How To Properly Sleep on a Pillow?

Key Takeaways

  • Know Your Sleep Position: Understand your preferred sleep position to choose a pillow that supports the natural alignment of your neck and spine.
  • Explore Pillow Materials: Experiment with different pillow materials like memory foam or feathers to find the one that suits your comfort preferences.
  • Replace Regularly: Keep an eye on your pillow’s condition and replace it every 1-2 years for optimal support and hygiene.
  • Maintain Cleanliness: Use pillow protectors, wash pillowcases regularly, and follow care instructions to ensure a clean sleeping environment and extend the life of your pillow.

Ensuring a restful night’s sleep begins with the seemingly simple yet crucial choice of the right pillow.

In this guide, we’ll unravel the art of proper pillow usage, exploring key factors that contribute to optimal comfort.

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Sleep Position and the Best Pillow:

When it comes to achieving a good night’s sleep, understanding your preferred sleep position is crucial.

The basics of sleeping position play a significant role in determining the right pillow support.

Here’s a brief overview of common sleep positions:

Back Sleeping:

  1. Place emphasis on neck support to maintain proper alignment.
  2. Opt for a medium-firm pillow to support the natural curvature of the spine.
  3. Consider using a thin pillow under the knees for added comfort.
  4. Add a small pillow to place under your knees to reduce back strain as needed.

Side Sleeping:

  1. Look for a firm pillow to fill the space between the ear and shoulder.
  2. Ensure your head and neck are in a neutral position to prevent strain.
  3. Place a pillow between the knees to align the spine and reduce pressure.

“My recommendation for patients is a body pillow in order to reduce force on knee and hip joints, along with the ability to support the upper arm during sleep,” says Dr. Jennifer Miller.

Stomach Sleeping:

  1. Choose a soft, thin pillow to avoid straining the neck.
  2. Consider placing a pillow under the hips to maintain spinal alignment.
  3. Evaluate the feasibility of transitioning to a different sleep position for better neck and spine health.

“Although I discourage stomach sleeping as it does not support the back and can lead to back pain, I do encourage patients to slowly transition to side or back sleeping with the following pillow placement: a pillow placed under the lower legs (below the knee) can help reduce back pain,” explains Dr. Miller.

Pillow Materials and Types

Different pillow materials can influence sleep quality. Here are the pros and cons of different materials:

Memory Foam:


  • Excellent support for neck and spine alignment.
  • Reduces pressure points for enhanced comfort.
  • Durable and long-lasting.
  • Customized support based on body heat and weight.


  • Retains heat, which may not be suitable for hot sleepers.
  • Initial off-gassing odor possible.
  • Initial firmness may take time to get used to.

Feather Pillows:


  • Soft and comfortable, providing a luxurious feel.
  • Easy to shape for personalized support.


  • May lack the firmness required for certain sleep positions.
  • Allergies can be a concern for some individuals.
  • May lose shape over time, requiring fluffing.

Latex Pillows:


  • Resilient and supportive, offering consistent loft.
  • Hypoallergenic properties suitable for allergy sufferers.
  • Durable and long-lasting, maintaining consistent support.


  • Can be heavier and less malleable than other materials.
  • Higher price point compared to some alternatives.

Pillow Size and Loft

Let’s talk about the importance of size in your pillows:

A. Choosing the Right Pillow Size for Your Bed and Body

Standard Pillow:

  • Suitable For: Twin and Full beds.
  • Dimensions: Typically 20 x 26 inches.
  • Considerations: Ideal for individual sleepers or as a decorative addition to larger beds.

Queen Pillow:

  • Suitable For: Queen beds.
  • Dimensions: Typically 20 x 30 inches.
  • Considerations: A popular choice for couples, providing additional width.

King Pillow:

  • Suitable For: King and California King beds.
  • Dimensions: Typically 20 x 36 inches.
  • Considerations: Offers ample space for those who prefer a larger sleeping area.

B. Understanding Pillow Loft and Its Role in Neck and Spine Alignment

Low Loft:

  • Characteristics: Slim and soft, suitable for stomach sleepers.
  • Benefits: Maintains a flatter profile, preventing strain on the neck.
  • Considerations: May not provide enough support for side or back sleepers.

Medium Loft:

  • Characteristics: Versatile loft suitable for various sleep positions.
  • Benefits: Offers a balanced level of support for most sleepers.
  • Considerations: Ensures proper alignment for both back and side sleepers.

High Loft:

  • Characteristics: Thick and firm, ideal for side sleepers or those with broader shoulders.
  • Benefits: Fills the gap between the head and shoulders, promoting spinal alignment.
  • Considerations: May be too firm for some back or stomach sleepers.

Maintaining Pillow Hygiene

Maintaining pillow hygiene can improve your health and enhance the life span of the pillow:

  1. Preventing Allergies: Regular cleaning reduces allergens like dust mites and pet dander, promoting a healthier sleep environment.
  2. Respiratory Health: Clean pillows contribute to better respiratory health by minimizing the risk of inhaling irritants.
  3. Avoiding Breakdown: Dirt and oils can break down pillow materials over time, leading to a decrease in support and comfort.
  4. Prolonging Lifespan: Proper hygiene practices, such as regular washing and protective covers, extend the life of your pillows.

Tips for Better Sleep

Let’s talk about a few ways in which you can include helpful tips for better sleep in your daily lives:

  1. Recommended Temperature Range: Keep your bedroom cool, ideally between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit (15-20 degrees Celsius), for optimal sleep comfort.
  2. Avoiding Screens: Minimize exposure to bright screens at least 30 minutes before sleep.
  3. Quality Mattress and Pillows: Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows that provide adequate support for your sleep position.
  4. Fresh Bedding: Regularly change and launder your sheets and pillowcases for a clean and inviting sleep surface.
  5. White Noise or Earplugs: Use white noise machines or earplugs to minimize disturbances from external sounds.
  6. Bedroom Layout: Arrange furniture to reduce noise, and consider heavy curtains to block outside sounds and light.
  7. Consistent Schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends, to regulate your body’s internal clock.
  8. Relaxation Techniques: Include calming activities like reading, gentle stretching, or meditation in your pre-sleep routine. “I also encourage patients to perform body scanning prior to bed and making note of how each area feels,” says Dr. Miller. “If a muscle group feels tense, go ahead and use breathing techniques to relax it.”
  9. Herbal Teas: Consider chamomile or valerian root tea, known for its calming properties. Tart cherry juice is also known for a night of better sleep.
  10. Aromatherapy: Use soothing scents like lavender through essential oils or diffusers to promote relaxation. The arrangement of a spa night is also a creative solution to get a good sleep.
  11. Caffeine and Nicotine: Avoid consuming these stimulants close to bedtime as they can disrupt sleep.
  12. Alcohol: Limit alcohol intake, as it can interfere with sleep cycles and lead to restless nights.
  13. Regular Exercise: Engage in regular physical activity, but aim to finish exercise at least a few hours before bedtime.
  14. Outdoor Time: Spend time outdoors during daylight hours to regulate your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.

Is it Better to Sleep With or Without a Pillow?

The choice between sleeping with or without a pillow largely depends on personal preference and individual needs.

Pillows serve various purposes, including providing support for the head, neck, and spine.

For individuals who sleep on their back or side, using a pillow can help maintain proper alignment and reduce strain on these areas.

On the other hand, some people find that sleeping without a pillow promotes a more natural sleeping posture, especially for stomach sleepers.

Ultimately, the key is to find what feels most comfortable and supportive for your unique sleep position and preferences.


How Do I Know if I’m Using the Right Pillow for My Sleep Position?

Consider your preferred sleep position. Back sleepers may benefit from a medium-firm pillow, side sleepers from a firmer option, and stomach sleepers from a softer pillow.

How Often Should I Replace My Pillow?

Pillows typically last 1-2 years. Replace them when they lose shape or become flat, as this affects support and comfort.

What’s the Best Pillow for Neck Pain?

Memory foam or latex pillows are often recommended for neck pain as they provide support and contour to the neck's natural curve.

Are There Pillows Specifically for Allergy Sufferers?

Yes, hypoallergenic pillows, such as those with synthetic fills or latex, can reduce allergen exposure and promote a healthier sleep environment.

How Do I Clean Different Types of Pillows?

Follow care instructions provided by the manufacturer. Memory foam may require spot cleaning, while feather pillows can often be machine-washed.

Can My Pillow Affect My Quality of Sleep?

Yes, the right pillow supports proper alignment, reduces pain, and contributes to a comfortable sleep environment, positively impacting sleep quality.

What Size Pillow Should I Use for a King-Sized Bed?

King-sized beds are best complemented by king-sized pillows (20 x 36 inches) for a balanced and visually appealing arrangement.

Is It Necessary To Use a Pillow Protector?

Using a pillow protector can extend the life of your pillow, provide an additional barrier against allergens, and make cleaning easier.

Can a Pillow Affect My Breathing During Sleep?

Yes, the right pillow supports open airways, while an unsuitable one can lead to discomfort, snoring, or restricted breathing.

Are There Specific Pillows for Hot Sleepers?

Cooling gel-infused memory foam or pillows with breathable materials can help regulate temperature and provide a cooler sleep experience.

"I especially like these pillows for my patients who are pregnant or going through hormonal changes," says Dr. Miller.

How Can I Prevent My Pillow From Becoming Flat?

Regularly fluff pillows, especially feather and down options. Replace pillows when they no longer spring back to their original shape.

Are There Natural Remedies for Better Sleep Besides Changing Pillows?

Yes, establishing a consistent bedtime routine, avoiding stimulants before sleep, and creating a comfortable sleep environment all contribute to better sleep.


As we conclude our journey into the realm of proper pillow usage, remember that a good night’s sleep is within reach for everyone.

By understanding your sleep position, exploring various pillow types, and maintaining proper hygiene, you can transform your bedtime routine.

Embrace the comfort that the right pillow provides, and embark on a path to restful, rejuvenating sleep each night.

Sweet dreams await!

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

Sarah Anderson, Certified Sleep Science Coach Sarah Anderson

Sarah Anderson is a sleep, health, and wellness writer and product reviewer. She has written articles on changing and improving your sleep schedule, choosing the right mattress for chronic pain conditions, and finding the best pillow for you. Sarah Anderson has her Bachelor of Arts degree from Arizona State University in Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to working for Zoma, she wrote for a variety of news publications. Sarah's work has been featured on Bustle, PureWow, and other publications.

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