How to Sleep With a Body Pillow

Medically reviewed by
 Dr. Jennifer Miller, PT, DPT: Expert Physical Therapist and Pelvic Health Specialist

Dr. Jennifer Miller, PT, DPT: Expert Physical Therapist and Pelvic Health Specialist

Dr. Jennifer Miller is a compassionate and skilled outpatient physical therapist with nine years of experience in the field. She earned her Doctor of Physical Therapy from Elon University and…

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Last Updated On October 20th, 2023
How to Sleep With a Body Pillow

Key Takeaways

  • How to Use Types of Body Pillows: Body pillows come in various shapes, including rectangular, cylindrical, U-shaped, J-shaped, and C-shaped. Each shape serves different needs and accommodates various body types and bed sizes. How you use these pillows depends on their shape and your personal preferences for support.
  • Fill Material Used in Body Pillows: The fill material inside a body pillow affects its firmness, support, and breathability. Body pillows can be filled with materials like down, down alternative (polyester), memory foam, latex, or air. Your choice of fill material should align with your comfort and allergy preferences.
  • Benefits of a Body Pillow: Sleeping with a body pillow can provide several benefits, such as relieving pressure points, minimizing snoring and sleep apnea, alleviating back pain, and calming your mind. What benefits you experience can depend on your sleep position, body type, and the type of body pillow you use.

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.

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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.

“Cylindrical body pillows are the most common option that I suggest for my non-pregnant patients,” Dr. Jennifer Miller said. “I like that these pillows don’t take up too much space, are less expensive, readily available, and come in different sizes based on needs and height.”


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.

“While I suggest these pillows during pregnancy, I also suggest placing the bottom of the U at the patient’s feet and the more supportive legs at their head and neck area,” says Dr. Miller.


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.

Fill can also affect how much heat the body pillow retains, so it’s important to keep this mind if you want to stay cool. Coolness is particularly important for pregnant women, as pregnancy is a common risk factor for night sweats in women.

“I also suggest a body pillow with cooling abilities for my patients who are pregnant,” explains Dr. Miller. “as they often complain of feeling hot at night due to an increase in hormones and blood volume.”

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. Some sleepers also struggle with how to place their arms, waking up with numb hands or tingling arms. 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.

Sleep With a Body Pillow


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 is a sleep expert and writer with a degree in exercise physiology. She has dedicated her career to exploring the relationship between sleep and productivity. Her insightful articles, such as "The Surprising Way Your Mood Might Be Messing With Your Productivity" and "Wake Up to More Productive Mornings," have been featured in reputable publications like Forbes, Greatist, Real Homes, Thrillist, Tom's Guide, and Eat This, Not That. With a passion for helping others lead more productive lives through restful sleep, April offers valuable expertise on foods and vitamins for better sleep. As a trusted member of the Early Bird team since March 2020, she continues to provide informative and well-researched content.

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