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How Many Pillows Should You Sleep With?

Bedding Resources
Read Time: 5 minutes
  • Choosing the right pillow that provides adequate support and comfort is essential for maintaining a healthy spine and promoting a restful night’s sleep.
  • Different sleep positions require varying pillow thicknesses and firmness levels, with side sleepers benefiting from firm and thick pillows, back sleepers favoring medium-loft options, and stomach sleepers needing thin pillows to maintain proper spinal alignment.
  • Adjustable beds can be useful in altering sleep positions and finding the most comfortable angle for sleeping on your side or back, while using extra pillows for additional support can help alleviate back pain and improve sleep posture.

It may seem like a trick question, but when you’re struggling to sleep soundly, it’s certainly something to consider. How many pillows do you need to sleep? Well, the answer is more straightforward than you might imagine.

While everybody has varying sleep needs, most of us only need one good pillow for healthy neck support. The trick is finding the right pillow. In this guide, we discuss everything you need to know to find a pillow that offers your head and neck the comfort and support it needs.

What Does a Pillow Do?

Like a high-quality mattress, the main role of a pillow is to keep your head, neck, and spine in neutral alignment.

Healthy spinal alignment and proper posture influence your overall sleep health more than almost anything else. A lot of aches and discomfort stem from misalignment of the spine— in order to get restful sleep and feel your best, you must start by nurturing your spine.

When choosing a new pillow or upgraded mattress, consider your sleep preferences— as your sleep style, pillow, and mattress play the most significant role in reinforcing a healthy spine. In the next section, we discuss the right type of pillow for different sleep positions.

The Right Pillow for Each Sleeping Position

The best pillows for you will offer the right amount of support while cushioning your head and neck comfortably. When judging the support of a pillow, pay attention to its loft and firmness. Loft refers to a pillow’s height, whereas firmness indicates how soft it feels.

Don’t forget to consider your body type, too. The width of your shoulders and the size of your head influences the ideal loft to keep your neck perfectly straight.

Side Sleepers

The majority of us are side sleepers, with approximately 70% of the population preferring to snooze this way. While many side sleepers use two pillows, they are actually better off finding one high-quality pillow that perfectly fills the gap between the shoulders and neck.

For the most part, comfortable pillows for side sleeping are between 3 to 6 inches tall and firm. No matter your personal preferences, your pillow should be firm enough to hold your head in line with the rest of your body. Something too soft or too firm can lead to headaches or soreness.

Contouring pillows are perfect for side sleepers who aren’t sure how thick their next pillow should be. These types of pillows have two slopes, each of different thicknesses, allowing you to try both sides to see which is most comfortable.

When it comes to back and stomach sleepers, thinner pillows are better.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers are best suited for low to medium-loft pillows, which can fall anywhere between 1 to 5 inches thick.

Back sleepers are at an advantage when it comes to spine health because they’re laid in the most natural, relaxed position for the back. Therefore, a good pillow for back sleepers will hold your head in place between your shoulders. Something too thin can cause your neck to crane backward while something too tall can push your chin forwards and result in pain.

Back sleepers can benefit from a pillow with a concaved center because they help hold your head in place while you sleep and prevent a stiff neck.

Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers are limited to extremely thin pillows and must stick to something less than 3 inches thick. While some sleepers choose to sleep pillow-free, placing a single pillow below your head helps keep your spine as straight as possible. If stomach sleepers pick a pillow that’s too tall, it’ll push their neck back towards their spine, creating unnecessary discomfort.

A pillow that allows a stomach sleeper to sleep face down, like the one you see on a massage table with a hole in the head, is ideal. However, not everybody enjoys sleeping this way. To get healthy sleep and prevent future neck pains, we recommend converting to back or side sleeping, as stomach sleeping is bad for your body.

Using Adjustable Beds to Switch Sleep Styles

When we lay down into bed each night, we naturally assume the position that’s most comfortable to us. Changing up the way you sleep is usually easier said than done. However, it’s not impossible.

While adjustable beds are usually viewed as a luxurious way to upgrade your night’s sleep, they can actually serve as useful tools in modifying your sleeping habits.

Adjustable beds allow you to modify the angle of your head and feet, giving you full flexibility to find the most comfortable angle to sleep on your side or back.

When Should I Use Two Pillows?

Most of us have a number of pillows on our bed, so what can we do with our extra head pillows? While we only need one pillow underneath our head, you can use pillows for additional support elsewhere.

Lower back pain afflicts nearly 31 million Americans on any given day— it’s the leading reason people call out sick to work. Beyond buying the best mattress for a bad back, pillows can help ease discomfort in your back regardless of how you sleep.

  • Side sleepers with chronic back pain can place thin pillows beneath their knees and/or ribs to reinforce healthy spinal alignment.
  • When you sleep on your back, a gap can form between your lower back and the mattress. Placing a pillow below your knees allows your lower back to sink deeper into the bed, straightening your spine and reducing back pain.
  • Stomach sleepers can prevent their torso from sinking too far in a mattress by placing additional pillows below their stomach for extra support.

If you’re one of the 31 million who frequently experience back pain, a memory foam pillow is a must-have. Memory foam is superb at easing discomfort and preventing new pains. While more expensive than other pillow types, their benefits are unmatched.

Apart from combating lower back pain, pillows can be used to improve your sleep posture in other ways. Side sleepers can get better sleep by placing a pillow between their knees, as it reinforces a straight pelvis. Additionally, pregnant women can find comfort in body pillows, as they offer support behind your back, below your knees, and under your stomach.

You can also use the pile of pillows on your bed as a back or headrest while you’re watching TV or reading before bed— just don’t forget to toss them to the side before nodding off to sleep.

Are You Ready for a Good Night’s Sleep?

We hope our guide has taught you everything you need to know to get the most out of your pillows. Remember, while a pile of pillows can serve as decoration on your bed, you only need one for your neck.

To find the most comfortable pillow for your particular sleep needs, read our other guides to learn your different options.

Dorothy Chambers is our in-house sleep expert and a firm believer in the benefits of a daytime nap. With a background in psychology, Dorothy is fully aware of the impact sleep has on our brain, mood, and overall well-being. In an effort to help readers lead happier, more productive, and healthier lives, Dorothy spends her time researching the best sleep habits to help you fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling rested.

Dorothy Chambers spent years studying clinical psychology before joining us to promote a deeper understanding of sleep, along with some cursory research into biology and physiology. She’s particularly interested in the effects that different sleep positions have on the body. Later on in her career, she plans on pursuing a doctorate degree in behavioral sleep medicine.

Dorothy wakes up at 7 a.m. every day after a full night’s rest to better tackle a full day of work. After a session of morning exercise, she catches up on the latest sleep news and research before writing. She’s a fan of watching academic lectures, listening to scientific podcasts, and testing new sleep theories firsthand. Dorothy Chambers has written dozens of articles in her tenure with Sleep Junkie.

Her work has been featured on Home & Gardens, House Beautiful, Real Simple, Apartment Therapy, CNBC, Bustle, Yahoo! Finance, Fox 17, and even AARP.org.

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