Have you ever found yourself stacking pillows, folding them up, or just really wanting anything other than the pillow that you’re sleeping on right now?
The best pillow is not the same for everyone. There are several considerations for what will give you a good night’s sleep. Pillow material and feel is of course important. But something not frequently discussed is pillow height ideal for your size and sleeping position. Getting your head and neck are in a good position for spinal alignment has a huge impact on your sleep.
Our pillow reviews cover a variety of pillows and sleep preferences.
Pillow Height Calculations Start with Your Sleep Position
You’ve probably heard it before: determining your sleep position will inform the best products for your sleep. And the pillow is no exception. Do you start and finish in the same position or do you do a lot of tossing and turning? If you’re not sure of your sleep position, you might consider recording your sleep to get a sense of your dominant sleep position. If you do a lot of moving and turning during the night, it’s a safe bet that your sleeping position is mixed. A mixed sleeping position usually calls for a hybrid or middle-of-the-road measurements and products.
Pillow Heights for Side Sleepers, Stomach Sleepers, and Back Sleepers
Determining the ideal height for your head and neck is determined by sleep position.
Pillow height, side sleeper position means you want a relatively tall pillow to match your spine height raised by virtue of sleeping on your shoulder. The pillow should be fairly firm. Neutral spine alignment on your side is a straight spine. Stomach sleepers should stay close to the mattress and need a soft, thin pillow.
The best pillows for back sleepers are right in the middle with a medium firmness and height that positions the head slightly upward from the spine. The neutral spinal alignment for back sleepers maintains an S curve.
Additionally, as a general rule if your pillow is too low, you’re going to be straining muscles as they have to work maintain alignment. If your pillow is too high, you can be constricting your air flow, essentially a crimp in your airway. As a general rule, a medium pillow height is the safest bet if you don’t have any defined preference or indeterminate sleep position. A research study found that between 3 different heights, the middle height pillow supported the head and neck the most with the least amount of muscle activation being required.
You might also consider a supplemental pillow elsewhere on your body to support good sleep posture. The position of this pillow varies by sleep position. Side sleepers can position a pillow between their legs for cushioning and to prevent twisting of the spine. Back sleepers can put a pillow under their knees to relieve pressure. And stomach sleepers can put a thin pillow under their stomach to better align their head and neck with their main pillow.
Pillows are made from a multitude of different materials such as down, memory foam, polyester, and latex. Aside from individual preferences about how different materials feel to you, the most important consideration is its firmness, matched to your sleep position (see above). Memory foam and latex tend to the firm side of the scale, whereas down and polyester are softer. Of course you should treat every pillow on individual basis as there are exceptions.
Evaluating Your Pillow Performance and Adjusting Pillow Height
As with all aspects of a bed system’s performance, the proof is in the pudding. If you’re having trouble going to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night, or waking up sore or stiff, something isn’t working.
To start, gauge the feel of the pillow and whether you like it or not. Next, lying down in your dominant sleep position, see if the the pillow height and firmness effectively gets your head and neck properly aligned with the rest of your spine. You might have your partner or friend eyeball it or even take a picture to see your spinal alignment.
How you sleep during the night and feel in the morning is the true test of whether or not a pillow is right for you. You should give it at least a week to make a conclusion. With pillows, you might start at the lower height end of the spectrum. If it’s not sleeping well, you might add an insert or additional to provide additional height to see if that makes an improvement.
One pillow of note is the Purple Pillow. It uses its unique polymer material and design to provide excellent support. Another benefit though is that they provide an air booster add-on that you can adjust the height to the level that works best for you. Our Purple Pillow Review provides more detail.
Our Pillow Reviews cover a wide range of sleep styles.