Guide to Stomach Sleeping and the Best Pillows for This Position

stomach sleeping positions and best pillows

Stomach sleeping, also known as the prone position, is widely regarded as one of the most inconvenient, stressful, and unpopular sleeping positions.

Surprisingly, according to a national survey conducted by a leading retailer, 16% of Americans sleep on their stomach. So, why this point of view?

Who is a Stomach Sleeper?

A stomach sleeper is …drumroll please… a person who sleeps on his stomach. In this position, the person lies flat and face-down on a mattress, with the entire front body touching it.

The face rests either on the left or right side and sometimes even on the chin with a pillow underneath. When sleeping on your stomach, the pressure points are in your forehead, chest, hips, knees, and toes.

What are Their Sleeping Preferences?

The natural instinct of most stomach sleepers is to…

  • Toss and turn because this isn’t the most comfortable sleeping position
  • Need cushioning underneath the face
  • Rest the head in different positions
  • Rest the legs in different positions

How Do You Identify Them?

Stomach sleepers, unlike side and back sleepers, cannot be identified using solid physical cues. There would be no messed-up hair to indicate that a person slept in this position.

Acne and drool are insufficient indicators to determine whether or not someone sleeps on their stomach. However, there may be another option.

Stomach sleepers, according to Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, are defensive or fearful in their personal lives.

Such people have a strong sense that their lives are out of control and have a proclivity for perfectionism and an aversion to criticism. However, these are merely psychological assumptions. Concrete research is still lacking in this field.

What Are the Advantages of Sleeping on Your Stomach?

Sleeping on your stomach doesn’t offer too many benefits. However, it can help with the following:

Reduced Risks of Sleep Apnea

The stomach sleeping position keeps your airways open naturally by pulling the tissues in your mouth and throat forward. As a result, the risks of potential sleep apnea are reduced.

Prevention of Snoring

The sleeping position can help in mitigating issues of snoring for the same reason it can prevent sleep apnea. The tissues in the mouth and throat are stretched forward in a way that the airways stay open naturally.

Decrease in Acid Reflux

Sleeping on your stomach reduces the likelihood of stomach acid reaching the esophagus. As a result, acid reflux episodes may be reduced.

All of these benefits, however, can also be enjoyed by sleeping on your side. Why stress your spine by sleeping on your stomach?

Read: Best pillows for acid reflux

What Are the Disadvantages of Sleeping on Your Stomach?

Increased Neck Pain

Because your neck is twisted to one side, sleeping prone is almost always a sure way to strain it. The longer you sleep in this position, the more likely you will wake up with a painful or stiff neck.

Increased Back Pain

By elevating the spine in the back, sleeping on your stomach flattens the natural curve of the spine. As a result, the surrounding muscles and joints are overworked, which causes back pain.

Increased Acne Breakouts

When you sleep face-down, you rub your face on your pillow or bedsheet, which can harbor allergens. Furthermore, all of the skincare products you use are smeared on the pillowcase and sheets.

Without the protection of skincare products and extensive exposure to microbes, stomach sleepers experience rapid acne breakouts.

Suffering from Acne? Check out the best pillowcases for Acne here.

Aggravated Early Wrinkling of Facial Skin

When you sleep on your stomach, your facial skin does not get the tender treatment it deserves. It wrinkles faster because the lotions and creams that are supposed to take care of it are already smeared onto the pillowcase or bedsheet.

Numbness and Stiffness in the Arms and Shoulders

Sleeping on your stomach offers zero support to your arms while pulling the neck backward and compressing the spine. Gradually, adequate blood flow to the arms is obstructed and the nerves are compressed.

People who sleep in this position for a long time are likely to experience a tingling sensation in the arms and shoulders followed by numbness and stiffness.

Aggravated Chest Pain

If you already have some form of chest pain, sleeping flat on your stomach can aggravate it. However, unless you sleep on something sharp, such as a neckpiece, stomach sleeping is unlikely to cause chest pain on its own.

Spinal Misalignment

Stomach sleeping forces your neck backward, thus compressing your spine. Furthermore, a lack of support in the midsection can strain your spine, causing it to sag from its natural position. These are the two main causes of its gradual misalignment.

Not Recommended for Hot Sleepers

Let’s be real. When you sleep on your stomach, you breathe directly into the surface you are sleeping on. If you use a pillow, you’ll end up blowing air onto it and heating up the very space where your head is resting.

Although people sleeping in the stomach sleeping position lie flat on the belly, they are likely to show subtle movements. This leads to the further categorization of the sleeping position into the following types:


A stomach sleeper in the superman position is sprawled out on his stomach, one leg up and one or both arms extended in front. The top view resembles our favorite Man of Steel trying to catch a nap in his signature pose.



A stomach sleeper sleeps in a runner position when he lies on his belly with one arm raised and the other lowered. One leg is up as if the person is about to run.



A stomach sleeper in the skydiving position sleeps with the head resting on one side or on the chin. The arms are wrapped around the pillow as if hugging it and the legs are spread straight. The top view would remind you of a skydiver freefalling in the arch position.


Which Pillows are Ideal for Stomach Sleepers?

The right pillow for stomach sleepers should be able to optimally support the neck and back support and promote proper spinal alignment. Check the image below to understand how a pillow determines a stomach sleeper’s quality of sleep.

ideal pillow type for stomach sleeper

In our opinion, a stomach sleeper can benefit from not using a pillow. If at all a pillow is required, keep the following factors in mind:


Stomach sleepers can use regular pillows of any standard shape. However, we also recommend using the following specialty pillows for maximum comfort:

We recommend two such specialty pillows:

  • Body pillows
  • Pelvic pillows

A stomach sleeper can hug a body pillow lengthwise and keep a pillow in the pelvic area to get the right amount of cushioning for proper spinal alignment.


A stomach sleeper needs a pillow of soft to medium firmness to keep the spine in its natural alignment. Too firm a pillow will cause the head to tilt backward at an awkward angle and eventually lead to neck and back pain.


A pillow’s loft should be very low for a stomach sleeper. Opt for a thin pillow that measures less than 3” in thickness or a fluffy pillow in which the head can sink right in. Pillows with a higher loft will cause the neck to bend backward and pain.

Fill Material

Keeping in mind the firmness and loft required for a stomach sleeper’s pillow, the following fill materials are considered the best:

  • Down – fluffy and soft enough to cradle the head and neck comfortably
  • Cotton – naturally soft, breathable, malleable, and offers superior comfort
  • Kapok – naturally soft, plush, and allows the head to sink comfortably 

Stomach sleepers can also try sleeping on pillows stuffed with quilled feathers, latex, and down alternative materials. However, we don’t recommend those filled with memory foam, buckwheat, and millet as these pillow types might be too firm for them.

When to Consider Switching to Other Sleeping Positions?

Stomach sleeping has more cons than pros. So, consider switching from this sleeping position to another when you notice or have the following conditions:

  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Chest pain
  • Pain and numbness in the arms
  • Pain and numbness in the shoulders
  • Spine injury or surgery
  • Rapid wrinkling of facial skin
  • Aggravated acne

For more information, don’t forget to check out our detailed article on the 4 most common sleeping positions.