4 Sleeping Positions and the Pillow Types that Work Best for Them

Your sleeping position and the pillows you use can make or break your sleep quality.

You could sleep in the most comfortable position and still keep tossing and turning if the pillow isn’t right. You could buy the best pillow in the world and still wake up tired because you slept in the wrong position.

We spend roughly one-third of our lives either sleeping or trying to sleep! So, why not make the most of our sleeping position and pillow?

Let’s talk about the most common positions and the best pillow types for them.

  1. Side Sleeping
  2. Back Sleeping
  3. Stomach Sleeping
  4. Combination Sleeping

Side Sleeping

correct pillow for side sleepers

In this sleeping position, individuals sleep on either their right or left side. Nearly 74% of America’s population are side sleepers.

Side sleeping offers numerous benefits, including relief from chronic pain and breathing difficulties. It aids in improving overall brain and gut health, too. Pregnant women are specifically advised to use this sleeping position to ease the pressure on their growing bellies.

However, it comes with its drawbacks as well, including frequent acne breakouts, early wrinkling of the facial skin, breast sagging, pain and numbness in the arms and shoulders, heightened pressure on the heart, bad posture, and conditions such as pillow ear.

The best pillows for a side sleeper should support the head, neck, shoulders, back, and hips optimally. Body pillows, knee pillows, and specialty pillows with ear holes are recommended for them.

A side sleeper needs a pillow of medium firmness and medium to high loft. Therefore, the best fill materials for them would be memory foam, buckwheat, and latex.

Read our full article on side sleeping

Back Sleeping

pillow types for back sleepers

In this sleeping position, individuals lie flat on their backs. About 10% of America’s population are back sleepers.

Dubbed the best sleeping position, back sleeping comes with a lot of advantages.

It improves your spine’s health and helps in the prevention of acid reflux, tension headaches, and neck and back pain. It alleviates sinusitis, reduces acne, and delays the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and puffiness under the eyes.

Surprisingly, it has its downsides, too. Lying on your back rarely lets you fall into a deep sleep. It aggravates certain conditions, such as snoring and sleep apnea. It’s seldom recommended for pregnant women as the belly gets all the pressure.

Older and heavier adults are advised against sleeping on their backs, too. The scariest of all the drawbacks is, however, the possibility of increased episodes of sleep paralysis. Those who have experienced it know how terrifying it can be.

The best pillows for a back sleeper should promote optimal spinal alignment without stressing the shoulders, hips, and back. Therefore, wedge pillows, cervical pillows, lumbar pillows, and knee pillows are their best bet.

Furthermore, a back sleeper’s pillow should be of medium firmness and medium loft. The top choices for pillow fill material would, thus, be memory foam, buckwheat, latex, wool, and quilled feather.

Read our full article on back sleeping

Stomach Sleeping

ideal pillow type for stomach sleeper

In this sleeping position, individuals lie flat on their stomach. Roughly 16% of America’s population are stomach sleepers.

The cons of stomach sleeping outweigh the pros. Nevertheless, this sleeping position can reduce the risks of sleep apnea, prevent snoring, and decrease acid reflux (see our review of acid reflux pillows). But hey, so can side sleeping!

Dubbed as the worst sleeping position, stomach sleeping comes with major disadvantages that cannot be overlooked. It can aggravate neck and back pain as well as numbness and stiffness in the arms and shoulders.

Sleeping on your stomach could also lead to chest pain and spinal misalignment. It is never recommended for hot sleepers. Also, stomach sleeping can increase acne breakouts and early wrinkling of the facial skin.

The best pillows for stomach sleepers should be able to offer support to the neck and back, thereby promoting correct spinal alignment. Body pillows and pelvic pillows are often recommended for this purpose.

Furthermore, a stomach sleeper’s pillow should be of soft to medium firmness and of very low loft. The best fill materials for such pillows would be Down, cotton, and kapok.

Read our full article on stomach sleeping

Combination Sleeping

This sleeping position is a combination of all the common sleeping positions – side, back, and stomach. Combination sleepers switch positions all throughout their sleep and spend 54.1% of the time on their side, 37.5% on their back, and 7.3% on their stomach.

Combo sleeping can help in relieving chronic pain and reduce the risks of pain and numbness in the arms and shoulders. It further improves gut health and spine posture, too. Snoring and tension headaches can be prevented by switching positions throughout your sleep.

On the flipside, combination sleeping can aggravate acne, early wrinkling, and breast sagging. Moreover, it can cause a “pillow ear,” where the outer part of the ear swells and pains because of being constantly pressed against a pillow.

When it comes to choosing the best pillows for a side sleeper, there’s no pillow of standardized shape, firmness, loft, or fill material. Combo sleepers usually use more than one pillow for support in different sleeping positions.

A decent mix of body pillows, and specialty pillows meant for the knee, pelvic area, cervix, and the lumbar area would work best. Moreover, a combination sleeper’s pillow should have varying firmness and loft, which can be achieved by using hybrid pillows where the fill materials are mixed.

Therefore, the best pillows would come with a mix of latex and Down, or memory foam and kapok, or even memory foam and microfiber. The possibilities are many!

Read our full article on combination sleeping


Right or Left – Which Side Is the Best You Sleep On?

Sleeping on your left side is thought to be better for your overall health. However, it all comes down to the type of health problem you’re dealing with.
If you are pregnant or have acid reflux, lying down on your left side may be beneficial. If you have heart problems, sleeping on your right side is recommended and, in fact, comes as a natural instinct in side sleepers.

Which Is the Best Direction to Sleep?

The best direction to sleep in depends on the hemisphere of your location. In the northern hemisphere, the east and south are the ideal directions for sleeping, and the north is the worst. In the southern hemisphere, all directions except the south are considered ideal.

This assumption is based on how magnetic fields and electromagnetic energies impact us. Of our planet’s magnetic poles, the north is considered the positive pole, and the south, the negative pole.

Similarly, our body is also considered a magnet, with its head as the positive pole and its feet as the negative pole. Because two positive poles repel, sleeping in the northern hemisphere with your head toward the north could lead to poor quality of sleep.

However, in the southern hemisphere, it’s the opposite. If you use a compass in the northern hemisphere, the needle will point towards the south magnetic pole. If you use it in the southern hemisphere, it will point towards the north magnetic pole.
Therefore, you must avoid sleeping with your head toward the south in the southern hemisphere.

Which Sleeping Position Is Best for Neck Pain?

Assuming you’re using the right pillow, side and back sleeping positions are considered the best for neck pain. Both these positions put less stress on the spine compared to the stomach sleeping position.

However, to make the most of these sleeping positions, you must know how to position your neck when sleeping and which pillows to use.

For instance, when sleeping on your back, you can use a specialty neck pillow that can be tucked into the natural curve of your neck. Also, when sleeping on your side, you can use a pillow that is thicker under your neck than under your head.

Which Sleeping Position Is Best for Back Pain?

Sleeping on your back is the best position to avoid back pain because it preserves the natural posture of the spine and evenly distributes the body weight over a large surface. For best results, place a pillow under your head or neck and one under your knees.

Should Your Head Be Elevated When Sleeping?

Whether your head should be elevated when sleeping depends on your sleeping position and the type of health issue you might be facing.

For instance, sleeping on your side or back with your head raised prevents snoring, sleep apnea, and tension headaches. Simultaneously, it improves blood circulation and reduces acid reflux.

However, if you are sleeping on your stomach with your head elevated, it could lead to neck and back pain.

Should Shoulders Be On Pillow When Sleeping?

Ideally, your shoulders should not be on your pillow. It should be supportive enough to cradle the head and neck in a way that a straight line is created between them and the spinal alignment is maintained.

Where Do You Put Your Arms When Sleeping?

The position of your arms when sleeping will depend on your sleeping position.

A side sleeper tends to tuck one or both arms under the pillow and sleep on them. A back sleeper places them on either side lengthwise, above the head, or on the chest. A stomach sleeper tucks them under the pillow or keeps one arm raised and the other resting on one side.

As a rule of thumb, place your arms at a level lower than a right angle to your body. The lower your arms are rested the better.

Does Sleeping On Your Back Flatten Your Buttocks?

No, sleeping on your back does not flatten your buttocks. At least there’s no scientific evidence that it does.

When Should You Switch Positions?

Every now and then, you might need to switch your favorite sleeping position if you start noticing health issues caused by it.

For instance, pain in the back and neck are common in stomach sleepers, numbness in the arms and shoulders in side sleepers, and snoring and sleep apnea in back sleepers.

While it’s challenging to change your sleeping habits overnight, it’s all worth it at the end of the day.

Where Do You Use Pillows When Sleeping?

The general notion is to use pillows under your head when you are sleeping. However, proper pillow positioning for sleeping alsio depends on your sleeping position.

For instance, a side sleeper might want to place a pillow between the knees or hug a body pillow as well. A back sleeper might want some cushioning under the knees and lumbar region.

Similarly, a stomach sleeper might need a pillow under the pelvic region. In fact, a stomach sleeper might not need a pillow under the head at all.

Is It Beneficial to Sleep With a Pillow Between Your Legs?

Sleeping with a pillow between your legs is beneficial, especially for side sleepers. Doing so maintains a neutral pelvic posture and prevents the spine from twisting. This, in turn, aids in maintaining proper spinal alignment and relieving back pain.

Which Are the Best Pillows to Sleep in Any Position?

Latex pillows are considered the best for all sleeping positions.

For side sleepers, latex offers the required firmness and support around the neck and shoulders. For back sleepers, it maintains optimal spinal alignment and prevents pain in the lumbar region.

For stomach sleepers, it relieves stress in the neck. For combination sleepers, hybrid pillows with a mix of latex and Down feathers are recommended.

To conclude, it’s incredible how up to one-quarter of the US population experiences disturbed or abnormal sleep patterns. This is something to worry about.

Sleep is necessary for not just rest and refreshment, but also for the body’s optimal cognitive functioning and overall health. As Shakespeare said, sleep is “sore labor’s bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course.”

So, what’s your favorite sleeping position? Perhaps we could recommend a pillow type of it?