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Fewer than 10% of adults primarily sleep on their back. This position (unlike side sleeping) aligns the spine and neck, and is associated with less neck and shoulder pain than stomach sleeping. However, people tend to snore more when sleeping on their back and this can lead to sleep disruption for the sleeper and their partner.
Choosing the right pillow is crucial for getting a good night’s rest as a back sleeper. This guide will explore how the body responds to back sleeping, look at different pillow types, and reveal our picks for the best pillows for back sleepers.
The three general positions associated with back sleeping are illustrated below. They differ in terms of arm and leg extension. In the Soldier position, the arms are fully extended while one or both knees are bent slightly. In the Starfish position, both arms are bent at the elbows with the hands resting at the head level. And in the Savasana position, both arms and both legs are fully extended.
Some advantages of sleeping on one’s back include the following:
Now, let’s look at some disadvantages of sleeping on one’s back.
Back sleepers should consider several variables when selecting a new pillow. These include the following:
Size: Pillows come in six standard sizes, as well as a smaller specialty size that is normally reserved for certain types of pillows.
Surface shape: Pillows may have even or contoured surfaces. Even-surface pillows are the more common option; they have full or flat shapes, depending on the material, but no contours. Curved-surface pillows include cervical memory foam pillows, which are elevated below the neck and recessed below the head. Curved-surface pillows are suitable for all sleepers, especially those with neck and/or shoulder pain.
Loft: Loft, or thickness, is crucial for back sleepers because too much or too little loft can compromise their spinal alignment. Generally speaking, there are three categories of pillow loft:
Most back sleepers prefer medium- or high-loft pillows because they elevate the neck and head. This can help the sleeper maintain spinal alignment, and it also cuts down on snoring for some. Low-loft pillows may cause the head to drop back, which can cause more snoring and may also lead to pain and pressure points.
However, choosing the right pillow loft depends on other factors like the sleeper’s body weight, head size, and shoulder width, as well as the firmness of the mattress they use. The table below lists optimal conditions for each loft category.
|Loft Category||Thickness||Optimal Sleeper Weight||Optimal Head Size||Optimal Shoulder Width||Optimal Mattress Firmness|
|Low||Less than 3″||More than 230 lbs.||Small||Narrow||Soft to Medium Soft|
|Medium||3″ to 5″||130 to 230 lbs.||Average||Average||Medium|
|High||More than 5″||Less than 130 lbs.||Large||Broad||Medium Firm to Firm|
Many pillows offer adjustable loft; simply remove or add more filling to the interior pocket to decrease or increase how thick it feels. Adjustable-loft pillows are a suitable option for people whose thickness preferences vary from night to night.
Pillow material: Pillows may be made from a wide range of natural or synthetic materials. Each material option has benefits and drawbacks associated with them. Back sleepers generally need a pillow that is firm and thick enough to support their head and neck, which helps them maintain spinal alignment. In addition, shoppers should consider other factors like cost, temperature neutrality, and odor or allergy potential. The table below lists descriptions, pros, cons, and back sleeper ratings for the seven most common pillow materials.
|Pillow Material||Filling Description||Pros||Cons||Back Sleeper Rating|
|Buckwheat||Between five and 10 lbs. of removable buckwheat hulls (outer shells)||Adjustable loft|
Too firm for some
Buckwheat pillows are usually thick and firm enough to support back sleepers, and adjustable loft allows them to make the necessary customizations
|Down||Duck or goose down, which is the soft inner plumage found beneath the outer feathers||Adjustable loft|
Very soft and lightweightSleeps cool
Poor shape retention
Allergy and odor potential
Most down pillows are fairly soft, even at maximum loft, and will not provide sufficient support for back sleepers
|Down Alternative||Polyester puffballs that mimic the softness and weight or authentic down||Adjustable loft|
Very soft and lightweight
No allergy risk
Poor shape retention
Down alternative pillows have short lifespans and become flat easily, which can be problematic for back sleepers seeking thick, firm pillows that elevate their head
|Feather||Outer feathers of ducks or geese (may also include some down for extra softness)||Adjustable loft|
Very soft and lightweight
Quills can poke
May sleep hot
Feathers are not as soft as down, making them more suitable for back sleepers who can adjust the loft accordingly
|Latex||Solid latex, which is a natural substance extracted from the sap of rubber trees||Close conforming|
Too dense and heavy for some
Latex pillows maintain a full shape and are firm enough to support most back sleepers
|Memory Foam||Shredded or solid memory foam, or viscoelastic polyfoam, which softens when warm and retains shape when cool||Adjustable loft (shredded)|
Memory foam pillows are suitable for back sleepers, particularly firm models or cervical pillows that are shaped for elevated support
|Polyester||Shredded or interlocking polyester fibers; polyester is a synthetic fabric||Low cost|
Good shape retention (interlocking)
No allergy risk
No odor potential
Poor shape retention (shredded)
Interlocking polyester pillows maintain a full shape, making them suitable for back sleepers; shredded polyester pillows lose shape and become flat easily, so these are not recommended for back sleepers
Cost: Finally, cost is an important consideration because price-points vary by material. Low-cost options include down alternative, feather, and polyester, while buckwheat, down, and memory foam are considered the most expensive options. The table below lists average price ranges for the seven most common pillow materials.
|Material||Buckwheat||Down||Down Alt.||Feather||Latex||Memory Foam||Polyester|
|Average Price-point||$50 to $75||$70 to $100||$20 to $30||$25 to $50||$40 to $60||$50 to $60||$10 to $15|
Now, let’s look at the top-rated pillows for back sleepers as voted by the people who use them. The six pillows listed below have earned the highest ratings among customers and owners. For more information about purchasing these pillows, please click the links in the second-to-last row.
|Brand||Coop Home Goods||Comfort & Relax (Cr)||Malouf||MyPillow||Sleep Innovations||Tempur-Pedic|
|Model||Eden||Sleep Ventilated||Z Zoned Dough||MyPillow Premium||Cool Contour||TEMPUR-Neck Pillow|
|Cost (est.)||$70 to $90||$30 (1)|
|$108 to $128||$80 to $90||$39 to $45||$67 to $97|
|Material||Shredded memory foam||Solid gel memory foam||Memory foam||Interlocking polyester||Memory foam||Solid memory foam|
|Trial Period||100 nights||30 nights||None||60 nights||None||None|
|Warranty||5 years||None||5 years||10 years||5 years||5 years|
|Tuck Customer Satisfaction Rating||78% (585 customer reviews)||85% (1,132 customer reviews)||88% (974 customer reviews)||85% (4,962 customer reviews)||84% (2,889 customer reviews)||74% (894 customer reviews)|
To learn more about pillow options, please visit the following pages on Tuck.com: