The Most Common Position
Sleeping on your side is the most common sleeping position and despite its popularity, it is a position that is somewhat easy to mess up often leading to neck, back, and hip pain as well as less restorative quality sleep. While there are many factors that contribute to quality sleep for side sleepers, we'll focus on your pillow and how it can help you maintain neutral alignment, which means keeping your spine in a straight line, parallel to your bed surface.
Ideal Side Sleeping
Side sleeping is a great position for quality sleep, but it opens up a lot of potential issues with your posture if you're not careful. Keep in mind the following when shopping for a new pillow, and especially when getting settled at night. Often we find a comfortable position right away, only to be uncomfortable hours later after we've fallen asleep.
- Overall your goal should be to keep your spine as close to a straight line, parallel with your bed's surface. This is what's called a neutral spine position, where there is minimal muscle or joint tension and curves in your spine. Depending on your pillow and mattress you may find it difficult to obtain this.
- Pay careful attention to the angle of your neck relative to the rest of your body. It's very common to have a pillow that is too thin or too thick leading to upward or downward curves in your neck. This is one of the reasons we prefer pillows with adjustable loft.
- Make sure you have support throughout the entire length of your neck. While you may have a pillow that raises your head to the proper height, you can still fall out of alignment if the base of your neck isn't supported. This is one of the pitfalls of a traditional pillow, as they normally support your head vs your neck. Cervical or contoured pillows are designed to address this issue.
- Don't forget about your hips. Your hip position can have a dramatic impact on your sleep. Hips should be perpendicular with your bed (the side of your hip touching your bed should be directly below the opposite side) This helps avoid and prevent twisting in the spine which adds tension.
- Avoid the fetal position if you can. While it's possible to obtain neutral spinal alignment in the fetal position, if you imagine looking down on your body from above, it's obvious there is significant strain and curvature of your spine. Avoid the urge to pull your legs up to your chest.
- Issues can extend beyond your pillow. While trying a new pillow is a great start to addressing issues you might have with your side sleeping, it may not solve everything. Side sleeping requires a somewhat delicate balance of support and give in your mattress—if it is too firm, the weight of your body is carried by your shoulders and hips introducing curves in your spine and when too soft, the same can occur due to lack of support.
- Try adding a pillow between your knees. This helps encourage a more neutral position with your hips. While specialty knee pillows are available, try it with a normal pillow first to see if it works for you.
Key Features for Side Sleepers
Now more than ever, you have many options when it comes to choosing a pillow. Options range from a traditional goose feather pillow to highly contoured cervical pillows made of a variety of newer materials like memory foams, latex, or gel. Here are some of the features you may want to consider and how they can help you sleep better.
- Cervical design—Highly relevant for side sleeping because the shape of the pillow is designed to cradle your neck. If you've had neck pain and find the base of your neck unsupported, you may want to consider a cervical or contoured pillow.
- Adjustable loft—Adjustable loft allows you to fine-tune the height of your pillow, an essential factor in ideal side sleeping. This is a great feature to consider if you've found other pillows to be too thin or too thick. The adjustable loft also comes in handy after using the pillow for a while, as you can always add loft back into the pillow to compensate.
- Cooling—if you "sleep warm" you may want to consider a pillow designed to cool you. Keeping your head cool has a dramatic effect on your entire body, so a cooling pillow may be a great place to start if you find yourself sweating or too hot at night.
- Thickness—Generally, side sleepers should seek a pillow on the thicker side to fill the void starting from your shoulder and up to the side of your head.
Our process almost always begins with consulting experts on sleep. In this case, we sought the advice of a chiropractor experienced in treating sleep-related ailments and specifically neck, back, and hip pain, which are the most common complaints of side sleepers. Working with an expert helps us make informed and quality product recommendations as well as share expert advice on side sleeping.
With the expert interviews done we turn to product research. This is where our team invests a good deal of time in understanding which products 1) cater to the topic, in this case, helping side sleepers, 2) are highly reviewed by genuine customers, and 3) are widely available and backed by good warranties and customer support.
The last part of our review process is combining the learning from our expert interviews and the product research we've done. This is where we define the product categories. While we do award one product as our top pick, we've learned that one pillow does not fit all. While one person may need a cervical pillow, another may want a pillow designed for cooling. In the same vein, budgets can be different. We will share our picks covering a variety of categories.
Best Pillows for Side Sleepers
- Value—You're looking for the best combination of quality and price.
- Budget—You're on a tight budget and avoid compromise as much as you can.
- Traditional—You're looking for a traditional pillow shape but that still caters to side sleeping.
- Cooling—Staying cool is your number 1 priority.
- Cervical—You're looking for the best support around from your shoulders to your head.
UTTU Cervical Pillow
- One of the few cervical pillows that offer adjustable loft
- Adjustable loft in combination with different built-in heights on each end yields four different height combinations—important to consider for side sleeping.
- Thickness/loft at 4.9" on one side and 3.9" on the other.
- Loft adjustment is simple and done by removing a single inner layer panel.
- Varying height options make it suitable for both side and back sleeping.
- Bamboo/polyester breathable cover.
- 90-night trial and a 5-year warranty.
Gel Pillow 2-Pack
- A two-pack from Beckman Hotel Collection is great value for money when it comes to a quality gel fiber pillow.
- Great for replacing both pillows for couples on a budget.
- Ideal for back sleeping or small side sleepers.
- Contoured shape supports neck and shoulders well.
- Thickness/loft around 6".
- 30-day satisfaction guarantee.
Coop Home Goods
Adj. Loft Memory Foam Pillow
Best Traditional Pillow
- One of our favorite pillows due to infinite loft adjustment provided by the shredded memory foam—this allows you to find the neutral spine position which is so critical for comfortable side sleeping.
- Five-year warranty with a guarantee not to go flat and a 100-day refund available for unsatisfied customers.
- Thickness/loft of around 5".
- Manufactured without the toxic substances synonymous with many memory foam pillows and mattresses.
Weekender Gel Pillow
- Innovative memory foam and gel combination designed for superior ventilation and cooling.
- Squared shape is a good match for side sleeping because it supports the base of your neck and shoulders.
- Thickness/loft of around 5".
- Support is on the firmer side.
- Three-year warranty.
Best Cervical Pillow
- One of the most popular cervical pillow designs and suitable for both side and back sleeping.
- Unique pillow shape designed to provide support right at the base of your neck.
- Great for treating neck pain.
- Breathable perforated bamboo fiber pillowcase included.
- Thickness/loft of around 4" but non adjustable.
- 30-day satisfaction guarantee.
Best for Petite Side Sleepers
- The Ice Fiber Pillow cools and designed for Side Sleeping
- While too thin for big side sleepers, it's excellent if you're small or petite (less than 150 pounds).
- Cool to the touch Olefin and Polyester Cover
- Band around the pillow keeps a more square shape which is great for side sleeping
- Not adjustable but very responsive to different shape sleepers
|UTTU Cervical||5" - Adjustable||Medium||Mem. Foam||$49|
|Beckman Hotel||6" - Non adjustable||Soft||Gel Fiber||$34|
|Coop Home Goods||5" - Adjustable||Medium||Mem. Foam||$60|
|Weekender Gel||5" - Non adjustable||Firm||Mem. Gel Foam||$35|
|EPABO Cervical||4" - Non adjustable||Firm||Mem. Foam||$44|
|Columbia Ice Fiber||8"- Non adjustable||Soft||Polyester Fiber||$39|
Other Considerations for Side Sleeping
While getting a quality pillow can dramatically improve your sleep, you may want to consider a few other things as a side sleeper:
- Try using a pillow between your knees—Adding a pillow between your knees can improve the position of your hip and lower spine. It also helps avoid twisting your spine.
- Make sure your mattress isn't on the way out—While getting a new mattress is the most expensive part of your bed to replace, it does make the most impact. Replacing your pillow, trying new positions or bedding can only have a limited impact if your mattress isn't supporting you properly.
- Consider your sleep temperature—your temperature can have a dramatic impact on your sleep quality. Generally, it's better to turn down the temperature at night but don't go overboard with heavy bedding, otherwise you'll still sweat and it could lead to restlessness.