Body pillows are a popular option for side sleepers, for pregnant people, people recovering from surgery, people with arthritis, fibromyalgia, back pain, sleep apnea, and for many more reasons. If you’re thinking about buying a body pillow — or maybe you’ve already got one — but you’re not sure how to use it, no worries. I’m here to help.
Fortunately, sleeping with a body pillow is pretty easy. But if you are using it to relieve pain or maintain posture for a specific medical or physical reason, it is important to make sure you are using the body pillow properly. In this guide, I’ll go over the different types of body pillows and how they help with various ailments, disorders, and body changes.
Note: This article is intended to be informative, but does not replace medical care. If you are pregnant or have one of the conditions listed above, please be sure to consult a medical professional about the best practices for you.
Sleeping with Different Styles of Body Pillows
Sleeping with a Traditional Body Pillow
The traditional body pillow, sometimes also called I-shaped body pillow, is basically a longer version of a regular pillow. These are rectangular pillows that can be between four and six feet long. You can either sleep on your side facing this style of pillow, which allows you to hug it and wrap a leg around the pillow. You can also sleep on your side facing away from the pillow to get support for your back.
Sleeping with a C-shaped Body Pillow
There are a few other variations of body pillows. C-shaped body pillows are another popular style. These pillows have a shape like the letter C and provide support for your head, legs, and back. You can sleep either way in a C-shaped pillow, either facing the curved part of the C or with the curved part against your back. For those who are pregnant, the latter may be more comfortable as it will allow space for their baby bump.
Sleeping with a U-shaped Body Pillow
U-shaped body pillows are similar to the C-shaped ones, but have some slight differences. Instead of having one curved side and one open side, the U-shaped body pillows allow you to place your head in the curve and hug either side of the U-shape, with an opening towards the feet. This style of pillow will provide even more support for both the front and back of the body.
Sleeping with a J-shaped Body Pillow
Finally, the J-shaped body pillow is like half of a U-shaped pillow. This style won’t provide the back support that the U-shaped one does, but still offers leg and head support. To sleep with a J-shaped pillow, place the head in the “hook” of the J-shape and hug the length of the pillow, resting your leg on top of the pillow.
How Body Pillows Can Help You Sleep
Now that we’ve gone over the different types of body pillows and how to use them, let’s take a closer look at how body pillows can help you sleep.
If back pain is a common problem for you, it can be frustrating to try to fall asleep when you’re in pain. Fortunately, a body pillow can help alleviate some of that pain. If you’re looking for a little extra support for your back as you sleep on your side, a U-shaped or J-shaped body pillow can provide some cushioning support to rest your back against. If a body pillow isn’t enough to completely alleviate the pain at night, you may want to also look into a mattress topper that helps back pain.
Body pillows can also help train you to stop sleeping on your stomach, which isn’t the best sleep position for your spine — especially if you don’t have the best mattress for stomach sleeping. According to Wisconsin-based Doctor of Chiropractic Grant Radermacher, sleeping on your stomach “puts your lumbar spine into extension”and “forc[es] you to turn your head to one side in order to breathe, putting a ton of stress on the muscles, ligaments, and discs in your cervical spine.”
Radremacher says sleeping with a body pillow can prevent you from turning onto your stomach, keeping you sleeping in the much spine-friendlier positions of back or side sleeping.
With so many physical changes occurring during pregnancy, it’s no surprise that many find it difficult to sleep comfortably when they’re expecting. Body pillows have become a popular product for pregnancy, with many body pillows marketed specifically for using while pregnant.
Radermacher says that “as the belly grows [during pregnancy], it places increased pressure on the hips, lower back and knees,” which is where body pillows can help. They can provide support and pressure-relief wherever needed. U-shaped and C-shaped body pillows are among the most popular for pregnancy, as they provide support around the front and back of the body.
Additionally, side sleeping is considered to be the healthiest and most comfortable position for sleeping while pregnant. Similarly to training yourself to stop sleeping on your stomach to prevent back pain, body pillows can help you train yourself to sleep on your side during your pregnancy if you’re not accustomed to that sleep position.
Hip pain is another chronic condition that can make sleeping difficult. “A body pillow positioned between your knees helps keep them lined up on top of each other,” Radermacher says, “reducing the strain on the hips and sacroiliac joints that tends to come with sleeping on your side.”
To get that relief, those who struggle with hip pain can use any style of body pillow, as long as it is long enough to comfortably rest your legs on.
Recovering from surgery is another time that sleeping can be very difficult. You’re likely in pain already from the surgery, plus you might have a cast, bandages, or other recovery tools that make finding a comfortable sleeping position challenging.
Radermacher says the exact instructions for sleeping with a body pillow will depend on what kind of surgery you’ve had — so be sure to consult with your doctor or healthcare provider for specifics — but that generally, “patients are often advised to use their body pillow to elevate and put direct compression on the affected area to minimize swelling.”
Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, can also present challenges for sleeping comfortably. Because arthritis causes the protective cartilage at the end of your bones to shrink, it commonly develops around the spine, hips, knees, and hands, according to Radermacher.
He says a body pillow “can be an effective buffer between painful arthritic joints and the firm mattress surface,” so you’ll want to utilize a body pillow wherever your arthritis occurs. For hips and knees, the advice above will likely help — a body pillow that rests between the knees to relieve pressure. But if you experience arthritis in your spine, follow the above advice for back pain.
Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder which causes breathing to stop and start, can also be assisted with the use of a body pillow. Sleeping on your side can help keep your airways open, as sleep apnea often causes them to collapse.
By using a body pillow to train yourself to sleep on your side, Radermacher says those with sleep apnea can “relieve symptoms of sleep apnea like obstructed breathing, snoring, coughing, and dry mouth.”
There are many reasons you might want to use a body pillow to alleviate pain or provide support, or you may want to use one just because they can be cozy to sleep with. No matter what your reason, it’s important to pick a body pillow that will help you sleep better.
If you’re shopping online, be sure to take advantage of any sleep trials that pillow brands offer, meaning you can test the pillow out at home risk-free and return it if you decide it’s not the right body pillow for you.
Additionally, if you are struggling with chronic pain, illness, or any other physical issue that is interfering with your sleep, be sure to consult your doctor or another medical professional for their advice on the best ways to relieve that pain. Body pillows are one great option, but there are likely other methods you can try, as well.