Ryan Fiorenzi
May 26, 2021

Choosing a Pillow for Back Sleeping

The perfect pillow for sleeping on your back is all about pillow thickness and neck support. A pillow that is a good match for your body will give you the best chance of a good night's rest. While back sleeping is an excellent sleeping position that has numerous benefits over stomach or side sleeping, it’s still a position that you can get wrong. Beyond thickness, there are other things to consider like the shape, materials it’s made from, and price.


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Ideal Back Sleeping

Before purchasing a new pillow make sure you consider what the ideal back sleeping position looks like. Overall, the strategy for any sleeping position is to maintain a neutral position with your spine, which means your spine has minimal flexing or twisting other than it’s natural curves in the lower back, upper back, and neck. Also ensure that the muscles and ligaments connected to your spine aren’t strained by the position of your arms, pelvis, and legs.

Neck Position

While there are fewer issues with back sleeping, your neck positioning can still be a source of pain. One of the ways to check your neck position is by making sure your nose and forehead are level with one another. This makes sure your neck isn’t extending backwards or forwards too much.

Lower Back Position

While sleeping on your back gives you the best chance of pain-free sleep, you may experience a lack of support in your lower back. When you lie on a firm, flat surface your pelvis has a tendency to slightly rotate forward towards your feet. This can cause some strain and a pulling effect on your lower back or lumbar lordosis. One of the best ways to alleviate this if you’re having trouble is to elevate your legs slightly with a pillow below your knees, even a few inches will make a big difference. Additionally, you can add a thin lumbar pillow to your lower back.

Pillow Types Best Suited for Back Sleeping

When it comes to back sleeping there are four main types of pillows to consider:

  • Traditional Fill Pillows - Chances are you’re currently sleeping on a traditional fill pillow, but there is considerable variety when it comes to these pillows. These pillows could be filled with down, synthetic down, cotton, shredded memory foam, or latex. They are sometimes available with the ability to adjust the thickness of the pillow, which is an excellent feature we highly recommend. This choice of pillow can be more versatile if you’re a combination sleeper, but depending on their shape they can be less supportive for your neck.
  • Solid Foam Pillows - Becoming more and more common, solid foam pillows are made up of one solid piece of material as opposed to Traditional Fill Pillows. These can be made from memory foam, memory foam/gel blends, or even latex. These pillows are generally on the firmer side and can be very conforming and supportive.
  • Cervical Pillows - Cervical pillows are designed to match the natural shape of your neck and head. Named after the Cervical Spine and the C1 through C7 vertebrae these pillows offer truly amazing support to back sleepers and the full length of their neck. The main drawback is that most are non-adjustable and they aren’t adaptable to other sleeping positions.
  • Water Pillows - Water pillows featuring a water-filled bladder are becoming more popular. They can be adjusted in height and offer a unique kind of support, as water can distribute itself exactly where you need support, regardless of your sleeping position. 

Materials Used in Pillows

  • Memory Foam - Available in both solid and shredded fill form, memory foam does a great job of conforming to the shape of your head and neck, distributing support. Memory foam is inexpensive, but is known to trap heat and so is not known for its cooling abilities. It also can be difficult to find a soft memory foam pillow.
  • Latex - A relatively new material used in pillows is latex. It’s also available in shredded and solid form. However, it's supposed to be an improvement over memory foam, as it offers improved cooling while still conforming to the shape of your neck and head like memory foam does.
  • Gel - Similar to latex, gel is also a newer trend in pillows. Most of the time gel is paired with memory foam, either as an outer layer in your pillow or actually infused into the memory foam itself. Pillows that make use of gel are better than traditional memory foam pillows at keeping you cool at night.
  • Down - Down (both fake and real goose or duck) is old school luxury when it comes to pillows. Down-filled pillows are soft and keep you cool but they do not support you properly and have a tendency to get flat over time. Feathers also tend to poke through their liner and can be irritating. It’s also not the most environmentally friendly pillow material.
  • Cotton - Touted as an alternative to down, cotton-filled pillows offer great cooling, and are softer, less dense, and more environmentally friendly, but they may also lose support over time.
  • Elastic Polymer - Companies like Purple have introduced innovative materials like their elastic polymer to the mattress industry and have also brought this material to pillows. It offers unparalleled cooling due to the large voids in their “grid” material. These pillows are also known to be very comfortable but are not adjustable in thickness.

While you have many options when it comes to pillow materials, remember it’s the height of your pillow relative to your body and ability to support your neck that makes a pillow best for you and what will ensure you have a good night’s rest.

Best Pillows for Back Sleeping

We’ve invested around 27 hours of research into creating this guide on pillows for back sleeping, and have supplemented our own research with an in-depth interview with a chiropractor who frequently helps patients with their sleeping positions and sleep-related back and neck pain. We have also considered 19 of the bestselling pillows suitable for back sleeping available for our top picks. You can learn more about our review process here.

Coop Home Goods

Coop Home Goods - Best Pillows for Back Sleeping

Best Value Pillow for Back Sleeping

  • One of the best pillows available, due to the adjustable shredded memory foam/microfiber construction
  • Loft adjustment allows you to fine-tune your neck and head support
  • Designed to be used without a traditional pillow case
  • 100-night sleep trial
  • Made in the USA

Purple Pillow

Beckman Hotel Collection Gel Pillow - Best Pillows for Back Sleeping

Best Cooling

  • The elastic polymer material developed by Purple for mattresses makes it way into pillows and performs really well as a cooling pillow
  • The entire pillow is made from their proprietary grid and is the best cooling pillow in the business, as there is nothing that traps heat and there is more open air within the pillow than anything else
  • The only drawback is the lack of height adjustment, but Purple now sells soft panels you can add to your pillow to increase the height. This may be a great complement if you're a side sleeper, but as a back sleeper you should be fine
  • More competitively priced than their mattresses
  • Excellent warranty

Beckman Hotel Collection Gel 2 Pack

Beckman Hotel Collection Gel Pillow - Best Pillows for Back Sleeping

Best Budget

  • If you’re on a tight budget or looking to replace two pillows at once, the Beck Hotel Collection Gel pillow is a great option
  • These pillows are non-adjustable but are on the thinner side, which is best for back sleeping
  • The gel fiber filling is designed not to shift or bunch up
  • 30-day satisfaction guarantee

Epabo Contour Pillow

Epabo Contour Memory Foam Pillow - Best Pillows for Back Sleeping

Best Cervical Pillow

  • We’re big fans of cervical pillows for back sleepers and the Epabo is among the best and one of the few adjustable cervical pillows
  • Designed exclusively to support your neck and head throughout its entire length
  • Can be adjusted by removing a panel of memory foam lowering the pillow by about 1 inch
  • Breathable bamboo-derived cover

Therapeutica Orthopedic

Therapuetica Orthopedic Pillow  - Best Pillows for Back Sleeping

Best to Start Back Sleeping

  • If you’re looking to transition to back sleeping getting an orthopedic pillow like the Therapeutica is a good option, since it’s only comfortable for sleeping on your back or side - one of the best strategies to start back sleeping
  • This is a firm foam pillow designed by a chiropractor and an ergonomic expert to obtain neutral spine alignment
  • Since this is a firm pillow, it’s key to select the proper size using the instructions on the Amazon page. There are sizes for anyone, including children

Compare Table

If you're having trouble making a decision, we gathered some key information on each of our top pick pillows below:

Pillow

Materials

Thickness

Best Sleeping Position

Coop Home Goods

Shredded Memory Foam & Micro Fiber

3" to 5"

All

Purple

Purple's Elastic Polymer

3"

All

Beckman Hotel

Gel Fiber

4" to 5"

All

Epabo Contour

Solid Memory Foam

4.6"

Back

Therapeutica

Molded Foam

4 1/4" to 7 1/4"

Back and Side

Pros and Cons of Back Sleeping

Pros

  • Great for your joints and pain - Back sleeping is highly recommended for anyone experiencing neck or lower back pain. It allows your body to rest in a neutral spinal position. Other sleep positions can achieve this, but it’s much harder and more dependent on your mattress and pillow
  • Doesn’t restrict breathing - Restricted breathing is especially common when sleeping on your stomach, whereas back sleeping leaves your face open and has minimal pressure on your chest and lungs
  • Facial skin benefits - Side sleeping and stomach sleeping usually involve your face making contact with your pillow. Back sleeping allows your face to be free of this and has been associated with reduced wrinkles

Cons

  • Snoring - Sleeping on your back tends to make your airway smaller, increasing the chances and occurrence rate of snoring
  • Sleep apnea - For the same reasons as snoring, sleep apnea can also occur at higher rates when sleeping on your back. If you have any symptoms of sleep apnea it’s important to talk to your doctor

FAQs

Sleeping on your back is widely considered by doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, and other medical professionals to be the best sleeping position for any kind of joint pain. Sleeping on your back - even on a hard surface - allows your spine to rest in its natural position.