How to Sleep With a Body Pillow

Body pillows are oversized, huggable sleep aids, and often dubbed as pregnancy pillows as they provide full-body support. However, they’re great for more than just pregnant women. The pillows relieve back pain, pressure points, and sleep apnea when used correctly.

With all the different shapes and sizes of the body pillows, you might not know which to choose or how to use it effectively. We take a look at how to use some of the popular body pillow shapes as well as the various benefits of body pillows.

How to Use Different Types of Body Pillows

Each pillow comes with its own benefits to suit different needs, such as neck or back support. One important factor to consider when choosing a body pillow is how much space they will take up. Cylindrical and rectangular pillows are great for smaller beds, but U-shaped pillows require at least a queen or king bed to use properly.

U-Shaped

The U-shaped pillow is one of the largest body pillows on the market. It’s the most ideal pillow shape for pregnant women as it provides head, neck, and back support. The pillow wraps around the body for a snug fit to prevent you from rolling over. Since U-shaped pillows are so large, it’s best to use them on a king or queen bed.

How to sleep with a U-shaped body pillow: Place the curve of the pillow at the top of the bed so it looks like an upside-down U. Lay between the arms and rest your head on its top curve. You can side sleep facing either direction of the pillow, or on your back. When on your side, hug one of its arms and place it between your thigh. The pillow’s other arm will support your back.

C-Shaped

A C-shaped pillow is a large curved pillow. It’s similar to a U-shaped pillow in shape and benefits but works on smaller beds. It’s often used as a pregnancy pillow to reduce back pain and provide support to the legs, head, and neck.

How to sleep with a C-shaped body pillow: Lay in the center opening of the pillow with your back against the length of the C and your head on the upper curve. Hug the pillow’s top hook with your arms and rest your knees between the bottom hook.

J-Shaped

J-shaped pillows may also be referred to as candy-cane pillows and are great for side sleeping. The pillow won’t take up as much space as a U-shaped pillow, but it still provides many of the same benefits. It has excellent head and leg support and keeps your spine aligned, but lacks any back support.

How to sleep with a J-shaped body pillow: Place your pillow down with its hook at the top of your bed and lay down facing its arm. Rest your head and arms on the pillow’s hook and wrap your legs around the pillow’s arm.

Rectangular

Rectangular pillows are one of the most common body pillows shapes. They’re long, but not incredibly wide, so you can use them on a small bed such as a twin or twin XL.

The pillow has great head and knee support for side sleepers and can be used as a long head pillow for back or stomach sleepers. Rectangular pillows are often available in different lengths so taller sleepers can enjoy the pillow’s benefits too.

How to sleep with a rectangular body pillow: You can use your pillow vertically or horizontally. Vertically, lay it beside you in bed, resting your head on the top portion of the pillow, wrapping your arms around the middle, and placing your knees on the bottom portion. Horizontally, you can use it as a large pillow for your head or for lumbar support while sitting upright in bed.

Cylindrical

Cylindrical body pillows are quite similar to rectangular pillows, only they’re fuller and the shape of a cylinder. They’re well suited for small beds and, just as with rectangular pillows, cylindrical pillows are available in various lengths to suit different heights.

How to sleep with a cylindrical body pillow: With your pillow vertically on your bed, rest your head on the top part of the pillow. Wrap your arms around the center of the pillow and place the bottom half of the pillow between your knees.

Body Pillow Fills

When browsing for a new pillow, narrow down your options by choosing a fill you prefer. The pillow’s filling effects features such as its breathability, softness, and price.

Down

Down is made using the feather from goose and duck bellies and results in a super soft, cozy, and warm pillow. It can feel luxurious, however, down is a bit pricey and can trigger allergies. Cheaper alternatives to down are down with feathers (the course, outer feathers from geese and ducks) or down alternatives (polyester or cotton fillings made to resemble down).

Memory Foam

Memory foam is a material made from polyurethane and is popular for its great pressure relief and cradling. Memory foam pillows come in two forms: solid memory foam pieces, for a sturdy surface, or shredded memory foam, for extra breathability and moldability. Shredded memory foam needs a bit more upkeep than solid foam to keep it fluffy and supportive.

Polyester

Polyester is a synthetic material and an inexpensive alternative to other pillows. While polyester is easy to wash, it’s not incredibly breathable and can get lumpy sooner than other pillow fills.

Benefits of Using a Body Pillow

Body pillows provide added support, especially for side sleepers and pregnant women. Rather than tucking a second small pillow between your knees for spinal alignment, you have the ease of just using one large pillow in the evenings. Along with that, body pillows can minimize back pain, stress, and stiffness.

Relieves Pressure Points

Pressure points can occur when your mattress is just a bit too firm or if you have conditions such as arthritis or fibromyalgia. Body pillows support the shape of your body and distribute your weight so your body, mainly your hips and shoulders, doesn’t get sore or stiff. With a pillow between your knees, your spine is more naturally aligned and your knees won’t scrape against each other uncomfortably.

Minimizes Sleep Apnea

Resting on your side or with your head elevated, such as when you’re on a body pillow, ensures your airways and throat are clear to reduce sleep apnea and snoring.

Reduces Back Pain

Placing a pillow between your knees keeps your body in a more natural and relaxed state. It supports healthy spinal alignment and posture to relieve lower back pain and conditions such as sciatica or herniated discs.

Calming and Stress-Relieving

Hugging a body pillow can reduce anxiety and stress. The action of hugging can release oxytocin, reduce cortisol, and may lower your blood pressure, making it easier to ward off stress-induced thoughts and relax. If you struggle with overthinking in the evenings, hugging a body pillow might ease you and help you get to sleep sooner.

Holds You In Place

If you struggle with constantly tossing and turning in beds, body pillows, especially the larger ones such as a U or C-shaped, keep you in place during the night. If you’re trying to sleep in a new position, such as on your back or side, the pillow prevents you from rolling to your old sleeping position.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do body pillows need pillowcases?

Yes, just with any other pillow, body pillows need a case for protection from stains, dust, and bodily fluid such as sweat or oil. Due to the unique shapes and sizes of body pillows, you’ll need special pillowcases to fit them, but most brands carry the correct pillowcases for their pillows.

Can you put a body pillow in the washer and dryer?

Always check the wash instructions on the pillow’s tag for exact care guidelines, though most pillows should be washed every six months and can go through a washer and dryer. With this in mind, always make sure your pillow is completely dry after washing it to prevent mildew and mold buildup.

Should your shoulders be on a pillow while sleeping?

With both body pillows and standard pillows, keep your shoulders on the mattress. Your head and neck need the support from a pillow, not your shoulders, so if your shoulders are on your pillow, your head and neck may be extended awkwardly.

How long is a body pillow?

Most body pillows are around 54 inches long, though you can find body pillows upwards of 72 inches long to accommodate you if you’re tall. Remember, you’re meant to curl up around a body pillow when using it, so you don’t need a pillow that’s exactly your height for it to suit your body.

What is the healthiest sleeping position?

Some of the healthiest sleeping positions are side and back sleeping.

When sleeping on your side, place a standard or body pillow between your knees. This way, your spine is naturally aligned to prevent back pain. Also, if you struggle with snoring or sleep apnea, laying on your side keeps your airways open and can help you get more restful sleep.

On your back, consider sleeping with your legs raised to keep your spine neutral. You can place a pillow under your knees or use an adjustable bed frame to lift your legs up.

You can also try back sleeping at an incline by using a wedge pillow under your head or an adjustable bed frame. Sleeping on an incline may minimize acid reflux and sleep apnea symptoms, as well as reduce pressure on your spine.

Conclusion

If you’ve never used a body pillow before, you may not realize just how comfortable they are. They protect your spine, back, and neck; plus, hugging a big pillow can reduce anxiety and stress at night. When choosing a body pillow shape, consider the size of your bed as well as any issues you want to address to get the best night’s rest. Need help choosing other pillow sizes for your room? Check out our pillow sizes guide.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

Andrew Russell, Wellness Writer Andrew Russell

Andrew Russell is a part-time writer and full-time sleep enthusiast. At Zoma, Andrew lends his sleep expertise and writes many of our “better sleep” guides. Outside of Zoma, Andrew puts his advice to the test, always trying new ways to get deeper, more restorative sleep. We appreciate Andrew because he doesn’t give advice that he doesn’t follow himself, so you can feel confident his solutions for better sleep really do the trick.

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