How to find the perfect pillow for stomach sleepers
Stomach sleepers get a bad rap in terms of quality zzz's—but the right pillow can help.
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
Poor stomach sleepers. Everyone says sleeping belly-down isn’t good for you, and here you're reading it yet again: Stomach sleeping is ill-advised. Experts recommend avoiding this sleep position because it strains multiple parts of the body, from the neck (most stomach sleepers sleep with their head turned to one side) to the spine to the lower back. What’s more, pulling one leg up and out, a la Superman's flight position, makes stomach sleeping even harder on your body by twisting your hips. For less strain and stiffness, you're best served sleeping on your back or your side.
Still, for some people, stomach-down is the easiest way to fall asleep. If stomach sleeping is the only way you catch zzz’s, it’s extremely important to find a pillow that minimizes the body strain it may cause. (That is, if you like to use a pillow at all—many stomach sleepers do not.)
What stomach sleepers need to know about how they sleep
Stomach sleepers are the minimalists of the sleep world, in terms of their pillow needs. Of the three main sleep positions including back sleeping and side sleeping, stomach sleepers need the thinnest pillows to keep their spine as close to aligned as possible.
In addition to strain, the curvature of the lower spine is often exaggerated by the stomach sleeper’s position. To minimize this, stomach sleepers can consider putting pillow under their lower stomach and pelvis, which brings the pelvis up, putting the spine into a more neutral position.
Pillow basics for stomach sleepers
If you're a pillow-using stomach sleeper and on the market for your next cushy headrest, look for a pillow that’s wafer-thin or lofty but very soft, so that your head and neck aren’t pushed into an uncomfortable—and potentially unhealthy—position overnight.
Stomach sleepers should avoid pillows with a gusset, which is a panel sewn around the edges to provide more height, because this will push your head and neck up. Look for a pillow with a soft density, which will be fluffy or light and have a lot of give.
What pillow filling is best for stomach sleepers?
Personal preference is often the deciding factor in choosing the material that fluffs up your pillows. That said, there are some pros and cons to common fillings that stomach sleepers should be aware of.
These pillows are filled with duck or goose feathers and mold to your head without retaining body heat. For stomach sleepers, the softness—which may not offer enough support for side and back sleepers—is a plus.
To choose the best down pillows for stomach sleeping, look for ones specifically labelled as “soft,” which will compress under the weight of your head to keep your spine in neutral alignment. The Fieldcrest Soft Down Pillow earned numerous positive reviews, and has so much give that some side-sleeping reviewers complained it went flat. But that’s exactly what stomach sleepers are looking for.
Feather pillows also compress over time, losing their height. This compression can be an issue for back and side sleepers, but for stomach sleepers, who can practically sleep on a pancake, it isn’t as much of a concern.
Experts recommend replacing down pillows every year or so, as that’s about how long the loft lasts before it won’t fluff back up. For stomach sleepers, replacement is likely more related to your comfort level when sinking into lofty feathers, as you may be able to get by without a pillow anyway.
Fortunately for stomach sleepers, many companies, including Brooklinen and Nectar, offer customers a guarantee of a month or longer, so they can sleep on the pillow and send it back if they don't like it. Even some retailers, including Bed Bath and Beyond, have generous return policies.
These pillows are stuffed with a synthetic material that replicates the loft and feel of goose and duck down. Down-alternative fill is considered hypoallergenic and therefore a good choice for allergy sufferers, as long as it’s regularly cleaned to remove dust mites. Pillows with down-alternative fill also tend to cost less than those with natural feathers. On the other hand, synthetic-fill pillows tend to have a shorter lifespan than natural down pillows, because the fill is less durable.
If you decide to go the down-alternative route, the L.L. Bean Down Alternative Damask Pillow is beloved by stomach-sleeping reviewers, some of who say it’s the “perfect” soft pillow for their position.
This spongy material was developed by NASA in the 1970s to make airplane seats more comfortable. Now it’s ubiquitous in bedding and especially mattresses. Memory foam is highly absorbent but has a pliable surface that allows it to mold to your body. This combination of features fuels claims that memory foam mattresses and pillows are good for sleep. However, more research is needed to determine if these features actually improve people’s nightly rest. One downside of foam worth considering: The material can retain body heat more than other fills.
Stomach sleepers have likely seen contoured pillows, which have a “B” shape and are most often made from foam or latex. Also called cervical pillows (referring to the vertebrae in your neck), their shape supports head and spine alignment for back and side sleepers. Unfortunately, stomach sleepers aren’t part of the “in-crowd” in this case. The bumps on either side of these pillows will just get in the way if you sleep face-down.
For stomach sleepers yearning for foam, thinness is key. The Tempur Pedic Essential Support Pillow has 4.5 stars and over 400 reviews. Reviews by stomach sleepers praise the pillow for how thin yet supportive it is. Tempur Pedic has a sub-par return policy and no guarantee, so you have to feel confident you’ll like this pillow, or be willing to take the gamble.
Bed Bath and Beyond carries another foam pillow that’s stomach sleeper-friendly, the Therapedic TruCool Pillow, which has nearly 200 reviews and 4 stars. And, Bed Bath and Beyond’s generous warranty will keep you covered if you don’t love it.
This type of pillow is newer to the market. The name might make you think that the fill is made from bamboo, but it more often refers to fibers used in the pillowcase. Many of these pillows contain regular memory foam fill, but the bamboo fibers on the outside are purportedly sweat-wicking and help keep you cool at night.
For stomach sleepers who sleep hot, but prefer the feel of foam, a bamboo-encased pillow, like the Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow, which is also our favorite overall bed pillow, can be a good option. It’s generously filled with shredded memory foam, which can be removed to find your ideal thickness and density. (Stomach sleepers could end up taking out most of the filling.)
How to wash your pillow
Most down-alternative and many down-filled pillows are machine-washable—you can put them in your washer and dryer at home, per the pillow’s care instructions. Check that label before you buy, because dry-clean-only pillows could prove to be a hassle. Lab tests found that sample swabs from unwashed pillowcases, that had been used for just one week had 17,000 times more colonies of bacteria than a toilet seat.
Foam pillows are more complicated to clean because this material is often not compatible with a washing machine. Check the tag to be sure, but if your pillow can’t be laundered, you can treat it like a mattress, says Jon Chan, lab manager at Reviewed. He suggests sprinkling baking soda over the pillow surface, letting it rest for an hour, then vacuuming it up.
For stomach sleepers who are also allergy sufferers
All bedding picks up dust and, of course, dust mites, and pillows are no exception. Stomach sleeper’s faces are especially in touch with their pillow and pillowcase, which can trigger allergies. For the 20 million Americans with dust mite allergies, spending night after night up close and personal with these organisms can have unpleasant side effects. People with allergies and other sensitivities, like eczema and contact dermatitis, can experience symptoms from their bedding, at night and even during the day, says Melanie Carver, Vice President of Community Health at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
Fortunately, you can find hypoallergenic pillows, as well as encasements that can make any pillow hypoallergenic. Look for pillows and covers that are certified asthma and allergy friendly by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Pillows with this certification “have an effective fabric barrier that prevents dust mites and other dust mite allergens from passing through and making contact with skin,” according to the AAFA. This certification also guarantees that the pillow can be washed regularly, to remove allergens "without losing [its] shape and appearance.” Regular washing is essential for easing allergy symptoms.
The bottom line on pillows for stomach sleepers
Stomach sleepers who use pillows want to look for something thin or very soft and compressible (or both). Thin pillows are integral to minimizing the back and neck strain stomach sleepers are more prone to. Down and down-alternative fillings are often great choices for stomach sleepers, because these materials compress well and manufacturers often offer more “soft” options than foam pillows. Ultimately, pillow selection boils down to all-night comfort, which is very personal, and has to be determined by each individual sleeper.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.