How To Use A Pillow Correctly- The Ultimate Guide to Proper Sleeping

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Tired of neck or back pain and curious about how to use a pillow correctly while sleeping? 

An average person sleeps about one-third of their lives, and this shows how the quality of our sleep can have a massive impact on both our physical and mental health. 

Choosing the right pillow and using it properly will help you enjoy your sleep better. It will also reduce the risk of waking up in pain, so you can feel refreshed and relaxed in the morning. 

In this article, we'll explain how to use a pillow correctly. You’ll learn about the best position for your pillow and how to guarantee maximum and proper support for your neck and head. 

The Effects of Pillows on Your Sleep Quality

A good pillow is supposed to distribute the skull's weight evenly, so it doesn’t strain the vertebrae in your back. It should help relax the trapezius muscles at night, so they can adequately support your head in the morning. This is why finding the proper pillow for your preferred sleeping position should be a top priority for those looking to get a consistent good night sleep.

The pressure from the wrong pillow can strain the nerves, affecting your arms' movement and causing headaches. Also, sleeping in the wrong position is known to be one of the main reasons for inflammation of the neck and the surrounding muscles. 

The wrong pillow will also affect your knee and hip joints. When the pillow doesn’t provide enough support, there will be much unneeded pressure on your lower body. As a result, you might start to twist your body while sleeping, so you can feel a little comfortable. 

The Best Pillow for Your Sleeping Position

The sleeping position you choose affects your spine alignment, breathing, and even the wrinkles on your skin. By picking the right pillow for your sleeping position, you can guarantee that your spine will be kept in a neutral position that doesn’t pressure the discs, nerves, or muscles. 

Pillows for Side Sleepers

Side sleepers need a somewhat contoured and thick pillow that keeps the spine aligned and hugs the head in a comfortable position. A soft pillow that your head sinks into might not be too comfortable unless you have neck problems. Simultaneously, the pillow shouldn’t be too high or thick as it will bend your neck or spine to one side. 

Medium-firm or firm pillows work best for side sleepers because they don’t lose their fluff or support because of your head's weight. Sleeping on 2 pillows or bending your pillow in half isn’t recommended. 

Orthopedic pillows have a depression to support the head and will work for you if you have cervical spine problems. These pillows fill the space between the head and the mattress for more comfort. Some people need time to get used to these pillows. 

Should Shoulders Be on Your Pillow When Sleeping?

Although there are preferred sleeping positions to relieve shoulder pain, one of the drawbacks of side sleeping is that it can cause shoulder pain because your shoulder feels compressed against the mattress. Putting a pillow under your shoulders will push the rest of your spine out of alignment, so you will probably wake up with a sore back. 

A pillow is supposed to alleviate your head and align it with the neck to relieve pressure off your muscles and nerves. Putting it under your shoulders will push them upward and deprive your head and neck of the needed support. 

If you ever feel that you’re not comfortable enough while sleeping on your side, you can put another pillow between your knees for extra support. Hugging a pillow while sleeping can also help to relieve pressure off your back. 

Proper Pillow Use and Neck Alignment

Pillows for Back Sleepers

Back sleeping is the healthiest sleeping position and the most neutral one. A low and soft pillow will work best because it doesn’t lift your head high. The pillow should fill the space between the head and the mattress without lifting the neck up.

If the pillow is too high, your spine won’t be properly aligned, and you will wake up with muscle pain. At the same time, the pillow should provide adequate support, or your head will fall into the mattress. 

Wedge pillows are suitable for people who suffer from back pain. They create a reclining position that doesn’t put much pressure on your back or neck. Wedge pillows can also be used to relieve acid reflux if you’re a back sleeper. 

Sleeping with Pillow Under Back

In this position and with the help of 2 pillows, your spine will be perfectly aligned, and the weight of your body will be evenly distributed. A small pillow under the back will help keep your spine in a neutral position, relieving pressure. If a pillow feels too thick, you can try a small rolled towel. 

Sleeping with Pillow Under Knees

If you’re using a pillow that's too high, you might be putting too much strain on your neck because your spine isn’t in a neutral position. You can try putting a thin pillow under your knees. It will lift your lower body to keep it aligned with your neck.

Pillows for Stomach Sleepers

If you prefer to sleep on your abdomen or stomach, with your head a little bit tilted to the side, you need to sleep on a soft and relatively thin pillow. This type of stomach sleeper pillow will keep your spine aligned without twisting your neck or head. 

Sleeping on your stomach forces your neck and head upward in an unnatural position and should be avoided if possible. However, some people prefer this position or find it more comfortable. 

A breathable fluffy pillow will work best for stomach sleeping because it won’t feel hot against your skin. You should also use your arms for support, but make sure that you don’t sleep on them, or they will feel numb in the morning. 

Sleeping with Pillow Under Knees

Putting a pillow under your knees for extra support can alleviate pressure if you’re a stomach sleeper, as this will keep your spine in a neutral position. The pillow used under your pelvis, knees, or stomach should be thin. 

Pillow for Combination Sleepers

Combination sleepers change their sleeping position all the time, and they need a pillow that is as versatile as their sleeping habits. You need to look for a pillow that has high and low areas to support your head, whether you’re sleeping on your back, side, or stomach. 

In some cases, getting an all-purpose pillow might be a little challenging. You can use 2 or more pillows in bed and use the one that feels more comfortable. 

Should You Sleep Without a Pillow?

Sleeping without a pillow can be extremely beneficial. If you can’t find a comfortable sleeping position, you might try sleeping without a pillow. It can help your body in several ways. 

  • Sleeping without a pillow prevents back pain if you can’t find a pillow that supports your spine’s natural curve. Sleeping on your side with your knees a little close to your chest will stretch the lower back and relieve pressure off your muscles and nerves.
  • In some cases, you can’t find a pillow that provides adequate support to your neck. Without a pillow, your head will be in a neutral position that doesn’t put any strain on the nerves. 
  • Sleeping with a pillow might affect the blood supply to your head, which leads to morning headaches or migraines. If you suffer from headaches in the morning, you might want to start sleeping without a pillow and see if your pain improves. 
  • If you’re sleeping on the wrong pillow, you will end up tossing and turning all night long without finding a comfortable sleeping position. In this case, it’s recommended to try sleeping without a pillow to see if you can get rid of insomnia. 
  • Some people are prone to acne because of the way the pillowcase rubs against the skin (luckily there are also pillowcases for people with acne prone skin). If you’re a stomach sleeper, try sleeping without a pillow and see if your skin condition improves. Sleeping without a pillow isn’t recommended if you’re a side or back sleeper. 

When Should You Replace Your Pillow?

Even the best pillow won’t last forever, so you generally need to replace your pillows after about 18 months. More expensive, high-quality pillows will last longer than cheaper ones, but your pillow won't provide the same support it originally did after a couple of years. 

Sure Signs To Tell if It’s Time to Replace your Pillow

  • Take off your pillowcase and examine the surface of the pillow. If it’s covered in stains and smells bad, then it’s definitely time to replace it. *Even if you clean your pillow regularly, there might be some trapped dead skin cells or mold spores that you’re unable to detect. These can cause skin and breathing allergies. Bad and unclean pillows will also make your skin worse. 
  • Check the pillow for any visible signs of wear. If the fill is coming out, then it’s definitely time to have it replaced. Your pillow is designed to provide a specific support level, and losing its fill will affect this essential feature.

  • Try folding your pillow in half. If it stays folded, then it’s time to have it replaced. Synthetic pillows might still spring back to their natural shape even if the pillow is already dead. You should try putting some weight on top of the pillow, then take it away. If it doesn’t spring back to its natural position, then you have to replace it. 

  • Let your body be your guide. If you wake up with neck and head pain, your bad pillow might be the culprit. An under stuffed or overused pillow won’t provide your head and neck with the needed support, putting much pressure on your spine. It will also be pushing your spine out of alignment, which can use health issues in the long run. 

How to Properly Maintain Your Pillow

After buying a good pillow, you need to maintain it properly. This will guarantee that it will always provide an adequate level of comfort and support and that it will last for a long time. Here are some tips to help you keep your pillow in perfect condition. 

  • Fluff your pillows daily or whenever you feel you need to. This will keep your pillow fluffy enough to keep your neck and head supported. 

  • Every week, take your pillow out and keep it in the sun for a while. The fresh air and the sun will get rid of any bad odors and eliminate the risk of bugs. 

  • Make sure that your pillowcase feels soft and won’t scratch your skin. Change and wash your pillowcase regularly to help avoid it causing any skin problems. Silk pillowcases often feel more comfortable and smoother than cotton pillowcases, and go for a high thread count if you prefer the cotton ones. 

  • Read the pillow’s label for cleaning instructions. Most pillows are made of synthetic materials and can be washed in the washing machine (this also applies to cleaning throw pillows as well). Let the pillow air dry in the sun to get rid of the moisture. 

  • Natural materials like down shouldn’t get wet because the fill is prone to mold. If your pillow is made of natural fibers and can’t be washed in a washing machine, using a mild detergent to wipe the pillow's surface clean. 

  • To properly dry your pillow in the dryer, turn it and fluff it several times to make sure that the stuffing doesn’t get cramped in one area. If it still feels damp, hang it up for a day or 2 before using it on your bed. 

  • Use a paste made of baking soda and water to remove any stains off your pillow. 

  • If you have to store your pillow for any reason, we recommend you keep it in a breathable, non-plastic bag, as plastic bags can retain moisture and cause mold. Also, don’t bend or fold your pillow when it’s being stored in order to maintain its shape. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

See our most common questions that we get related to proper pillow usage below!

What is the correct way to position my pillow for sleep?

Ideally, your pillow should support the natural curve of your neck and spine. When lying on your back, the pillow should fill the gap between your neck and the mattress without lifting your head too high. When sleeping on your side, the pillow should keep your head and neck aligned with your spine.

How do I choose the right pillow for my sleep position?

For back sleepers, a thinner pillow that supports the natural curve of the neck is best. Side sleepers typically need a thicker pillow to fill the space between the neck and shoulder. Stomach sleepers might opt for a very thin pillow or none at all to avoid straining the neck.

Can I use the same pillow for all sleep positions?

While some pillows are designed to accommodate multiple sleep positions, it's generally more beneficial to choose a pillow tailored to your primary sleep position. This ensures the best support and comfort for your neck and spine.

Should I use a pillowcase or cover?

Yes, using a pillowcase or cover is recommended to protect your pillow from sweat, oils, and dust. These covers can be easily removed and washed, keeping your pillow clean and extending its lifespan. Also read up on how often you should change your pillowcase.

Can using too many pillows cause issues?

Using too many pillows, or pillows that are too thick, can lead to unnatural neck angles and strain. This can result in discomfort and disrupted sleep. It's best to use the minimum number of pillows necessary to maintain proper alignment.

How do I maintain my pillow's shape and support?

Fluff your pillow regularly to maintain its shape and distribute the filling evenly. Following the manufacturer's care instructions, which often involve occasional washing and drying, can help keep your pillow in good condition.

Can a pillow impact my overall sleep quality?

Absolutely! The right pillow plays a significant role in sleep quality. An improper pillow can lead to discomfort, restless nights, and even contribute to neck and back pain. A well-chosen pillow can enhance your sleep by providing proper support and comfort.

Can I alleviate snoring or sleep apnea with a certain pillow?

Some pillows are designed to help alleviate snoring or mild sleep apnea by promoting better head and neck alignment. However, it's crucial to consult a healthcare professional for proper guidance and treatment options if you suspect you have sleep-related breathing issues.

Using the right pillow correctly is essential for maintaining proper spinal alignment and getting a good night's sleep. If you have specific concerns or health conditions, it's always a good idea to consult a healthcare professional or sleep specialist for personalized advice.

Our Conclusion on Correctly Using A Pillow

In addition to proper pillow usage for your sleep style and comfort needs, choosing a good pillow is crucial for healthy, comfortable sleep that relieves your muscles and nerves at the end of a long day. You should always make sure that you’re picking an appropriate pillow that supports your body according to your favorite sleeping position. 

Also, keep in mind that even the most expensive and high quality pillows won’t last forever, so you should examine it for signs of wear. In addition to knowing how to use your pillow correctly, always keep your pillow clean and change it if necessary to make sure that you’re providing your body with the needed support night after night.

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