A comfortable body pillow can help you change your sleep position, promote spinal alignment, and alleviate pressure points. These pillows work with your mattress to increase support and improve your overall sleep quality (and thus your overall life quality).
Body pillows are especially great for side sleepers and stomach sleepers. Below, we’ll talk about why that is, as well as the best body pillow shapes and positions for each sleep style.
Back sleepers need support in the natural curves of the spine (especially underneath the cervical spine—the curve of the neck). To accomplish this, back sleepers should choose a body pillow that curves around to go underneath the gap where the neck is and either under the lumbar region (lower back) or under the knees.
If you’re a back sleeper, you can also get this kind of support by using two pillows instead of a body pillow. Use a chiropractic neck pillow (also called a contour pillow) to support your cervical spine. Combine this with a bolster pillow under your knees to align your lumbar region.
Side sleepers need vertical support (meaning support that rises up from the bed). If you don’t use a pillow between your arms and knees, your shoulders and hips won’t get the support they need, and both your spine and pelvis could fall out of alignment.
You’ll need a thick body pillow to lay your top arm on and put between your legs to keep your hips in a neutral position.
Side sleepers would do well with just about any pillow shape, depending on their style of side sleeping. Log sleepers need a curved pillow like a C or J-shaped pillow to curl around between the knees, while fetal position sleepers can use a plain rectangular or U-shaped body pillow because they’ll bend their knees around it.
If you’re going to sleep on your stomach, you’ll need support under your pelvis to keep it from sinking into the mattress and causing lower back pain. Two thin, flat pillows—one under your head and one under the hips—will help keep your spine aligned.
However, you should keep in mind stomach sleeping is the least healthy sleep style because it twists the neck and over-extends the lumbar region, meaning the best thing stomach sleepers can do with a body pillow is use it to help change their sleep position.
Use a thick rectangular or L-shaped pillow and tilt your body onto it to prevent you from turning onto your stomach during the night. This can help you train yourself to sleep on your side.
Body Pillow Shapes
The best body pillows come in many different shapes, and the best one for you depends on your sleep position as well as your preferences.
Rectangular body pillows are just really long, regular pillows. A standard pillow is 26 inches long, while a rectangular body pillow is 54 inches long.
C-shaped body pillows curve around the body and have an opening at the side. These make great pregnancy pillows because they can either curl around to press against your back or support your belly.
U-shaped body pillows curve around your body like a horseshoe, leaving a gap at your feet and offering you equal support on both sides.
L-shaped pillows look like a rectangular body pillow with a standard pillow sewn to one end, giving it an L-shape. These pillows are great for all kinds of side sleepers as well as stomach sleepers looking to change their sleep position.
Some people put these in the C-shape category because J-shaped pillows have a gap in their sides, but their curve isn’t as tight, and they have a long length of straight pillow before they curl at both ends to support your head and knees. These make good alternatives for tall sleepers looking for a C-shaped pillow.
What’s the best body pillow material?
There are tons of great materials out there, and the “best” one depends on your preferences. If you want a durable pillow with a lot of support and contouring power, go for latex foam or memory foam.
If you want a squishy pillow that’s flexible and soft, choose goose down. If you want cooling natural materials, cotton and buckwheat are both good choices. And if you’re looking for a budget-friendly body pillow, microfiber is a great affordable option.
How often should I wash my body pillow?
A body pillow’s material determines whether you even can wash your pillow at all. Down and foam are not machine-washable, so you’ve got to take them to the dry cleaner.
Regardless of pillow material, you’ll need to clean your body pillow once every 3 to 6 months. You can reduce the frequency with which you’ll need to clean your pillow by using a pillow case or removable cover and washing it at least once a week.
Can I just use a king-size pillow as a body pillow?
The short answer is no—not unless you’re short, that is. Rectangular body pillows are a full 54 inches long to accommodate the length of the average human body. Meanwhile, king pillows are only 36 inches long. If you’re an inch or two taller than 5 feet, you might be able to get away with combining a king pillow for your body with a standard pillow for your head. If you’re any taller, you’ll need a full-length body pillow.
Will a body pillow help my back pain?
Yes! Body pillows shore up the support offered by your mattress, and they do a better job of promoting proper spinal alignment than a mattress alone. Side and stomach sleepers especially need the support offered by a body pillow, side sleepers because they need lofty support to help keep their shoulders and hips neutral, and stomach sleepers because they need help to tilt towards their sides.
Are body pillows good for pregnancy?
Body pillows can be great for keeping pregnant women comfortable throughout their pregnancies. Body pillows for pregnancy are C-shaped or U-shaped to support your entire body and cradle you where you need it most. Flexible full body pillows can also help eliminate the need for multiple pillows by curving around you and sitting where you need them.
The right body pillow can offer you a good night’s sleep no matter your sleep position. Not only can body pillows help alleviate pain, but their added support can help increase blood circulation and relieve sleep apnea symptoms.
When shopping for a body pillow, it’s a good idea to get one with a generous trial or return policy. That way you can know for sure whether it will help you get the rest you need before you commit to it.
Chris was a psychiatrist and neurologist with board certification in sleep medicine Clinical Associate Professor at the University of California. For over 10 years, he served and helped patients at Stanford Health Care-Stanford Hospital with their sleeping disorders.
After suffered from sleep disorders for years, Chris has been passionate about sleep health ever since. He wants to help others sleep better and wanted to make the world of sleep easy to understand for everyday people.