A body pillow could be your answer to better sleep
Surprise: These pillows can be helpful even if you're not pregnant.
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There’s a lot to think about when it comes to finding the best bed pillow: neck support, sleep position, material—the list goes on. As if there weren’t already enough considerations, there’s yet another option: body pillows.
They’re mostly discussed in the realm of pregnancy, as it’s best to sleep on your side after 20 weeks. In other positions, the uterus can put pressure on blood vessels and your aorta, which experts say can lead to nausea or shortness of breath.
But, perhaps surprisingly, body pillows can be helpful for almost everyone—including stomach and back sleepers—as they provide extra support and comfort night after night. As Reviewed's sleep writer, I sought out an expert to learn how to use these supersized pillows in any sleep position, and why they might prove helpful.
What is a body pillow?
Body pillows take different shapes and forms. You’re probably most familiar with the long, log-like option that pops up in Target every fall in conjunction with back-to-school shopping. They’re simple to use and have potential beyond sleep—as a college student, I used one perpendicular to my mattress and pushed against the wall to transform my bed into somewhere I could sit and study, too.
There are also body pillows that are shaped like Us, including our favorite pregnancy pillow from Queen Rose and Yana's organic body pillow. While these are often advertised for expectant parents, they work for folks who aren’t pregnant, too. Regardless of brand, the goal is the same: The shape aims to cradle you. Think of it as being the big spoon and little spoon all at once without another person.
This style may also prevent you from rolling while asleep, as you have a buffer on either side. Though rolling itself isn’t a bad thing, if you are recovering from an injury and need to remain in one position, it can be problematic.
As with bed pillows, there are different fills to consider. If you shop around a bit, you’ll run into the usual culprits, shredded memory foam, down alternative polyester, and plain old down or feathers. With some you can add or remove the filling, like this option from Coop Home Goods. The company manufactures our favorite bed pillows, and we loved it for that very reason: You can stuff (or unstuff) it to your heart’s content for a personalized firmness and overall thickness.
Certain brands even offer covers for these supersize options. You’ll likely encounter many of the same popular fabrics across the bedding industry, like cotton, linen, and jersey. I’ve also seen a handful of out-of-the-box ones, like this faux fur one that’s from Target and is similar to the cover that adorned the body pillow I had in college.
What does an expert have to say about body pillows?
As with all things sleep, how you use a body pillow primarily depends on your personal preferences and sleep position. There’s no surefire formula to determine in advance if they’ll work for you, aside from giving one a go and having a bit of patience.
That said, I spoke to Ben Fung, a physical therapist and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association who is himself a body pillow aficionado. We touched on how using a body pillow can help people sleep better—regardless of which position they prefer—and how to position it for maximum effect.
How can side sleepers benefit from a body pillow?
According to researchers, people tend to favor side sleeping throughout the night. It’s also the sleep position that will likely have the most contact when using body pillows. One of the more common ways for side sleepers to use body pillows is like a hug, wherein you wrap your uppermost arm and leg around the pillow. If you’d rather keep your hips stacked, place the body pillow between your knees, as opposed to draping a leg over it.
Hugging the body pillow helps distribute the weight of the upper arm and leg. “[It] brings the bed to you rather than allowing gravity to bring you to the bed,” Fung says.
In terms of support, “it’s kind of like the difference between standing on your toes and standing on the edge of your feet.” Body pillows shift weight off irksome pressure points such as hips and shoulders.
How can back sleepers benefit from a body pillow?
For those who prefer to sleep supine, body pillows can help maintain neutral spinal alignment—though they’ll have less overall contact with the pillow compared to side sleepers who can literally hug the thing.
Back sleepers may benefit from placing it beneath their knees to keep a natural slight bend, Fung says, as it decreases the weight-bearing pressure that the hips, pelvis, and low back often assume.
How can stomach sleepers benefit from a body pillow?
Like back sleepers, stomach sleepers will have less contact with a body pillow, though Fung suggests placing one “under the shins and nuzzled against the front of the ankles.”
He adds: “That will actually alleviate pressure across your [hips and pelvis] because that’s where a lot of weight-bearing is occurring when you’re just lying straight and flat on whatever surface.” Though it may be surprising, placing a body pillow beneath the shins may even help shift strain from the lower spine, which can be a problematic area for those who favor sleeping prone.
What's the bottom line on body pillows?
Fung views body pillows as a potentially easy, over-the-counter boon to sleep. If they help, that’s great. As with all things sleep, it’s imperative to listen to your body. Whether you introduced a body pillow because you recently started waking up with a crick in your neck and just want to see if it will help, or you start to feel strain in your spine throughout the day, the message will be the same: “Your body [is] waking up, telling you something changed.”
Yana’s pillows retails for $200, though Reviewed readers can score 15% off with promo code REVIEWED15. Just note: Like many companies that carry body pillows, Yana won’t accept returns unless the vacuum-sealed packaging is intact—even then, you’ll be stuck with a $25 restocking fee. On the other hand, Coop Home Goods has one of the best return policies in this regard: You can return the body pillow—even if opened—within 100 nights. Returned pillows are generally donated to charity.
If you’re researching body pillows in hopes of finding a solution to chronic pain or nightly discomfort that disrupts your sleep, it’s time to talk to a healthcare professional. A physical therapist or your primary care provider can share whether there’s a better solution to your sleep issues.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.