If you’re one of the minority of people who is a back sleeper, you may find that you struggle with finding a pillow that is comfortable and supportive without causing excessive snoring. Given some of the unique issues associated with this sleeping position, having the right pillow can be critical to the quality of your sleep.
In this guide, we’ll cover what you need to know about sleeping on your back, the range of pillow types that you’ll find for sale, and they key considerations that back sleepers should keep in mind when buying a new pillow.
You can find all this in the sections below, or you can click here to jump straight to our recommendations for the best pillows for back sleepers.
Why the Right Pillow is Important for Back Sleepers
About Back Sleeping
Back sleeping is relatively rare, with fewer than 15% of people regularly sleeping in this position. Like all positions, sleeping on your back has certain benefits and downsides.
The body naturally stays in a straight line: being on your back tends to position the body in a way that aligns the head, neck, torso, and lower back. Unlike other positions where the body becomes easily twisted, sleeping on your back lends itself to a natural alignment.
Reduced propensity for wrinkles: by eliminating pressure against the face from the pillow, back sleeping is unlikely to promote wrinkles.
Decreased acid reflux: in this position, the esophagus is higher than the stomach, and this helps to decrease acid reflux in the night.
Heightens risk of chronic snoring: many doctors recommend against back sleeping because of its tendency to exacerbate issues relating to snoring. On your back, the muscles and soft tissue in the back of the throat near the airway become more compressed. Snoring occurs when air tries to pass through this narrowed airway, causing vibrations of the tissue. Some people are already prone to chronic snoring, and sleeping on your back can make that even worse. It can also be related to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a potentially-serious health condition in which breathing pauses during the night.
The back can be subject to excessive curvature: back sleepers have to be careful to prevent abnormal bending of the back, especially the lower back. For example, if a pillow is too tall, it can create significant pressure on the lumbar area of the spine. Or if a mattress is too soft, the lower back can sink too deeply into the bed, curving too far in the opposite direction.
Spinal Alignment for Back Sleepers
Though sleeping on your back tends to prevent torquing of the body, it doesn’t ensure proper spinal alignment. Both the mattress and pillow play an important role in keeping the back supported. The primary risk for back sleepers is having an over-pronounced curvature — in either direction — of the spine, especially in the lumbar area. The ideal sleep surface for a back sleeper maintains and supports the natural curve of the lower back without unnecessary pressure that pushes it out of that natural curve.
Pillow Considerations for Back Sleepers
Back sleepers want to consider a number of different factors when looking for a new pillow. Some of those factors are unique to their sleeping position while others are more general.
Considerations Specifically for Back Sleepers
A few of the things that are important for back sleepers to take into account when considering a new pillow include:
Snoring issues: if you have a history of chronic snoring or a family history of sleep apnea, you’ll want to put extra emphasis on making sure that your pillow doesn’t contribute to this problem. If you have any signs of sleep apnea, you’ll also want to talk to your doctor to determine if any other steps are needed to prevent this from becoming a more pressing health issue.
Cervical support pillows (contour pillows): this type of pillow has more height toward the front and back, giving extra support to the neck. This prevents the chin from collapsing down toward the chest, which can put pressure on the airway and contribute to airway obstruction and snoring.
Wedge pillows: these pillows are shaped like a right triangle and help to elevate the upper part of the body, including the head and neck. While these are more commonly-used for people with acid reflux, they can also help some people with snoring issues. Usually a second, smaller pillow is placed on top of the wedge to give some additional cushioning to the neck.
Compatibility with mattress: back sleepers want to make sure that their pillow and mattress are working in concert to maintain the curvature of the lower back. For example, if your mattress is very soft, then a pillow with a lot of loft is more likely to increase the discrepancy between your upper and lower body with attendant risks for spinal alignment. It’s important to think about how your mattress is supporting your back and to select a pillow that will be in concordance with that that mattress.
General Considerations for Buying a Pillow
Beyond those specific considerations for back sleepers, there are also general factors that relate to pillow selection.
Loft refers to the height of a pillow. Some pillows have a loft level that changes dramatically when you rest your head on it or when you mold the shape of the pillow (e.g., a down pillow that looks thick but compresses significantly). Other pillows, though, such as a one-piece latex pillow, are likely to maintain the majority of their loft even when in use.
Back sleepers typically have the best results from a medium loft pillow. Too much loft can elevate the upper body in a way that stresses the back or neck. A very thin pillow, though, can cause the head to tilt backward too far, which also can put undue strain on the muscles of the neck.
Firmness describes the feel of the pillow from a comfort perspective. A plush pillow usually won’t maintain as much loft, although this is not universally true. Some materials, like buckwheat or latex, are inherently more firm than others, like down feathers.
As we all know, comfort is subjective, but most back sleepers prefer a pillow of medium firmness. The pillow should have enough softness that the head and neck feel relaxed but not so much softness that the head and neck become enveloped by the pillow.
Though support and firmness are sometimes conflated, support deals with alignment rather than with comfort. A supportive pillow provides the right amount cushioning to keep the head and neck from contorting in ways that can be problematic. It usually provides this support through properties of responsiveness and contouring.
A responsive pillow is important for back sleepers especially because it can help to support an open airway. Both spinal alignment and an open airway are promoted by a pillow that properly cushions the neck of back sleepers (including cervical support pillows in some situations).
Pillows have a shorter useful life than mattresses, but you should still expect to get at least a couple of years out of a new pillow. A well-made pillow is more likely both to last and to continue delivering a high level of support and comfort over time. Look for pillows that are made with attention to detail when it comes to materials and workmanship.
Durability matters for back sleepers because if a pillow starts to give out, it will make it more likely that the head will sink into the pillow in a way that is uncomfortable, puts pressure on the airway, and threatens proper spinal alignment.
The performance of a pillow is largely dictated by its construction. As a result, pillow type is a key consideration for anyone shopping for a new pillow. There is no single “best” type of pillow as each style has its own benefits and drawbacks.
For back sleepers, it’s usually best to avoid down and feather pillows as well as down alternative (synthetic) pillows. While these can work for some back sleepers, they can also pose issues because of their tendency to lose loft through compressibility. Other types, including memory foam, latex, and buckwheat, can all be viable for back sleepers and provide a good combination of support, comfort, and durability.
What Types of Pillows Are Available for Back Sleepers?
If you’re just learning about what kinds of pillows are on the market, this table can help introduce you to the types of pillows that you’re most likely to come across.
These pillows are made with the extremely soft interior feathers from geese or ducks. Some down pillows are 100% down while others are made with between 75% and 100% down feathers. Down pillows are durable, lightweight, plush, and highly-moldable.
Because they compress a lot, they often do not provide sufficient support for back sleepers. Other downsides include their price and their tendency to become lumpy.
Feather pillows also use plumage from ducks and geese, but in these pillows, a much higher percentage of the material comes from the exterior feathers, which are not as soft and airy. The performance of a feather pillow is similar to down with a high level of malleability and significant softness.
While feather pillows are less expensive than down, they are usually not quite as durable or plush. These also tend to have issues with lumpiness and too much sink for many back sleepers.
Because down is expensive and because it also causes allergy issues for some people, synthetic materials have been developed to try to mimic the feeling of down. These pillows are generally made with polyester or cotton (or a blend). They are generally moldable but may have more of a tendency to lumpiness than true down.
Though they are much more affordable than down, the issues with inconsistent loft make them generally a worse option for back sleepers than other pillow types.
This material, also known as viscoelastic foam, was initially developed by NASA and is best known for its high level of contouring. As weight is applied to the foam, it responds to provide an enhanced level of cushioning and support. This support, along with a general feeling of comfort, tends to be the biggest selling point for memory foam pillows. The main downsides are that the material can retain heat and may not last as long as other types of pillows. Memory foam pillows can be made with just one piece of foam or with many smaller pieces (known as shredded memory foam pillows).
Both shredded and one-piece memory foam pillows can be good for back sleepers, although it is important to avoid one that is so plush as to cause the head to sink extremely deeply into the pillow.
Latex is a rubber material that can be produced either naturally or synthetically. As with memory foam, latex can be either in one piece or shredded to create a pillow. The properties of latex, which include both responsiveness and bounce, make these pillows supportive enough for many sleepers while maintaining relatively high levels of loft and firmness.
The downsides to latex pillows are that they are often expensive, heavy, and usually there are far fewer models to choose from. Back sleepers who want a pillow that can contour to provide support without sacrificing loft may be well-served by a latex pillow.
These pillows are made using many buckwheat husks (the small part that surrounds the kernel). These pillows are easy to adjust and shape and provide support without being too firm. The biggest downside to buckwheat pillows is that they are noisy, which can be disruptive in the night if you need to move the pillow.
Because most back sleepers don't have to regularly readjust their pillow at night, buckwheat pillows can work very well for them.
Our Top 5 Pillows for Back Sleepers
With all of the pillows available even just online, trying to decide which one to buy can be daunting. We’ve made it easy by picking our top 5 best bets for pillows for back sleepers.
For a quick overview of these pillows and a comparison of how they stack up on key considerations (with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best), start with this table.
|Pillow||Affordability||Durability||Support||Noise||Lightweight||Odor||Ease of Cleaning||Firmness||Adjustable Height|
|Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow||3/5 ($50)||3/5||4/5||4/5||3/5||2/5||4/5||4/5||4/5|
|Beans72 Buckwheat Pillow||3/5 ($45)||3/5||3/5||2/5||2/5||4/5||3/5||4/5||3/5|
|Savvy Rest Shredded Latex Pillow||1/5 ($99)||4/5||4/5||4/5||2/5||2/5||3/5||4/5||4/5|
|Beautyrest Latex Pillow||3/5 ($48)||4/5||4/5||4/5||2/5||2/5||2/5||4/5||2/5|
|Cr Sleep Memory Foam Contour Pillow||4/5 ($30)||3/5||4/5||4/5||2/5||2/5||2/5||4/5||2/5|
To learn more detail about each of these pillows, you can keep reading and decide which is best for you.
This pillow is made with shredded memory foam and comes with a 6-year warranty. You can add or subtract foam from the pillow, which gives you more flexibility when it comes to loft and support levels.
Why?: This pillow gets excellent reviews and meets the key needs of back sleepers. Being able to adjust the amount of foam helps to prevent the loft from being too high or too low, and memory foam can give softness and responsiveness without too much sink.
Why Not?: Some back sleepers may find the pillow to retain heat. They will also need to fluff this pillow regularly to keep it from having stiff and uncomfortable lumps.
The Bottom Line: At a reasonable price point for a material like memory foam, this pillow provides flexibility and responsiveness that will suit most back sleepers.
This buckwheat pillow option has received great reviews from verified customers and offers a medium-height pillow made with organic buckwheat husks.
Why?: Buckwheat offers firmness and loft but without stiffness or a loss of responsiveness. It doesn’t retain heat and can help keep the head and neck from sinking too deeply into the pillow.
Why Not?: Buckwheat makes a lot of noise when it is moved, so sleepers who move a lot in the night or like to adjust their head position could find this to be disruptive.
The Bottom Line: For a well-reviewed and well-built buckwheat pillow that can be responsive without sacrificing loft, this model from Beans72 is definitely worth serious consideration.
This pillow utilizes both Dunlop and Talalay latex, and this helps to provide both bounce and responsiveness that can offer support for your head and neck.
Why?: Fully stuffed with shredded latex, this pillow initially has a high level of loft. However, the zippered cover lets you remove pieces of latex to accommodate your preferred level of loft and firmness. The responsiveness of latex prevents your head from sinking extremely deeply into the pillow and warping your spinal alignment.
Why Not?: This Savvy Rest pillow is quite expensive and is likely outside of the budget for a lot of people who are shopping for a new pillow. Removing and storing the shredded latex pieces may be a messy project, and it can frustrate some customers to pay this much for a pillow only to remove a good chunk of its internal materials.
The Bottom Line: Despite its high price, the design and composition of this pillow make it one that can be well-suited for most back sleepers.
Beautyrest’s latex pillow is not made of shredded latex; instead, it is a one-piece latex pillow. While it does not offer the same adjustability, it is available at a much more reasonable price.
Why?: This pillow is made with a single large chunk of aerated latex placed inside a 300 thread-count cotton cover. The one-piece style provides a more consistent loft while still being able to cushion the head and neck.
Why Not?: Consistent loft can be a negative for some customers because there is little they can do if the height of this pillow isn’t right for them. In addition, some customers report odor issues with latex pillows, especially one-piece latex pillows.
The Bottom Line: This is a no-frills latex option that can provide years of quality support at a very reasonable price.
This pillow is shaped in a way that is different from all of our other picks. It has additional height at the front and back of the pillow, which is designed to allow you to get extra support for your neck.
Why?: A contour pillow can provide useful additional neck support to people who suffer from neck pain. For some people who deal with snoring issues, it may help to reduce pressure on the airway.
Why Not?: Even with added neck support, this pillow may be unable to stop snoring. Some customers may also find the design to be unusual or uncomfortable given its pre-shaped loft differential.
The Bottom Line: Getting the right amount of neck support is important for back sleepers, and some customers find that this style of pillow is the best way to achieve that goal.