Ryan Fiorenzi
May 20, 2021

Lumbar Support is Key

The lumbar region of your back, known as your lumbar lordosis, is a common area of pain for many people. Pain in this area can be caused by lack of support, both when sitting and sleeping. Side sleeping and back sleeping positions are known at times to leave this lower back area unsupported. Adding support to this area of your back can help your spine stay supported and in a neutral position. Fortunately, lumbar pillows are inexpensive and sometimes even free, and in any case, they can be formed from a towel or other household items. Finding the right solution to support your lower back may require some trial and error, and will depend on your sleeping position, anatomy, mattress, and personal preference. 


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Sleeping in a Neutral Position

Before we go into detail, it’s important to consider what goes into ideal sleeping positions and how to properly set yourself up for a good night’s rest. Essentially, you should try to have your spine in a neutral position where it’s free of twisting, flexing, or any tension. When you correctly identify this position you will have the best chance of reducing muscle and joint pain as well as improving the quality of your sleep. This is easiest to achieve when sleeping on your back, but it can also be possible as a side sleeper, and with a lot of fine-tuning, even on your stomach.

Why Your Lower Back May Need More Support

Your lumbar area needs support on all sides and you will see how this comes into play with these three main sleeping positions:

Side Sleeping - Side sleeping is the most common sleeping position and one of its main issues is lower back support. If you sleep on your side and especially if you are petite, have a thin waist and wide hips, or are using a firm mattress, there is often a gap or low support area between your mattress and your back just above the hip. This allows your spine to bend downwards and over time this can cause a lot of pain.

Back Sleeping - Back sleeping, while preferred and recommended by many doctors, physical therapists, and chiropractors, can be vulnerable to lack of lower back support. Due to the way your spine curves inward to your body in your lumbar area, sleeping on your back can leave these areas unsupported. While elevating your legs slightly can improve support (by rocking your hips backward) you may need to try a lumbar pillow or fill the gap between your mattress and lower back.

Combination sleeping - Combination sleeping refers to switching from one position to another, often unconsciously. While it may be easy to find adequate support in your initial sleeping position, rarely will you roll or flip unconsciously into another supportive position. Combination sleepers can really benefit from a lumbar belt that goes around your waist above your hip and provides support on all sides of your lower back regardless of your sleeping position.

Stomach sleeping - Sleeping on your stomach introduces many issues, such as the position of your lower back in relation to your hips. Sleeping on your stomach can require you to flex your lower back, especially if your face and chest are elevated with a pillow. While a lumbar pillow may not help, we recommend trying a pillow below your abdomen to get a more neutral position of your spine.

Types of Lumbar Pillows for Sleep

When it comes to pillows, there are so many options, even within the lumbar category. Popular types of lumbar pillows usually fall into the following categories:

  • Foam rolls - These cylinder-shaped pillows are very versatile, as they can be used to add support to your lower back and neck, whether you are a side or back sleeper.
  • Triangular foam - Designed specifically for lower back support, these pillows are triangular in shape and often made from firm memory foam.
  • Inflatable pillows - These pillows allow you to control the height of the pillow and therefore the support you need. A great option if you’ve had trouble finding the right lumbar pillow.
  • Lumbar belts - Lumbar belts wrap around your waist above the hip and provide lower back support to both back and side sleepers. This makes it a great choice for combination sleepers or those of us that move around a lot at night.

Best Lumbar Pillows

We’ve invested around 19 hours of research into creating this guide on lumbar pillows and how to pair them with your sleeping position. We've also supplemented our research with an in-depth interview with a chiropractor who frequently helps patients with their sleeping positions and sleep-related back and neck pain. You can learn more about our review process here.

Slumbar Pillow

Slumbar Pillow - Best Lumbar Pillows for Sleep

Best Value

  • The Slumbar Pillow was specifically designed by doctors to address spinal alignment issues while sleeping, one of the most common causes of back pain.
  • The unique shape cradles your lower back, unlike most other lumbar pillow designs and is a versatile design that works with many body types and sizes.
  • Memory foam core with an organic bamboo and charcoal exterior cover keeps you cool and absorbs moisture.
  • Machine washable cover.

Best Value Runner Up

  • The TruContour Lumbar pillow is our top recommended pillow due to the adjustment and two thickness options. Sleep is different for everyone, so having the ability to make adjustments is really important and a nice feature to have in all types of pillows.
  • Available in a "Light Support" and a "Super Lumbar" thicknesses, both adjustable.
  • 1 year warranty and free replacement.
  • Machine washable cover.
  • The Light Support option measures 17" long, 8" wide,  and 2" high.
  • The Super Lumbar option measures 24" long, 8" wide, and 3" high.

Best For Back Sleeping

  • The Sleep Jockey is one of the least expensive lumbar pillows out there, but is only marginally cheaper than our top recommendation, the TruContour.
  • Great for adding a very thin layer of support, which is great for back sleeping.
  • Relatively long length allows for movement without rolling off or compressing the edge of the pillow.
  • Measures 24" Long, 12" wide, and 2" high.

K Ka Ua 3" Roll

K Ku Ua 3" Roll - Best Lumbar Pillows for Sleep

Best For Side Sleepers

  • While many cervical rolls like these are advertised for use with your neck or between your knees, these are even better suited to support your lower back while side sleeping, especially the smaller diameter ones like the K Ku Ua 3" roll.
  • The roll design is more effective with side sleepers than the triangular pillows.
  • Measures 17" long, 3" wide and 3" tall.
  • Firm memory foam keeps its thickness and provides the right support for side sleeping.
  • An additional roll can be used between your knees to help improve the position of your hips and legs.

OPTP Night Roll Belt

OPTP Night Roll Belt - Best Lumbar Pillows for Sleep

Best for Combination Sleepers

  • Simple belt design ensures combination sleepers don't lose lower back support when rolling into a new position at night.
  • Provides great support on both sides of your lumbar spine depending on your sleeping position.
  • Available in 3 sizes small, medium, and large; choose the size based on your waist size. 2" thickness, 36" length, 3" width.
  • Machine washable cover.

Comparison Table

Pillow

Ideal Sleeping Position

Thickness

Width

Slumbar Pillow

All Positions

n/a

24"

TruContour

Side and Back

2" & 3"

17" & 24"

Sleep Jockey

Back

2"

24"

K Ka Ua Roll

Side

3"

17"

OPTP Night Roll

Side and Back

3"

36"

Alternatives to Buying a Lumbar Pillow

While sometimes buying a lumbar pillow is necessary, you may want to experiment with some household items that can be repurposed to address common problems or fine tune your sleeping environment. Here's a few alternatives to lumbar pillows.

  • Pool Noodles - Most of us have some of these stashed away, especially in the fall, winter and spring. Try cutting a 2' section off and using it to support your lower back lumbar area. These seem to work particularly well for side sleepers but are often too thick and rigid for back sleeping.
  • Household Towels - Towels are extremely versatile when it comes to improving your sleep environment. Many Chiropractors and Physical Therapists recommend using towel rolls to add support for your neck and also your lower back or creating a gap between your knees. Towel rolls are great because you can control the thickness and shape depending on how you fold or roll it.
  • Small Throw Pillows - Some smaller throw pillows you may be using to decorate your couch can be repurposed as lumbar pillow.
  • Weighted Exercise Belts - Some weighted belts that use sand can make great lumbar pillows.

Lumbar Pillow Frequently Asked Questions

Here are our answers to the most frequently asked questions about lumbar pillows and back pain.

Sleeping with lumbar support can be an effective tool to address lack of support, but if the pillow is too thick it can work against your spine's natural alignment and create new issues.