We’ve all woken up with a crick in the neck or an aching back after a poor night of sleep. This kind of pain can be uncomfortable and even debilitating, which can lead to serious health complications and, of course, more restless nights. You might assume you tweaked something in your sleep, but in reality, your aches and pains could be stemming from the spot where you actually lay your head—your pillow. Thankfully, experts have shared their professional opinion on exactly how many pillows you should be sleeping with, and what could be causing your morning strife. Read on to find out how many pillow should really be on your bed.
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Lying down in bed at night is a luxury, whether you prefer to read, catch up on your latest Netflix binge, or close your eyes right on the spot. Regardless of your sleep routine, when you do fall asleep, experts stress the importance of keeping your body aligned. Pillows play a crucial role in this by supporting the body’s natural posture, says Kevin Lees, DC, manager of auditing and quality at The Joint Chiropractic.
There are several factors that go into choosing pillows, aside from just taste and preference, and you’ll want to replace them when they start to wear out, Lees notes. But while you may be tempted to grab an extra pillow for more support, that may not be the best strategy to keep your neck and back in check.
While there is no official rule about how many pillows you should sleep with, experts generally agree that sleeping with more than one under your head can actually hurt your neck and back. And in fact, one supportive pillow is really all you need to keep your body aligned and your neck in a supported position.
“While using multiple pillows might feel comfortable when you first lay down, sleeping for eight hours with your neck flexed forward or to the side can put a ton of stress on the muscles, ligaments, and discs in your cervical spine,” Grant Radermacher, DC, spinal biomechanics expert at Ascent Chiropractic, says. “This is a major cause of neck pain, shoulder pain, and tension headaches.”
If you have unnecessary memory foam or feather pillows on your bed while you sleep, they can create further problems for your sleep hygiene. “Too many pillows may shift throughout the night and can become a hindrance during sleep,” Lees adds.
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When hitting the hay, some sleepers immediately roll over to one side, while others flip to their stomach or lie flat on their back. This also comes into play when considering what kind of pillows you should be using.
If you sleep on your stomach, you might want to reconsider. According to Radermacher, when you sleep this way, you are forced to arch your back and turn your head to the side to breathe. If you find that you cant shift from this position, the chiropractor recommends a thin pillow—which decreases the angle for your neck—or no pillow at all. These sleepers might also benefit from a pillow placed under the abdomen and pelvis. “It’ll help keep your back in a more neutral position and take pressure off your spine,” Radermacher explains.
Most experts agree that sleeping on your side or your back is preferable, and that will require different pillows. According to Martin Reed, MEd, Certified Clinical Sleep Health Educator and founder of Insomnia Coach, back sleepers should reach for a thinner pillow, while side sleepers will need something thicker “to help support the gap between the head and the neck.”
Instead of being overly concerned about the number of pillows that you are using, Radermacher recommends a different approach.
“There’s no set rule on the number of pillows. What’s more important is figuring out what your body needs to keep your neck supported in a neutral position while you sleep,” he says. “So while most people are going to do best with just one pillow, the ideal number (and thickness) of pillows really depends on your body type and sleeping position.”
You can also get creative with pillow placement. If you are a side sleeper, experts recommend putting a pillow between your knees, and if you sleep on your back, you can try putting a pillow underneath your knees—both strategies that will have your lower back saying “thank you.”
Stephen Light, Certified Sleep Science Coach and CEO of Nolah Mattress, suggests looking into memory foam pillows that have a hand hole underneath, “which might be helpful for stomach or side sleepers that like to put their hand under the pillow since the pillow height remains unchanged.”
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