Better Sleep With a Body Pillow

Updated on November 16, 2017
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I am a writer, teacher, parent, and musician. I have fought insomnia and sleep issues for many years.

Why Do People Sleep Better With a Body Pillow?

When you sleep with a body pillow -- an extra-long, firm pillow designed to support your body, and especially your legs/knees -- you are more likely to stay on your side throughout the night. Side sleeping is associated with better health and better rest, so a body pillow can be a true blessing to you if you're looking for natural, satisfying sleep. I have used a pillow like this for years, and it makes a difference in how comfortable I am at night. My personal experience supports the idea of a connection between sleep position and quality of sleep, and maybe you have had a similar experience. Since I began making it a point to sleep on my side, I have felt healthier. I sleep more soundly and wake up easier. My knees hurt hurt less, even when I went through a bout of hip bursitis, my body pillow made sleeping easier. So while a body pillow may seem like a simple, affordable part of your bedroom, it’s actually a very important part of your overall health, happiness, and well-being.

The body needs its rest, and sleep is extremely important in any health regimen. There should be three main things: eating, exercise and sleep. All three together in the right balance make for a truly healthy lifestyle.

— Rohit Shetty

Did You See Amy Adams in "Arrival" Cozying Up to a Body Pillow?

Arrival is a great movie, highly recommended, and I couldn't help but notice that early on we're treated to a brief scene of star Amy Adams in bed, curled up with a body pillow. It's exactly like the one I have -- I know it's only a movie, but it was cool to see that I share something with one of my favorite actors (and characters -- check out Arrival!).

The Snuggle-Pedic Body Pillow

The Snuggle-Pedic body pillow, in addition to having a pretty awesome name, is a good example of the kind of pillow that I have come to rely on as a part of my healthy sleep routine. The memory foam core and high-quality cover makes it a great choice for side-sleeping. I sleep on a memory foam mattress, and there's something about the firm-yet-giving feel of memory foam that I really like. It really shouldn't have the word "foam" in the name, because I have slept on a foam mattress and it's nothing like memory foam. The support and comfort is really something special.

Better Sleep With a Body Pillow

I’ll admit it – I have a tendency to snore a little. But I only really snore when I’m on my back, so some years ago I realized that if I could stay on my side, my night would be more quiet, and my sleep would be more restful. I would also likely stay married longer! I started sleeping with a pillow that my wife had used when she was pregnant with our boys, and the effect was wonderful – I slept better, longer, and felt great when I woke up. I also made a lot less noise during the night.

When I slipped shoveling snow and tore a ligament in my knee (a terrible episode – the less said the better), the doctor actually suggested sleeping with a pillow between my knees until I had healed, which would be many weeks. That was easy – I had been sleeping with a body pillow for a couple of years by that point. But it did remind me that a body pillow is good for more than just snore-prevention – it was also great for sore knees and elbows.

Nowadays I don’t even travel without at least some kind of body pillow in tow. I’m a true believer, and I honestly think that every person on earth would be happier sleeping on their side with a body pillow keeping them cozy and comfortable.

I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?

— Ernest Hemingway

Sleep on Your Side, Not on Your Back!

Studies suggest that sleeping on your side is more healthy than sleeping on your back. Steven Y. Park, M.D., author of Sleep, Interrupted, and clinical assistant professor of otolaryngology at New York Medical College in Valhalla, NY, says that there is a very clear link between sleep position and health. Such conditions as fatigue, sleep apnea, headaches, heartburn, and back pain are all positively linked to sleeping on your back. If you suffer from any of these conditions, you might try sleeping on your side. It’s possible that if you sleep on your side, many of these issues clear up on their own.

Whatever the benefits of side-sleeping may be, the drawbacks of sleeping on your back are reason enough on their own to convert many people. My own experience may be similar to yours – I snore when I’m on my back, but not on my side, which according to studies is due to the way facing up affects your airway. Studies also support a positive link between heartburn and back sleeping, so if you indulge in a late-night serving of Buffalo wings and go to sleep face-up, you’re much more likely to feel the burn of acid reflux. Interestingly, scientists found that sleeping on your right side was actually worse that on your back – sleep on your left, and you’ll feel the least heartburn pain.

Sleep Positions Pregnant Women Should Avoid

The American Pregnancy Association reports that pregnant women should avoid regularly sleeping on their back. Some of the issues caused by this include problems with backaches, breathing, the digestive system, hemorrhoids, low blood pressure and a general decrease in circulation. And if the mother's circulation is compromised, so is her baby's. Many of these issues are the result of the baby's weight resting on internal organs, as well as major blood vessels in the abdominal area (the aorta and vena cava).

The APA also advises against sleeping on your stomach, but judging from the simple physical impossibility of that, as well as my partner's experience during pregnancy, that isn't really an option!

PharMeDoc Total Body Pillow

This design is just like one we used when we were pregnant with our second child. The PharMeDoc Total Body Pillow has excellent reviews to support its claim of being "The World's Most Comfortable Maternity/Pregnancy cushion." When my wife was pregnant side-sleeping was the only option -- and the only safe one, it turns out -- and a sleep pillow was a real necessity.

Another Benefit of “Side Sleep” is Brain Rejuvenation

According to Fr. Joseph Mercola, MD, sleeping on your side promotes more restful sleep, which in turn offers your body a better chance to rejuvenate and repair the damages done during a typical day. Included in this repair is the clearing of various proteins thought to contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, reason enough to find a comfortable side-sleeping position for yourself! Dr. Mercola also cites recent studies that connect sound sleep – and healthy sleeping positions – to other body systems. Since sleep is when most of your body’s healing is achieved, the connection of sound sleep to your immune system and head-to-toe well-being is not surprising.

People say, 'I'm going to sleep now,' as if it were nothing. But it's really a bizarre activity. 'For the next several hours, while the sun is gone, I'm going to become unconscious, temporarily losing command over everything I know and understand. When the sun returns, I will resume my life.'

— George Carlin

Pregnant Sleep Support

Often you’ll find body pillows marketed to pregnant women. It’s easy to see why, since a body pillow supports you when you lie on your side, and when we were pregnant many years ago that was almost the hardest part – trying to get comfortable at night. A body pillow can be made to support any part that needs supporting, and a pregnant woman most definitely has a body part that needs supporting!

The benefits of side sleeping for pregnant women go beyond simple comfort, however. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the healthiest sleep position for pregnant women is “SOS” -- "Sleep on Side". (sleep on side). Echoing the prevailing advice for the general population, pregnancy experts suggest that the left side is preferable for women who are expecting. This position increases the amount of blood and nutrients that are able to reach the placenta. Since the placenta is the baby's source of nutrition, sleeping on the left side actually provides the unborn baby with a better supply of nutrient-rich blood. A body pillow keeps you on your side.

Another benefit of a body pillow for expecting mothers: The SOS position is also recommended to help alleviate the back pain that can make sleeping while pregnant so difficult. Yet another: Problems with shortness of breath during the night are also helped by a body pillow.

I've always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.

— David Benioff, City of Thieves

Healthy Joints and a Body Pillow

An article called "A Variety of Ways to Position Your Pillows to Reduce Pain," by Sarah Clough, appeared Jan. 15, 2015, on the Athletico Physical Therapy website. This article discusses the importance of a supportive sleep position for people recovering from joint damage. The body-pillow position is highly recommended for physical therapy patients, since it maintains a straight, healthy line for the joint. When I was injured, it was much more a question of pain. When I had the pillow between my knees it hurt a lot less, and I could get to sleep, plain and simple. According to Clough,

"a pillow placed between your knees is recommended. When laying on your side, a downward slant naturally occurs from the side of the hip down to the knee. This places stress through your hips, often resulting in pain. Placing a pillow between the knees helps prevent the downward pull on the hip, lining the knee and ankle with the hip."

My own experience absolutely supports this assertion, although what Clough leaves out is how much a body pillow alleviates the pain that comes with injury and a lengthy rehabilitation. It made a huge difference for me.

Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Snoring is one thing; sleep apnea is quite another. I have always snored, and at one point it got bad enough that I talked to my doctor about sleep apnea. This condition is like snoring, but in sleep apnea your breathing actually stops several times during the night. The resultant stress on your heart can damage your circulatory system, and in extreme cases can even lead to an early death. I was lucky in that I don't have apnea, but no matter what, sleeping on your back is a main risk factor for apnea. Sleep in your side, and the risk diminishes.

Affordable and Simple

There are no moving parts or complicated instructions here – after all, it’s a pillow. You just order it, take it to bed, and wake up happy. Some have hypoallergenic covers, or are extra-long or extra-firm, but really this is just a big long pillow that you snuggle up and fall asleep with. They also make a brilliant gift for someone you care about, especially if that person is an expectant mother.

What Kind of Sleeper Are You?

Are you a side sleeper or a back sleeper?

See results

Sweet Dreams!

Resources

"Sleeping Position, Dream Emotions, and Subjective Sleep Quality," by Mehmet Yucel Agargun, M.D., Murat Boysan, M.A., Lutfu Hanoglu, M.D., in the journal Sleep and Hypnosis.

"A Variety of Ways to Position Your Pillows to Reduce Pain," by Sarah Clough, Jan. 15, 2015, Athletico Physical Therapy website.

Steven Y. Park, M.D.. Sleep, Interrupted, New York Medical College in Valhalla, NY.

American Pregnancy Association: http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/sleeping-positions-during-pregnancy/




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