Whether You're A Back, Stomach, Or Side Sleeper, Here's Where To Put Your Pillow

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Woman Sleeping

You can get as many hours of sleep you want, but if it's not quality sleep, you still won't wake up feeling rested and energized. There are a lot of factors that can inhibit restful sleep, and one that's often overlooked is your actual sleeping position. Here's how to situate your pillow for optimal support, according to experts, so you can avoid the stiff neck in the morning—and the grogginess that often accompanies it.

Where to place your pillow for more supported sleep.

When it comes to sleeping position, the main objective is to support the natural curvature of the spine, naturopathic sleep doctor Catherine Darley, N.D., explains to mbg. This will not only help you breathe better, but you won't wake up with aches and pains. Here's how, depending on whether you're a back, stomach, or side sleeper.

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If you're a back sleeper.

If you sleep on your back, chiropractor B.J. Hardick, D.C., says you want to avoid flexing your neck forward, chin to chest. Instead, the gap between your shoulders and head where your neck naturally curves should be properly supported, with the neck relatively flat. Darley adds that a roll pillow is great for this.

And if you struggle with snoring or acid reflux but want to stay on your back, sleep medicine specialist and psychiatrist Nishi Bhopal, M.D., tells mbg a wedge pillow can offer slight elevation to mitigate some of those issues. You can also place a pillow under your knees to support your low back, she adds.

If you're a side sleeper.

If you sleep on your side (which tends to be the preferred sleep position for most), "your pillow should be the height of the distance from the outer side of your shoulder to your ear," Darley explains, so your head and shoulders are in neutral alignment.

You can also try a body pillow with one end between the knees, so hips stay neutral, and your upper arm resting on top, so shoulders stay aligned too, Darley adds.

"Side sleepers should get a pillow that bunches up from the shoulder to the neck and head so that the vertical line of the face is in line with the vertical line of the full body," Hardick adds. "There shouldn't be a kink."

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If you're a stomach sleeper.

And lastly, if you're a stomach sleeper, Bhopal suggests trying a flat pillow, or potentially no pillow at all if you can handle it, to reduce pressure on your back. But, stomach sleeping is known to be the worst position for sleep, as it obstructs breathing and messes with your neck big time. So, trying some of the aforementioned pillow placements for the back or side might be a good idea.

What to look for in a supportive pillow.

Firstly, Hardick says more than one pillow under your head while actually sleeping is "almost never needed—or practical." Instead, go for a larger pillow that flattens to adapt to the shape of your head, neck, and shoulders, he says.

If you really love your foam pillow and it helps you get through the night, keep using it. However, Hardick notes, feather, down-filled, or even a Posturepedic pillow are your best bets. And on top of material and support, he suggests making the investment and going for a pillow that's nontoxic, organic, odorless, and not going to off-gas chemicals. "I've seen many people moving to bamboo for this reason," he says.

Lastly, give body pillows a try if you're struggling to stay in a good sleep position throughout the night. "Body pillows are great for providing lower back support and pressure relief, and can help you remain in a side sleeping position," Bhopal adds.

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The bottom line.

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The bottom line is, if you're waking up every morning feeling stiff and groggy, your pillow might just be playing a role. By keeping your spine in alignment, along with your hips and shoulders, you can offset some of those issues. And don't be afraid to invest in at least one quality pillow—after all, we spend a lot of time asleep.

Some other things to think about when it comes to getting a good night's sleep include, of course, proper diet and exercise, as well as taking a sleep-supporting supplement like mbg's magnesium+. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule, coming up with your ideal nighttime routine, and avoiding blue light and alcohol in the hours leading up to bedtime are also good ideas.

Is it time to ditch your old pillow? Maybe—or perhaps you just need to maneuver it a bit. Either way, when we sleep in proper alignment, we're sure to wake up feeling much, much better than we would otherwise.

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