How to Use a Wedge Pillow
Wedge pillows are triangular orthopedic pillows made to help you sleep deeper and minimize symptoms of sleep apnea, acid reflux, and congestion. High-quality wedge pillows are typically made from firm memory foam or polyurethane foam and form a slight angle to elevate the head, but they can also work as a backrest when sitting upright. With the right wedge pillow placement, you can relieve your pain and rest easy throughout the night.
Our guide covers how to use a wedge pillow and the benefits of sleeping with one.
Sleeping at a gentle incline can promote a healthy spinal alignment, improve respiratory issues, and minimize aches and pains. When back and side sleeping, place the thickest corner of the wedge pillow under your head, and the thinnest edge tucked under your shoulders.
When sitting in bed or on a couch, placing a wedge pillow behind you provides excellent back and spine support. Set the wedge pillow vertically, with the thinnest edge pointed at the ceiling and the flat side against the bed’s headboard.
Under the Knees
Back sleepers should place a wedge pillow under their legs with the taller corner of the pillow under your knees. The elevation improves poor circulation, reducing swollen, achy feet and minimizing the risk of varicose veins. Elevating your upper body also decreases pressure on the lumbar spine to reduce lower back pain while sleeping.
When sitting, you can use your wedge pillow as a small surface for a book, journal, or laptop. Sit with the smallest corner of the wedge pillow facing you and place your book or laptop on the slant of the pillow.
Under the Belly
Side sleeping is the safest sleep position for pregnant women, though many women might find gravity pulls their stomachs down uncomfortably, especially in the second and third trimester. For a more comfortable sleep position, tuck the thinnest corner of a wedge pillow under your growing belly to support your stomach and minimize any discomfort from side sleeping. Use the taller corner to support your top arm, when lying on your side.
Benefits of Using a Wedge Pillow
Bed wedge pillows are not only a super comfortable sleeping accessory, but they can also relieve symptoms associated with numerous medical issues and concerns.
When facing a cold, allergies, postnasal drip, or cough, sleeping at an incline helps the sinuses drain and makes it easier to breathe throughout the night.
Prevents Acid Reflux and GERD
Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes heartburn, nausea, and discomfort when trying to sleep. Sleeping in a reclined position prevents stomach acid from moving up the esophagus and prevents acid reflux, making it easier to sleep.
Reduces Nighttime Asthma Effects
When lying in a supine position, blood naturally pools in the lungs, potentially triggering breathing issues and nighttime asthma. Sleeping at an incline prevents blood from pooling in the lungs and opens up the airways.
Alleviates Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Snoring Problems
Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where a person periodically stops breathing throughout the night. When in a supine (lying on your back) position, the jaw and tongue relax and collapse backward, blocking a person’s airways and aggravating sleep apnea symptoms. Sleeping at an incline with a wedge pillow opens up the airways, making breathing easier and reducing sleep disruptions. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, make sure to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Doctors sometimes recommend using a wedge pillow when recovering from a surgery or operation. Using a wedge pillow makes the switch from a reclined hospital bed to a regular bed easier, and it can help you sit upright while bed-ridden. However, always get your surgeon’s approval post-operation to ensure you’re safe to use a wedge pillow.
Minimized Back, Shoulder, and Neck Pain
If you struggle with back, shoulder, and neck pain, using a wedge pillow is a good way to reduce chronic pain. Placing a wedge pillow under your upper body reduces lumbar (lower back) and cervical spine (neck) pressure and promotes healthy spinal alignment.
Ear Pain Relief
Sleeping on a wedge pillow improves ear pain and infections because gravity drains fluid from the ears, reducing pressure and minimizing pain.
Lower Risk of Glaucoma
Glaucoma is an eye condition where excess eye fluid increases intraocular pressure (IOP), the fluid pressure inside the eyes. A high IOP level damages the optic nerve and permanently impairs vision. However, sleeping at a 20-degree incline can reduce IOP levels in people with glaucoma.
More Comfortable Pregnancy
A wedge pillow’s placement impacts the many ways pregnant women—who commonly suffer from issues like back pain, acid reflux, and swelling—can reduce pain and improve their sleep. Pregnant women can use a wedge pillow to elevate their knees to improve fluid retention, place a wedge pillow between their knees to reduce edema of the ankles, and more.
High-quality pillows are designed to keep your head and neck aligned with your spine. However, they are not meant to be stacked. Stacking pillows could throw your body out of alignment. We don’t recommend stacking pillows under your head because it only curves your neck inward, resulting in morning pain and stiffness.
If your pillows are so thin or worn down where you need to stack them to feel adequately supported, it’s probably best to simply replace your pillows. If you stack pillows to lift your upper body, try using a wedge pillow instead for a more gentle incline.
Dr. Jennifer Miller, an outpatient physical therapist and PCP specializing in treating neurological conditions says, “When my patients come in with neck or back pain, one of the first questions I ask is, ‘How do you sleep?’ I want to know what position they sleep in, how many pillows they use, and if they use a body pillow. I also look at their body mechanics during a supine to sit transfer, as twisting the back can increase pain. We spend at least a third of our 24 hours sleeping, so it makes sense that how we sleep can have a great impact on our bodies. Having the right pillow can make a big difference.”
Both wedge pillows and adjustable bed bases are functional and useful at night.
With an adjustable bed base, you can raise your legs and upper body for comfort and pressure relief. However, pregnant women can’t support their belly with an adjustable base, like they can with a wedge pillow. Although adjustable bases have many benefits, they are also quite costly, from as little as $400 and upwards of $3500.
Wedge pillows are versatile and easy to use. Wedge pillows are a bit less luxurious than adjustable bed bases, and you’re unable to adjust their incline, but wedge pillows are affordable.
The thickest, flat ends of wedge pillows are usually between 6 to 12 inches or 30 to 45-degree angles. Choose a pillow height based on how you plan to use your wedge pillow.
Lower incline (6 inches) wedge pillows are best for using your knees and legs. Use a mid-incline (7 to 9 inches) wedge pillow for back and side sleepers and to improve issues such as sleep apnea and acid reflux. Higher incline (10 inches or higher) wedge pillows work best when used for sitting upright.
Wedge pillows should be used independently and placed directly on your mattress. Using a second pillow over or under your wedge pillow can throw your spine out of alignment and ultimately leads to discomfort. Your head may also slip off of your pillows if the stack is unstable.
It’s not extremely harmful to sleep in an upright position, though it can raise the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and varicose veins. Both conditions commonly occur to people traveling in cars and planes for extended periods. Recline slightly to minimize side effects and get more comfortable.
Sleep Peacefully With a Wedge Pillow
Wedge pillows are a simple, yet effective way to relieve pain and foster a deeper sleep. These pillows are inexpensive and can be used in multiple ways to achieve great relief and comfort, even if you aren’t facing any specific health conditions.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.