Buying Guide – How to Shop for a Pillow as a Stomach Sleeper
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.
What You Need to Know About Stomach Sleeping
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 (as illustrated), with both hands resting below the head while one leg is slightly bent at the knee and the other is fully extended.
Advantages of Stomach Sleeping
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.
Disadvantages of Stomach Sleeping
Physicians often discourage stomach sleeping because of potential health risks and major comfort issues. A few disadvantages for stomach sleepers include:
- 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.
Choosing the Right Pillow for Stomach Sleepers
Selecting the best possible pillow is important for stomach sleepers, as comfort is a common issue. You must be mindful of providing the right amount of neck and back support, and you want to make sure your pillow won’t inhibit proper breathing. Below you’ll find a series of common considerations to keep in mind when choosing the right pillow.
You might be surprised, but pillow size is actually one of the most important considerations for selecting a pillow. Too small and the pillow won’t provide the best possible head and neck support, while the right-sized pillow can prevent the urge to toss and turn through the night.
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 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.