Why Is It Important To Sleep On A Good Pillow?

Published Categorized as Pillows, Bedding

Quality sleep is essential for living a healthy life. Your pillow plays a vital role in achieving this. Sleeping on the wrong pillow can harm your well-being and quality of life.

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What are the benefits of a good night’s sleep?

The average person sleeps for 8 hours per day which is 2,980 hours per year. This means that roughly a third of your life is spent sleeping!

Sleeping well and staying asleep are crucial for your body to begin to rest, heal and recover. When you sleep, your body can stop or slow down vital functions such as digestion and cardiovascular function, allowing your brain to perform critical tasks such as building memories, reinforcing learning, clearing toxins, muscle growth, and tissue repair.

A good night’s sleep can have the following benefits:

  • Boosts your immune system
  • Helps to prevent weight gain
  • Strengthens your heart
  • Improves your mood
  • Increases your productivity at work
  • Increases exercise performance
  • Increases memory and cognitive function

Your pillow plays a significant role in your sleep quality, along with your mattress and bed frame.

Investing in the right pillow can improve your sleep quality by at least 30%.

Most people focus only on their head pillow but sleep quality and spine health can be improved with additional pillows that provide support. Depending on your sleep style, this can include pillows under or between the knees.

Despite the importance of getting a good night’s sleep, many people report being unhappy with the pillow they sleep on.

Why is your pillow so important for sleep? 

A pillow’s job is to keep your neck, and upper back supported and aligned. This ensures that you get a comfortable night’s sleep and prevents back problems. Incorrect use of a pillow can negatively affect your sleep and can lead to back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, hip pain, and other forms of joint pain.

The best type of pillow is one that you find most comfortable and keeps your spine neutrally aligned. 

How high should your pillow be?

Your pillow’s height will depend on your sleeping position because each position requires a different height to achieve an aligned neck.

Below are the best types of pillows for your sleep position, including guidelines for pillow height:

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers typically prefer a pillow with a low to medium height of 4 to 6 inches (10.16 to 15.24 centimeters).

Generally, sleep experts recommend sleeping on your back as it promotes a healthy, neutral sleeping posture in which you can maintain a comfortable, flexible neck, back, and head.

However, too much elevation in the back sleeping position can cause strain on the neck.

An excellent pillow for back sleepers is a cervical pillow or a neck roll pillow that provides specific support to the neck: 

Best Neck Roll Pillow
Cervical Neck Roll Memory Foam Pillow, Bolster Pillow, Round Neck Pillows Support for Sleeping | Bolster Pillow for Bed, Legs, Back and Yoga

This neck roll pillow is designed to help provide a therapeutic sleep posture to relieve or prevent head, back, neck, and shoulder pain caused from uncomfortable sleep and poor spinal alignment.


Best Cervical Pillow
UTTU Sandwich Pillow, Adjustable Memory Foam Pillow, Bamboo Pillow for Sleeping, Cervical Pillow for Neck Pain, Neck Support for Back, Stomach, Side Sleepers, Orthopedic Contour Pillow, CertiPUR-US

This pillow features unique adjustable lofts for varied types of sleepers. Originally with a 4.7in of high contour and 3.9in of low contour, removing the middle layer you’ll get 3.5in of high contour and 2.8in of low contour.

Adding 1 to 2 pillows under your knees can help ease back strain and pressure and is the gentlest position on the back.

Sleeping on your back is best if you suffer from sciatica, “a pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg.” (source)

Sleeping on your back is also often best when recovering from back surgery.

Side Sleepers

Side sleepers usually prefer a pillow with a medium to high height of 5 to 7 inches (12.7 to 17.78 centimeters).

Among the most common sleeping positions, side sleeping is also one of the most comfortable.

side sleepers

However, your shoulder creates a space between your head and bed when you sleep on your side. 

Side sleepers need a thick pillow to fill the space between their neck and shoulders.

Also, you can try tucking a pillow between your knees because this can help to keep your spine in neutral alignment.

If you sleep in this position you may prefer a medium to firm pillow made out of a dense material like memory foam or latex.

You might like to try a shredded memory foam pillow like the one below. You can fluff this pillow by hand to add the required head and neck support back into your pillow. 

Best Shredded Memory Foam Pillow
Coop Home Goods - Premium Adjustable Loft Pillow - Cross-Cut Memory Foam Fill - Lulltra Washable Cover from Bamboo Derived Rayon - CertiPUR-US/GREENGUARD Gold Certified - Queen

Customize this pillow to achieve just the right individual balance between support and comfort. Whether you are a side, back or stomach sleeper – this is the pillow for you!

If you stack or fold pillows to compensate for inadequate height and support in this position, you should strongly consider a firmer pillow to get a better night’s sleep.

Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers typically prefer a pillow with a low height of 4 inches or less (10.16 centimeters).

Often, stomach sleepers don’t need a pillow because their head can rest directly on the mattress and still maintain a natural curve in their spine.

Best Thin Memory Foam Pillow
BLISSBURY Thin 2.6" Stomach Sleeping Memory Foam Pillow. Slim, Flat, Cooling Sleep for Belly or Back with Soft Bamboo Washable Cover, Neck and Head Support for Men and Women Bedding Accessories

These slim pillows reduce strain on the neck and back, soothing pain and stiffness. The moldable memory foam cradles your head, providing stability, and can help with breathing and snoring.

Although this sleeping position can prevent sleep apnea and minimize snoring, it may cause discomfort and back or neck pains.

Due to the risk of neck strain, sleeping on your stomach should be avoided, if possible.

Combination Sleepers

Do you like to flip between your side, back, and stomach while sleeping?

This will mean that you prefer a pillow that is adjustable to suit your sleeping needs.

Ideally, it would be best if you chose a pillow that first caters to your dominant sleeping position.

Bamboo pillows or shredded memory foam pillows are good because they compress and conform to the shape of your head. 

You might also want to consider a contour orthopedic sleeping pillow:

Best Contour Orthopedic Pillow
EPABO Contour Memory Foam Pillow Orthopedic Sleeping Pillows, Ergonomic Cervical Pillow for Neck Pain - for Side Sleepers, Back and Stomach Sleepers, Free Pillowcase Included (Firm & Standard Size

This contour design pillow is designed for Side Sleepers, Back and Stomach Sleepers. It perfectly supports and aligns your head, neck, shoulder and back.

This pillow provides therapeutic relief for all sleeping types and perfectly supports and aligns your head, neck, shoulder, and back.

Sleeping On An Incline

If you’ve tried everything but still experience morning discomfort, you might need to sleep at an incline. 

You can try a bed wedge pillow like the one below:

Best Wedge Pillow
Bed Wedge Pillow - Adjustable 9&12 Inch Folding Memory Foam Incline Cushion System for Legs and Back Support Pillow - Acid Reflux, Anti Snoring, Heartburn, Reading – Machine Washable

This pillow features a foldable design which can support usage for the head, back, or as the perfect leg wedge pillow. A wedge pillow increases blood flow, promotes breathing, reduces snoring and heartburn. Can reduce the effects of knee pain, back pain, varicose veins, and edema.

Some folks prefer to sleep in a recliner chair or on an adjustable bed to maintain healthy spine support. 

Don’t worry, you’ll adjust to the slant over time.

How To Tell You’re Sleeping On The Wrong Pillow

If you choose the wrong pillow then you can strain your neck and shoulder muscles. This can result in more pain while you sleep instead of helping you rest and recover.

Here are a few common signs to tell if you’re sleeping on the wrong pillow:

1 – Neck Pain & Stiffness

Sleeping on your stomach or side can result in neck pain and stiffness when you don’t have a pillow that is designed for these sleeping styles.

Over time this can result in chronic pain that is felt consistently during the day. 

neck pain & stiffness from sleeping on the wrong pillow

2 – Back Pain & Stiffness

Back pain is common when your pillow does not provide enough support or alignment between the head and neck.

When the lumbar (low) spine is misaligned with the thoracic (mid) and cervical (high) spine you’re more likely to experience lower back pain. 

If you sleep on your back and experience lower back pain, you might want to add pillows under your knees to correct your back alignment.

3 – Headaches

Neck pain and tension are often associated with headaches. 

The base of the neck contains a group of muscles called suboccipital muscles

If these muscles remain tense while sleeping due to poor alignment, they can cause pain that results in tension headaches.

headaches from sleeping on the wrong pillow

4 – Shoulder Pain

Pain between the shoulder blades, also known as interscapular pain, is most commonly caused by muscle strain. This type of pain is often characterized by aching, dull, sore, or shooting pain and can develop from poor posture or a pillow that doesn’t provide the correct support.

If you have pain in the shoulder itself, also known as rotator cuff pain, then you should try to sleep on your back with a small pillow between your shoulder blades.

5 – Breathing Problems

People with sleep apnea experience repeated disruptions to their breathing over the course of the night. 

Breathing is worse when sleeping on your back and pillows that do not support the head at an appropriate angle can aggravate this condition. 

Sleep apnea sufferers snore, stop breathing for a while and then gasp for air after a pause. After a gasp or body jerk, breathing typically resumes. 

Using a pillow to elevate your neck means the throat muscles won’t relax excessively causing blockages between the throat and palate.

6 – Digestive Problems

People with acid reflux disease have weak muscles connecting the throat and stomach, which causes stomach acid to come up into the throat and mouth. 

An intense burning sensation from the acid backwash causes significant sleep disruption. 

If you have acid reflux, it is normally recommended that you elevate your head while sleeping to prevent the acid from reaching your throat.

7 – Restless Sleep

Poor sleep can be caused by tossing and turning all night long. 

Restless sleep can be caused by stress but can also be caused by an old pillow that is no longer providing the required head and neck support. 

You might also be too hot when sleeping which can also cause restless sleep. If this is the case, then a charcoal pillow might be the solution for you.

If you’re waking up frequently at night due to discomfort, you will have trouble relaxing, preventing you from getting the deep sleep you need to heal.

8 – Better Sleep When Using A Different Pillow

If you try a different pillow while traveling then you might experience a better night’s sleep.

Often hotel pillows are more comfortable than your home pillow because they invest in luxury pillows.

If you experience a pillow that gives you a better night’s sleep, try to figure out what makes their pillow different from yours. 

A pillow can be better because of the firmness, the amount or type of filling, or even the pillowcase material.

Cons Of Sleeping On The Wrong Pillow

The type of pillow that you use can affect your quality of sleep. Sleeping on the wrong pillow can lead to neck, back, and shoulder pain, as well as headaches, breathing problems, snoring, and sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation can lead to various negative consequences such as:

  • Daytime sleepiness – you might feel excessively sleepy and tired during the day.
  • Lower levels of alertness – missing a little as 1.5 hours may affect your mental performance.
  • Impaired memory – you may not remember and process information as easily, resulting in an impaired ability to think.
  • Relationship stress – you might feel moody, meaning that you’ll be more likely to argue with others.
  • Quality of life – you will be less likely to start or complete regular daily activities or to exercise.
  • Greater likelihood for car accidents – studies have shown that sleep deprivation can impair your ability to drive the same way as drinking too much alcohol. Being awake for 17-19 hours without sleep is the same or worse than someone with a blood content (BAC) of 0.05%. Being awake for 28 hours is equal to having a blood alcohol content of 0.10%. The legal blood alcohol limit BAC in all states is 0.08%.

Possible long-term consequences of sleep deprivation include:

  • Physical health issues include high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, or stroke.
  • Other potential problems include obesity, depression, impairment in immunity, and lower sex drive. 
  • Chronic sleep deprivation can affect your appearance resulting in premature wrinkling and dark circles under the eyes. 
  • Mental health issues such as hallucinations and acute psychosis (study)

As you can see you must find and invest in a pillow that will give you the best night’s sleep possible.