Stomach sleeping (or front sleeping) is a challenging position for most people, and most doctors do not recommend it. Sleeping on the stomach often causes neck strain from craning one’s neck to one side, and spinal strain due to uneven weight distribution. Pillow selection can make a world of difference for stomach sleepers. Pillows that are overly thick can cause them to turn their head or bend their neck to one side, which may cause aches and pains to develop. However, pillows that are too thin may not provide enough support, which can also lead to discomfort.
This guide will explore pillow options for stomach sleepers. We’ll look at the mechanics of sleeping on one’s stomach, important considerations for pillow shoppers, and our picks for the best pillows for stomach sleepers.
Stomach sleeping is the least common sleep position. An estimated 6% to 7% of adults regularly sleep on their stomachs. Most utilize the ‘freefall’ position (illustrated below), with both hands resting below the head while one leg is slightly bent at the knee and the other is fully extended.
Generally speaking, physicians discourage the stomach sleeping position. However, there are two notable advantages to sleeping on one’s stomach:
- Lower snoring potential: Like side sleepers, stomach sleepers are less susceptible to heavy snoring than back sleepers. This is because the muscles in breathing passages tend to relax when one sleeps on his or her back. This can cause the airway to restrict, as well as the tongue to block the airway. Both of these issues can increase snoring.
- Fewer wrinkles: Many side sleepers develop wrinkles in places that rest directly on the pillow. Most stomach sleepers do not develop wrinkles as quickly, although sleeping with one’s face directly on the pillow may cause wrinkles to form.
Next, let’s look at the disadvantages of sleeping on one’s stomach:
- Spinal strain: Most adults carry a high concentration of weight in their stomachs, and sleeping on your back or side essentially gives them a much-needed break from carrying that weight. Sleeping on one’s stomach has the opposite effect: it can pull the body down and cause the spine curvature to flatten. This often leads to pain and pressure points along the vertebrae.
- Neck pain potential: Most stomach sleepers turn their head to one side because it is not comfortable to lay face-down on their pillow or mattress. This is a common cause of neck strain among stomach sleepers.
- Not comfortable for most pregnant women: Stomach sleeping while pregnant is not harmful to fetal health, but most women find this position increasingly uncomfortable as their bellies grow.
- Sleep disruption risk: Stomach sleeping can be so uncomfortable for some that it causes them to toss and turn all night, searching for an adequate position. This can affect overall sleep quality and leave them feeling tired the next day.
It’s important to note that changing a sleep position can be a difficult task — and the longer someone sleeps in a certain position, the harder it will be to adjust their routine. While stomach sleeping is not recommended, it may the position that you find most comfortable. To minimize some of the aches and pains associated with this position, try sleeping with a thin pillow beneath your stomach. This will alleviate some of the pressure associated with uneven weight distribution and help the spine maintain its natural curvature.
Stomach sleepers should consider several factors when choosing the best pillow for them.
Size: Pillows for stomach sleepers generally come in six standard sizes.
- Standard (20W” x 26L”): The most common pillow size, as well as the most compact and — in most cases — the least expensive. Standard pillows may not be ideal for people who toss and turn, as they are often too narrow and may cause the sleeper’s head to slip off the sides.
- Super Standard (20W” x 28L”): The Super Standard is considered a wider alternative to the Standard, making it suitable for some people who toss and turn, but others may still find it too narrow. Super Standards are also somewhat uncommon.
- Queen (20W” x 30L”): The Queen is four inches wider than a Standard, and will be suitable for most sleepers who toss and turn.
- King (20W” x 36L”): The King is a full 10 inches wider than the Standard. This means it will not only accommodate those who toss and turn, but may also serve as a comfy headrest or backrest for people who like to read or watch television in bed.
- Euro (dimensions vary): Unlike the other standard sizes, which are rectangular, Euro pillows are square-shaped. They come in a wide range of dimensions; common options include 20W” x 20L” and 26W” x 26L”. Most sleepers in the U.S. do not use them as primary sleeping pillows, but they (like Kings) make good headrests and backrests.
- Body (48-54W” x 20L”): Body pillows are the longest size and are fairly popular with sleepers who like to snuggle with a pillow while they sleep. However, most stomach sleepers prefer not to straddle a pillow during the night.
Additionally, a specialty ‘Small’ size is often available for cervical memory foam pillows, which are elevated beneath the neck and recessed below the head. However, these will not be suitable for the vast majority of stomach sleepers, who generally need thin, even-surface pillows.
Loft: Loft is arguably the most important consideration for stomach sleepers. There are three general categories for pillow loft:
- Low-loft: Pillows that measure less than three inches (3″) thick.
- Medium-loft: Pillows that measure three to five inches (3″ to 5″) thick.
- High-loft: Pillows that measure more than five inches (5″) thick.
For most stomach sleepers, choosing loft can be a compromise. The majority of high-loft pillows — as well as many medium-loft pillows — will be excessively thick. As we’ve discussed above, this can lead to strain in the neck and spine. However, some low-loft pillows may be too thin to adequately support the sleeper’s head. Generally, stomach sleepers feel most comfortable on low- and medium-loft pillows measuring two to five inches (2″ to 5″). However, this is entirely subjective and sleeping position is only one of the factors to consider when choosing the right loft. Other variables include the sleeper’s body weight, head size, and shoulder width, as well as their mattress firmness. The table below uses these criteria to break down each loft category.
|Loft Category||Thickness||Optimal 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|
Adjustable-loft pillows are a suitable option for stomach sleepers with varying thickness preferences. These pillows allow owners to remove or add fill in order to decrease or increase the loft.
Pillow Material: Pillows may be made from a wide assortment of fill materials, and each option has its own benefits and drawbacks. Stomach sleepers tend to prefer pillows that conform to their head and provide sufficient support while not feeling too thick or firm. However, other factors to consider include temperature, cost, and odor/allergy potential. The next table takes a closer look at the construction, pros, cons, and stomach sleeper suitability of the seven most common pillow materials.
|Pillow Material||Filling Description||Pros||Cons||Side Sleeper Rating|
|Buckwheat||Roughly five to 10 lbs. of removable buckwheat hulls (outer shells)||Adjustable loft|
Too firm for some
Buckwheat pillows offer adjustable loft, but they may be excessively firm for stomach sleepers
|Down||Removable duck or goose down, which are the soft inner plumage found beneath the outer feathers||Adjustable loft|
Very soft and lightweight
Poor shape retention
Allergy and odor potential
Down pillows can be adjusted for loft, and are often thin — yet supportive — enough for stomach 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 tend to lose shape easily, which can cause discomfort
|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
Feather pillows may be too soft, but stomach sleepers can adjust the loft according to their preferences
|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 conform and cradle the head, but most models are too thick (high-loft) for stomach sleepers
|Memory Foam||Shredded or solid memory foam, or viscoelastic polyfoam, which softens when warm and retains shape when cool||Adjustable loft (shredded)|
Most memory foam pillows are suitable for stomach sleepers because they are supportive and relatively thin
|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 are usually too thick for stomach sleepers, while shredded polyester pillows lose shape too easily
Moldability: Moldability refers to how easily a pillow can be scrunched or reshaped to accommodate different head and neck positions. This is important for stomach sleepers, particularly those who have a hard time getting comfortable and need to move their pillow around during the night.
Cost: Finally, let’s explore cost expectations for different pillow types. The table below lists average price ranges for each of the seven pillow materials described above — but costs often vary by brand and model.
|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|