Amy Wolkin, DPT, MBA
Dr. Amy Wolkin is a physical therapist based in Atlanta, GA. After graduating from Wellesley College in 2012, she pursued dual graduate degrees at Emory University. She graduated in 2017 with her Master of Business Administration and Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees. Her clinical interests are outpatient orthopedics, women’s health, and pediatric sports medicine. She has advanced training in dry needling and pelvic floor physical therapy.
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It might simply seem like a matter of personal preference, but there’s actually a bit of research on how many pillows you should sleep with at night. If you only sleep with one pillow or sleep with the wrong kind of pillows, you might not be getting the quality of sleep that you need to restore your mind and body.

At the Slumber Yard, we’re here to help you get the best night’s sleep possible. That’s why we’ve created this short guide, which will answer popular questions like “is it better to sleep with or without a pillow?” and “how many pillows should you sleep with?” Keep reading to find the answers and learn how to adjust your routine to enjoy a more restful sleep.

Why You May Need More Than One Pillow 

Even if you have multiple pillows on your bed, there’s a good chance that you only use one when it’s time to sleep. But in some cases, one might not be enough. Here are a few of the reasons why you might consider sleeping with two pillows:

  • If you’re a side sleeper: When you sleep on your side with a single pillow, it can be difficult to keep your hips and spine in alignment. As a result, you might notice yourself waking up with a sore back. Avoid that unpleasant situation by sleeping with a pillow in between your knees.
  • If you’re a back sleeper: Do you tend to sprawl out on your back at night? If so, placing a pillow underneath the back of your knees can create better alignment throughout your body.
  • If you’re pregnant: Getting a good night’s sleep is hard enough as it is, but being pregnant can make it even more difficult. When you’re expecting, using a pregnancy pillow can help you sleep more comfortably and relieve aches and pressure throughout your body.

Where to Place Pillows for Ultimate Body Support

As we’ve just covered, pillows aren’t just meant to be placed under your head. In fact, there are several other ways to use pillows to support your entire body as you sleep. Here are some pointers on how to set up your pillows for a better slumber.

  • Between your knees: If you’re a side sleeper, try using an hourglass-shaped knee pillow. These products are designed to stay in between your legs at night without slipping out. You can also use a small rectangular pillow from your bed or couch if you don’t want to splurge on a new one.
  • Under your neck: Side sleepers can also try using a half-moon or cylindrical pillow under their neck for additional alignment and support. You can also roll up a towel and place under the neck.
  • Beneath your knees: When you sleep on your back, it’s important to be mindful of how much pressure you’re putting on your spine. By putting a medium-sized square or rectangular pillow under your knees, you can alleviate some of that stress.
  • Behind your back: If you’re pregnant, doctors recommend that you sleep on your left side, which can be challenging if that isn’t how you’re accustomed to sleeping. If that’s the case, you can use a body pillow or C-shaped pregnancy pillow behind your back to keep your body in the proper position.
  • Under your pelvis: Stomach sleepers may need more support to keep their spines in alignment. Adding a rectangular pillow underneath your pelvis can help achieve this.

What Pillow You Need For Your Sleep Position

Stomach Sleepers

If you’re a stomach sleeper, you need to be careful not to strain your neck by having your head at a higher angle than the rest of your body. You should either sleep without a pillow or with a thin, low-loft pillow that won’t hurt your neck or back.

Side Sleepers

As a side sleeper, you want to maintain consistent alignment through your neck and upper back. For that reason, you should choose a firm and thick pillow with a higher loft to boost your head and keep your body in the proper position.

Back Sleepers

When you sleep on your back, your pillow should be firm enough so that your head doesn’t sink too much. Otherwise, you risk injuring your neck or tweaking your back during the night. If this is your sleeper type, avoid fluffy pillows and find one with a high loft.

Combo Sleepers

Choosing the right pillow gets a bit trickier when you’re a combination sleeper. However, there are a handful of pillows that suit any position, whether you need support (back and side sleepers) or compression (stomach sleepers). The pillows from Eight Sleep and Casper are two great examples.

Can You Sleep Without a Pillow?

It’s a common question that we hear at the Slumber Yard: should I sleep without a pillow? It’s a complicated question to answer, but in most cases, you’ll probably find that position pretty uncomfortable — unless you’re a strict stomach sleeper, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.

When you sleep on your stomach, you’re forced to turn your head to the left or right. In turn, this pushes your neck out of alignment with the rest of your body. By sleeping with no pillow (or a thin pillow), you’ll create a more streamlined shape from your head to your toes.

Final Thoughts

If you’re having trouble deciding how many pillows you should sleep with or which type of pillows to buy, consider your primary sleeping position. As a general rule, side and back sleepers should stick with firmer pillows, whereas stomach sleepers can use a flat pillow (or no pillow at all). You can also place pillows around your body to create a more supportive sleeping environment and wake up feeling refreshed.