The key to making the most of your body pillow is knowing how to use it properly. Body pillows are meant to offer extra support to your back, head, and neck beyond what a standard pillow can provide. If you’ve never used a body pillow before, knowing where to put your head, arms, and legs may seem complicated. In this article, we discuss how to sleep with a body pillow and the benefits you can gain from doing so.
Types of Body Pillows and How to Use Them
The various shapes of body pillows are meant to accommodate different needs, body types, and bed sizes. While rectangular and cylindrical pillows are the most common, you will also find body pillows shaped like J, U, or C. You won’t have room for any extra pillows on your bed if you are using a C or U-shaped body pillow because they are long and when fully “unrolled,” they leave little room for other objects in the bed.
Rectangular body pillows are commonly found in bedding stores or online. The standard size measures 20 inches by 54 inches and is suitable for most adults of average height. Those taller than 6 feet may need longer pillows to cover the distance between their chest and ankles.
How to use: Wrap your arm around the pillow to relieve pressure off your shoulder. Also, place the pillow between your knees to maintain your spine’s neutral alignment. Avoid placing your entire leg on the body pillow because this may cause back pain.
These narrow pillows are an excellent option when you don’t have much room in your bed. Cylindrical pillows need less space than rectangular pillows, but they serve the same purpose (to take pressure off the shoulders). They are available in different sizes, too, so you can choose one based on your height.
How to use: Wrap your arm around the pillow while placing it in between your knees.
U-shaped pillows are most commonly used for head, neck, and back support. These full-body pillows are popular for pregnant women because they prevent rolling to the back sleeping position, which is discouraged during pregnancy.
With the growing belly, back sleeping becomes difficult during pregnancy. It can also aggravate back pain and limit blood supply to the fetus. Sleeping on your side improves blood circulation and during pregnancy, this keeps the fetus healthy. U-shaped pillows are big so they can be used either on a queen or a king bed.
How to use: Place your head on the curve of the U and hug one of its arms, while the other arm supports your back, preventing you from back sleeping. A U-shaped pillow is a combination of a bed pillow and two body pillows joined together.
This pillow looks like an oversized candy cane and is often used as a pregnancy pillow. J-shaped pillows do not need as much space as U-shaped pillows, making them perfect for those sleeping on smaller mattress sizes who need the same benefits (neck, head, and back support).
How to use: Rest your head on the curled end, while placing the straight end between your legs.
C-shaped pillows are often used by side sleepers who want front and back support, but don’t have enough space for a U-shaped pillow.
How to use: Place the curve of the C towards your back so the top end supports your head and neck, while the bottom end supports your thighs. Tuck the bottom end between your thighs.
Fill Material Used in Body Pillows
When choosing the right body pillow, consider the fill material since what’s inside of the pillow determines its firmness and breathability. Body pillows can contain down, memory foam, polyester, latex, or air.
- Down: Down refers to the soft feathers found beneath the wings and in the belly region of ducks and geese. This natural material is soft and warm, but it may not be a good option for those prone to allergies. Sometimes dust particles remain in the down, despite washing them. These particles trigger symptoms such as wheezing, sore throat, or skin irritation.
- Down Alternative/ Polyester: This commonly used synthetic material is also the least expensive of all fill types. The firmness of the pillow depends on the amount of fill stuffed in it.
- Memory Foam: Memory foam pillows soften in response to body heat, conforming to your curves. The dense structure of memory foam that provides pressure relief also traps heat, so if you need a more breathable fill option, choose shredded memory foam. The shredded pieces of foam promote air circulation within the pillow, helping you sleep cooler.
- Latex: If your priority is an eco-friendly fill, choose all-natural latex. Latex foam is bouncy while conforming to your neck and head, providing long-lasting support. The latex manufacturing process is low-waste and sustainable, and latex itself is more breathable than memory foam.
- Air: Air pillows are inexpensive, but may not provide long-lasting support. Air can leak out, causing sagging and eventual neck pain. We do not recommend inflatable pillows for long term use, but they are a convenient option when traveling.
Benefits of Sleeping with a Body Pillow
If you are a side sleeper, back pain sufferer, or pregnant, body pillows can be especially helpful because they relieve pressure points and help you maintain spinal alignment.National Institute of Health studies Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source show hugging them can even calm you down and help you sleep better.
Relieves Pressure Points
Sleeping on your side can form pressure points in your shoulders and hips, as these areas bear the weight of your entire body in this position. Hugging a body pillow releases the tension, so you can comfortably sleep on your side.
Minimizes Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Side sleeping is the healthiest of all sleep positions because it may prevent or reduce the effects of snoring and sleep apnea. If you sleep on your back or stomach, breathing problems can be aggravated; instead, use a body pillow to get used to sleeping on your side.
Alleviates Back Pain
Placing a body pillow between your legs maintains spinal alignment, potentially easing back pain. C- and U-Shaped body pillows can offer extra support for your back, alleviating or preventing pain.
Calms Your Mind
When you are stressed or anxious, your adrenal glands release cortisol, the stress hormone, into your bloodstream. Cortisol increases your blood pressure and heart rate, affecting your sleep quality. However, a 2013 NIH study Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source shows hugging reduces blood cortisol levels, calming your mind.
Is it good to sleep with a body pillow?
Yes, sleeping with a body pillow can relieve your pressure points and reduce the chances of back and neck pain by providing more arm and leg support beyond what you get from your mattress. Wrapping your arms around a body pillow eases the pressure on your shoulders, while placing a pillow between your knees keeps the spine neutral. Sleeping with a body pillow can also help you get used to the side-sleeping position, which is the healthiest way to sleep.
Can you wash body pillows?
Most body pillows are machine washable, but due to their size, they may not fit in your home washing machine. If your body pillow is too big for your washer, take it to a laundromat. Alternatively, you can hand wash body pillows in a bathtub with mild detergent. Always read the care tag on the pillow, as some pillows cannot be immersed in water. Instead, you should spot-clean them to avoid damaging them.
We suggest washing body pillows once every three or four months. Use a removable cover to protect your pillow from stains, sweat, and debris and reduce the need for frequent washing.
What material is best for a pillowcase?
Cotton pillowcases are a good option because this soft, natural fiber is breathable and cozy. Since cotton is natural, it does not contain harmful chemicals. Cotton is also hypoallergenic, unlike synthetic fabrics such as polyester or rayon.
Can I use my bed pillow as a body pillow?
If you want to place your regular pillow between your legs for added support and pressure relief, you can, but you most likely won’t be able to rest your head on the pillow at the same time. That’s where body pillows come in handy.
A standard body pillow measures 20 inches by 54 inches, while a standard bed pillow is 20 inches by 26 inches.
Which is better: a U-shaped or a C-shaped pregnancy pillow?
A U-shaped pregnancy pillow offers better back support than a C-shaped pillow, because even if you switch sides with a U-shaped pillow, you’ll be supported. If you have enough space in your bed, opt for the U-shaped pillow. To accommodate a U-shaped pillow, you will probably need a queen or king bed. If you have a smaller bed, then C-shaped pillows are the next best choice.
With so many different options available on the market, choosing the best body pillow can be challenging. A good starting point is to determine the available space in your bed. Once you narrow down your search by prioritizing your needs and space, you can buy a supportive body pillow for a good night’s sleep.
About the author
April Mayer has a degree in exercise physiology and is a firm believer in the power of a good night’s sleep. She spends her days reading, researching, and writing about sleep, and her nights, well, sleeping. April’s passion lies in helping others lead more productive lives by helping them get sound, restful sleep every night. April primarily writes about foods and vitamins for better sleep and has written several “better sleep guides” covering a wide variety of topics in her time with Early Bird. She's been a member of the team since March 2020. Additionally, as a sleep expert, April has been featured in various publications including Forbes, Greatist, Real Homes, Thrillist, Tom's Guide, and Eat This, Not That.View all posts