Back, Side or Stomach Sleeper — Here’s How to Choose the Right Pillow

It’s unlikely you spend the whole night like an unmoving log, but you probably DO favor one of three basic sleep positions: lying on your side, back or stomach. No matter which of the three is your favorite, you need a pillow that keeps your head, neck and back in proper alignment, otherwise you’re at risk of waking up sore, stiff and fatigued. When it comes to choosing the right bed pillow, there are several factors to consider, but one of the most important is your typical sleep position.

Blend Images/Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images

Blend Images/Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images

Side Sleeper

Whether it’s the left side or the right, this is the most common sleeping position. Sleeping on your side with your knees slightly bent keeps your back in a neutral position, cuts down on acid reflux discomfort and is the best position for pregnant sleepers.

For the best support, you’ll want a pillow that is thick enough to fill in the gap between your neck and the mattress – the right pillow is lofty enough to keep your head in alignment with your spine. Look for a pillow that is firm, as well –a soft pillow in this position lets your head sag, and puts stress on your neck and upper back. For even more comfort, slip a firm pillow or positioner between your legs to reduce pressure on your hips and knees. Another option for side sleepers is a body pillow – these extra-long pillows make it easy to customize your support and reduce stress on your joints.

Best type of pillow: Almost any type of pillow works for side sleepers, as long as it has the right loft. Memory foam is especially good, as it molds enough for comfort while maintaining firm support.

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Simon Winnall/Getty Images

Simon Winnall/Getty Images

Stomach Sleeper

While sleeping on your stomach is undeniably cozy, it’s also the worst position for your spine. Sleeping facedown forces you to turn your head sharply to the side, straining your neck muscles, bones and ligaments. It’s also hard on your delicate facial skin – if you’ve ever woken up with pillow wrinkles impressed on your cheek, you’ve seen the proof. Sleeping on your stomach DOES reduce snoring, however, so if that is a major issue, you might find relief in a prone position.

If you’re a stomach sleeper, your best choice of pillow is actually no pillow at all. Lying your head directly on the mattress keeps your spine aligned, although your head’s turn to the side still creates a skewed effect. If you can’t bear to go pillow-less, then choose a flat, soft pillow that is little more than a pad between your head and the mattress. You’ll do your spine even more of a favor if you sleep with a second thin pillow beneath your stomach. This helps hold your back’s natural curve, so you’re less likely to wake up stiff and sore.

Best type of pillow: Buckwheat hulls, down or synthetic down let you adjust the pillow’s loft to a minimum, while giving just enough padding for comfortable sleep.

B2M Productions/Getty Images

B2M Productions/Getty Images

Back Sleeper

Although more people fall asleep on their back than in any other position, this one is best avoided if you have problems with sleep apnea or other snoring issues. In a supine position, your tongue tends to fall back towards your throat, increasing the likelihood of snoring and an unhappy bed partner. If snoring isn’t a problem, however, sleeping on your back keeps your spine in a neutral position, protects your facial skin from friction and wrinkles, and is the best position for those suffering with acid reflux.

If you’re a back sleeper, you’ll be most comfortable with a medium-firm pillow that is just thick enough to hold your head up off the mattress without craning your neck forward or elevating your head beyond your neck’s natural curve. Prop a small pillow or positioner under your knees as well – the little bit of lift protects your lower back from strain and misalignment, meaning you’ll wake up pain-free and ready to go.

Best type of pillow: Down, synthetic fill, buckwheat hull or latex are all good choices.