Is Your Pillow Causing You Back Pain As You Sleep? 

​A pillow causing back pain may sound far-fetched but getting the right one is a vital part of staying pain-free during the night. 

pillow causing back pain

​"Pillows causing back pain? Really?" 

I know, it may seem like a strange thing to suggest at first. 

I mean pillows are soft and fluffy right? 

How are they going to cause you any damage? 

​And I can see your point. 

The only pain from pillows I could think of was my memories of having pillow fights as a kid. 

Now anyone that has caught an unexpected and well-timed swing of a pillow flush in the chops may start to question the soft and fluffy theory. 

Especially if the blow was accompanied by a rogue piece of the pillow case ​simultaneously whipping into your eye. 

Nasty memories indeed! 

Luckily being the eldest child in my family by four years these instances were few and far between for me (although I can't say the same for my younger brother!). 

But believe it or not even as an adult your pillow may be causing you damage. ​

And you probably ​don't even realise it. 

But those aches ​and pains in your back, neck and shoulders that you wake up with in the morning may in part be down to the type of pillow you are using. 

So you need to get the right pillow that supports your neck and keeps you in alignment depending on your sleeping position.

Read on and I'll explain why.

It's All About Spinal Alignment

best pillows for back sleepers

Now there are many factors at play when it comes to working out why you suffer from back, neck and shoulder pain during sleep.

For example you may have been stressed at work or overdoing it from an exercise point of view.

Or on the flip side maybe you've been underdoing it from an exercise point of view.

It might be down to your sleeping position.​

Or maybe you're sleeping on the wrong type of mattress, or one that is too old and needs replacing.

Now all of these things can be valid causes of your back pain and need to be looked at.

However one thing that often gets overlooked is if you are using the correct pillow or not.

But why is this important?

Well consider that your head weighs about the same ​as a bowling ball.

If you have a pillow that doesn't support your neck properly then this weight will ​pull your cervical spine out of alignment as you sleep.

Which will put a massive strain on your neck and shoulder muscles as they will have to pick up the slack for this lack of support.

So your pillow is a vital part of whether you can sleep through the night pain free or not.

Because it provides support and keeps your neck and spine in alignment.

Which allows the muscles that support your head throughout the day to relax, making sleeping a whole more comfortable experience.

​Therefore you really need to make sure you are using the right pillow.

And to do this you need to get one that suits your preferred sleeping position.

The Best Pillows for Back Sleeper​s

Best pillows for back sleepers

Sleeping on your back can be a pretty good position for people with back pain.

This is because your back remains straight and aligned throughout the night.

However to keep this alignment you need to make sure you have a pillow that allows your head to remain at the right ​height.

A pillow that forces your head to sit too far forward will put your neck in an unnatural position.

Which will place a strain on your neck, shoulders and lower back.

And if your pillow is too low it can strain your neck muscles as they have to work against the weight of your head tilting backwards all night.​

So ideally you want a pillow that sits at a height that will keep the natural curve of your cervical spine in place.

And this will need to have a medium level of firmness and support so your head sinks in a little but not too far.

One I'd recommend for back sleepers is the Coops Home Goods Adjustable Memory Foam Pillow.

​This one is a good choice because you can adjust it so it's the perfect height for you.

It is stuffed with pieces of shredded memory foam that combine to create a pillow​ that moulds to the contours of your head and neck as you lay on it.

This makes it a really comfortable choice.

And to get it to be the right height you simply​ add or remove pieces of the memory foam.

This is great because the height of a pillow that you need will vary slightly depending on how soft/firm your mattress is and the weight of your head.

So to be able to tailor a pillow to your exact requirements​ can solve this headache.

Another way you can reduce back pain if you sleep on your back is to place a pillow underneath your knees.

This will flatten the arch in your spine that is created by laying on your back.

By doing this you will take pressure off your facet joints and lower back and reduce the strain on it as you sleep.

A great choice for this is​ the Cushy Form Half-Moon Wedge Pillow.

This is perfect for placing under your knees to relieve the pressure on your lower back.

And as it's made of a memory foam layer on top of a supportive foam layer it won't go flat over time.

The Best Pillows For Side Sleepers​

Best pillows for side sleepers

Sleeping on your side is the most popular sleeping position and can help to relieve pressure on your back when you do it right.

So how can you make sure you are doing it right?​

Firstly your head needs a higher, thicker and firmer pillow in this position to support it and keep your neck and spine in a natural alignment.

And for this reason latex pillows are a good option for side sleepers.

This is because they are firm and don't allow you to sink in to them too much, pushing back against you to provide support for your neck.

A good latex pillow that I'd recommend for side sleepers is the Malouf Z Zoned Talalay Latex Pillow.​

It brings you the superior support of latex and even has zones with different levels of support within it.

So your head is cradled while your neck is supported, making it more comfortable to sleep on.

This pillow comes in a few different variations so you can choose the height and firmness to suit you.

For side sleepers I'd recommend you choose the high loft and firm version.

Although if you prefer a softer sleeping experience then the plush may suit you better (but stick to the high loft if you sleep on your side as you need this height).

Don't Forget Your Body!

​But while getting the right head pillow is vital, you also need to keep the rest of your body in alignment​ too.

Now sleeping ​on your side with your knees up in the foetal position is great for relieving pressure on your joints and spine.

The problem is people have the tendency to get into unnatural positions while sleeping this way.

For instance it's easy for your top leg or shoulder to push forward and over the bottom one.

This forces your spine into ​an unnatural position which can lead to aches and pains when you wake up in the morning.

So to get around this problem it's a good idea to use body pillows to keep you correctly aligned.​

One way to do this is to use a firm pillow between your knees which will keep your spine and pelvis in a neutral position.

​This will relieve any sciatic pain and take the pressure off your lower back.​

There are plenty of specialised pillows on the market for this purpose and one I'd recommend is the ComfiLife Orthopedic Knee Pillow.​

This one is made of high density memory foam which will feel comfortable but also keep your legs, hips and spine in alignment as you sleep.

And you can also buy a full body pillow if you really want to make sure your whole body remains in alignment.

They are usually shaped like a U or a J and run the length of your body to keep you in a neutral position​ throughout the night.

This will relieve pressure not just on your back, but on your neck, shoulders, pelvis, and hips as well.

Another advantage of one of these is that they are supremely comfortable to sleep on.

And this is a big help as it will allow your body to relax and get into a deeper sleep, allowing your muscles to heal and repair themselves.​

So if you are a tradie that secretly used to enjoy cuddling up to a teddy bear as a kid then a full body pillow could be an option for you!

Check this one out if you are interested:​

The Best Pillows For Stomach Sleepers

Best pillows for stomach sleepers

Sleeping on your stomach can be a useful sleeping position for people recovering from spinal surgery and those suffering from certain spinal conditions.

However in general it's not a great position for your back.

This is because your back sinks and flattens when you lay on your stomach which leaves it unsupported and under stress.

Your neck also has to rotate out to the side so you can breath during the night which puts it out of alignment.

The problem for regular stomach sleepers is that changing sleeping positions is difficult.

And you might even ​enjoy sleeping this way.

So if you are a stomach sleeper and don't want to change there are a couple of minor adjustments you can make that will reduce any back pain you feel.

Firstly you need to be sleeping on a pillow that is very soft and thin and allows your head to get almost flat to the mattress.

This will reduce the strain on your head and neck, and one I'd recommend for this purpose is the eLuxurySupply Down Filled Pillow.​

This one has been designed specifically for stomach sleepers.

It is filled with goose down and feathers making it extremely soft and comfortable.

So much so that your head will sink right into it, which is exactly what you want as a stomach sleeper.

And once you have a pillow for your head sorted out you can also benefit by placing a similarly flat and soft pillow ​underneath your pelvis.

This stops your back from flattening out which will help you to maintain a natural alignment and reduce strain on the lower back.​

So buy two pillows, one for each purpose!

The Best Pillows For Restless Sleepers

best pillows for restless sleepers

Now not everyone will settle into just one position as they sleep.

And if you're one of those that end up sleeping in multiple positions during the night, then you need a pillow that can accommodate this.

So look for a multi-tasker that can adapt to a combination of sleeping positions.

Rounding Up​

I hope that this article has given you some ideas on how you can improve your sleeping experience and minimise any aches and pains in the bedroom.

Using the right pillow sounds like the least important consideration, but it's vital for reducing your back, neck and shoulder pain.

All the pillows I've recommended here will put you on the right track to a pain-free nights sleep.

Just make sure you get the one that suits your preferred sleeping position!

And if you want to know the best pillow for a pillow fight, I'd recommend a thin, firm and smelly one with an oversized and straggly pillow case.

Those were the days!​

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Daniel

I'm a Painter and Decorator, psychology graduate, and veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help my fellow construction workers to fight back against persistent back pain like I have.

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