What’s the Proper Way to Sleep on a Pillow? Tips for Every Sleep Position

The proper way to sleep on a pillow depends on your sleep position. Side sleepers should use slightly thicker and firmer pillows for optimal support, while back sleepers should use thinner to medium-thick pillows. Stomach sleepers may benefit from going without a pillow or using a thin pillow. Memory foam and contour pillows are good options for combination sleepers.

If you ever struggle to get comfortable in bed or wake up with neck or shoulder pain, the culprit could be right under your nose (literally). Using the wrong pillow—and lying on it incorrectly—can leave you feeling achy and unrested in the morning.

So how do you sleep on a pillow, exactly? The proper way to sleep on a pillow really depends on your sleep position. Check out our guide to learn the best way to sleep on a pillow so you can improve your sleep quality.

How should you sleep on a pillow?

Pillows are supposed to help keep your spine in a neutral position, align your neck with the rest of your body, and support good posture. But what works best for side sleepers is going to be different from the ideal pillow setup for stomach sleepers.

Here’s the proper way to sleep on a pillow based on your preferred sleep position.

What’s the best pillow for side sleepers?

The best pillow for side sleepers is one that’s slightly thicker and firmer for optimal support. Your pillow should fill in the gap between your head and neck and help keep your head and neck aligned with your spine.

Memory foam pillows and polyfill orthopedic pillows are good options for side sleepers. For additional support, consider placing a pillow between your knees to keep your hips in alignment.

What’s the best pillow for back sleepers?

The best pillow for back sleepers is one that’s on the thinner to medium-thick side. This will help keep your head, neck, and spine properly aligned. Your head should be able to sink into the pillow without tilting too far back.

Memory foam pillows and contour pillows are good options for back sleepers. You can also think about adding a pillow under your knees to maintain the natural curve of your back.

What’s the best pillow for stomach sleepers?

The best pillow for stomach sleepers is one that’s soft and thin. Or, you can go without a pillow. Stomach sleeping can put unnecessary strain on your neck and backand a thick, firm pillow can put even more strain on your neck.

As a stomach sleeper, you may want to place a pillow under your pelvis to help keep your back in a more neutral position and take pressure off your spine.

What’s the best pillow for combination sleepers?

The best pillow for combination sleepers is one that’s medium-thick. This is a good middle ground if you switch positions throughout the night.

Latex pillows and down pillows are good options for combination sleepers because both materials are easy to move around on.

Our best pillows for every sleep position

Latex Pillow

A core of shredded natural latex, wrapped in a breathable organic cotton cover. Plush and responsive for the perfect head and neck support.

Down Alternative Pillow

Made from two types of hypoallergenic down alternative fibers, wrapped in 100% organic cotton. Soft, plush, and breathable for cool, comfortable sleep.

Cloud Memory Foam Pillow

A specially engineered blend of shredded gel-infused memory foam and buoyant latex foam offers best-in-class comfort and support.


Is it better to sleep with a pillow or without?

In general, experts recommend sleeping with one to two pillows at night for most sleep positions. A pillow or two can help keep your spine in a neutral position if you sleep on your side or back. Stomach sleepers, on the other hand, may benefit from snoozing without a pillow. In this instance, a pillow could put strain on your neck so you may want to consider going without.

What’s the best way to sleep on a pillow?

Your pillow should support the natural curve of your neck, but it shouldn’t be placed so high that it causes muscle strain in your neck, back, and shoulders. You’ll also want to avoid placing your pillow too low. You don’t want it underneath your shoulders because this can also lead to pain.

Should your neck be on the pillow?

When sleeping on your back or side, your pillow should rest underneath your head and neck but not your shoulders. A good rule of thumb is that your pillow should always keep your neck parallel to your mattress, no matter what position you’re in. Your neck shouldn’t be bent forward or to one side, which is why experts don’t recommend sleeping on your stomach.

Should your shoulders be on the pillow when sleeping on your back?

Your shoulders shouldn’t be on your pillow when sleeping on your back. This can throw your spine out of neutral alignment and cause you to wake up with neck or back pain. If you’re a back sleeper, tuck your pillow above and around your shoulders.

How should you sleep on a pillow to prevent neck pain?

To help prevent neck pain, choose a pillow that keeps your head in a neutral position, with your neck perfectly aligned with your spine. When you sleep on a pillow, the pillow should fill the gap between your head, neck, and back even when you move during sleep.

How should you sleep on a contour pillow?

A contour memory foam pillow has a pre-made shape that allows for a baseline of support for your head and neck. From there, the memory foam will adjust and curve around your natural shape to lend support.

If you sleep on your back, the slimmer side of the pillow should be farther away from your head, while the thicker side should rest underneath the empty space that forms between your neck and head as you lie down.

If you sleep on your side, you should also place the thicker end of the pillow underneath your head and neck; just make sure the pillow is pushed toward the top of your shoulder.

Choose the best pillow for your sleep position with Saatva

Choosing the right pillowand finding the correct pillow posturecan go a long way toward improving your sleep. If you’re looking for an easy destination to pick up new pillows, check out Saatva.

We have pillows to suit all sleep styles, including

latex pillows,
saatva latex pillow
Latex Pillow

Hotel-quality comfort with responsive & ultra-breathable support

memory foam pillows,
saatva cloud memory foam pillow
Graphite Memory Foam Pillow

Cooling comfort and contouring support ideal for side sleepers

down alternative pillows.
saatva down alternative pillow
Down Alternative Pillow

Hypoallergenic with a plush and airy feel that’s perfect for cuddling

All of our pillows are made from high-quality materials that are breathable, comfortable, and durable.

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