using a pillow. If you’re a stomach sleeper, try no pillow, and then a thin pillow for a few nights to see how you get your best rest.
What Types of Pillows are the Best?
If you are mostly a side or back sleeper, then consider your current pillow. Even if you have the best mattress around, an old, worn or unsupportive pillow can ruin any benefits you’re getting from your mattress by causing strain in your neck and spine—which can cause chronic aches and pains. You want a pillow that’s just right. Using pillows that are too thick, or using multiple pillows, prevents your spine from staying straight while you sleep, putting your neck at a unnatural angle and causing pain. On the other hand, sleeping with no pillow (or one that’s completely flat) can also cause your neck to curve unnaturally, causing pain.
Memory foam pillows can greatly improve your quality of sleep. can make a big improvement in the quality of your sleep. A memory foam pillow will give your head and neck the right amount of support, regardless of your sleeping position. As you sink into the pillow and find the optimal depth and position for your head and neck, the memory foam will “remember” that position and keep you there while you sleep, whether you sleep on your back or your side.
The Leesa Pillow is cool and supportive. Made with exclusive Avena® foam, The Leesa Pillow provides just the right amount of support to keep your head, neck and spine in a comfortable, neutral position throughout the night. Its soft cover is made from the same material as our Leesa mattress cover—the perfect pair for better rest.
There are also contoured pillows with a dip in the middle that supports your neck with a wedge in the front, but then has a concave shape in the middle to lower your head and keep it in line with your spine, while also providing just a small amount of cushion. These can be highly beneficial for back sleepers in particular.
If you, like many other sleepers out there, find yourself going back and forth between a number of different positions during the night, then the Leesa Hybrid Pillow is a great choice. Fully customizable, the Leesa Hybrid can be used four different ways to help support whichever position you choose to sleep in. It is adjustable and reversible, with a soft, quilted side and an alternate cooling side, so you can create your perfect sleep experience.
Whether it’s time for a new mattress or you’re looking for the perfect pillow, let Leesa help you start getting better, deeper rest.