Side Sleeping Pillows

Side Sleeping Pillows: Reducing Head, Neck, Jaw & Shoulder Tension While Allowing You To Sleep On Your Side

Sleeping on one’s side is the most popular sleeping position. While many pillows are good at adapting to both back and side sleeping, there are some with special ergonomic features which stand above the rest. One of the most important features of a side sleeping pillows is height. Due to the width of the shoulder, an increase in height is necessary to support the head and neck in a neutral position to avoid tension in the muscles and ligaments. An ergonomic positioning on your side with a functional pillow can relax muscles and relieve nerve tension.

side sleeping pillows

Features of Side Sleeper Pillows

A typical feature of pillows for side sleepers is separate sections for back and side sleeping. This will consist of a cradle in the middle of the pillow and raised side sections on either side. Some popular pillows give options for using a fiber or foam base and may be available in different heights. In considering use of these pillows, it must be noted that you need to physically move to the section of the pillow when changing positions. If you tend to be a deep sleeper or move around a lot during sleep, this may take some time to get used to or may even cause harm.

Another feature of some side sleeper pillows is that they are designed strictly for side sleeping. A single surface side sleeper is mainly used for side sleeping only. You can sleep on your back for short periods, however, you should know that you sleep on your side almost all the time. The height of these pillows necessitate side rather than back sleeping.

side sleeping pillows at amazon

There are many reasons to use a special pillow designed for side sleeping. Correct posture in the side position maximizes correct alignment and minimizes neck strain. Many use a soft memory foam surface which can be better for individuals with jaw pain problems. Some of the pillows have and angled structure or a cut out that can help to reduce shoulder pain and better reduce neck and shoulder tension.

shoulder side sleeper

Problems With Side Sleeper Pillows

Separate section pillows must be used correctly. Waking on your side with your head in the back sleeping section or waking on your back with your head on the side sleeping section defeats the the purpose of the pillow and can cause pain and problems. Usually, when in pain, it is not difficult to position yourself in a conscious and purposeful manner. These type of pillows are often used a therapy pillows; using the pillow when in pain, then switching to another single surface pillow or a back and side sleeping pillow. So, these side sleeping pillows can be used temporarily for increased levels of pain or inflammation. This is almost like taking a pain pill; when the pain is gone, there is no longer a reason to take one. So, when getting a specialty pillow, don’t throw your old one out. Sometimes it takes combining 2 types of pillows to get the best results.

side sleeping in comfort

The single surface cut out memory foam pillows; one has a cut out for the shoulder, the other for airway management. These are soft pillows and can be used for short periods of back sleeping. If you find yourself back sleeping more or unconsciously fall asleep on your side and then turn on your back, the increased height can keep the head to far forward, causing neck problems as well as increase snoring.

So, these are some things to keep in mind when using a specially designed pillow for side sleeping.

ergonomic side sleeper

Side Sleeping With A Pinched Nerve

pillow for pinched nerveOne of the most difficult ways to get comfortable sleeping is with a pinched nerve or shoulder problem. One of the reasons many contour pillows have 2 different height lobes is to give you a choice, not only for back sleeping, but for side sleeping as well. When there is a pinched nerve, there is usually antalgia. This is altering position or posture because of pain. With a pinched nerve, usually the pain will be relieved when side bending the head to one side and increased when bending into the other side. The different heights on a contour pillow can help side sleeping with this or if you have a shoulder problem.

Adjusting each side is easy with the neck pain pillow. Let’s say you have a pinched nerve on the left side and it feels better when bending your head away from that side – to the right. When side sleeping, you would want a pillow that is lower on the right and higher on the left.

This can also be done with a contour memory foam pillow with lobes of different heights. In the case above, you would use the 5 inch side when sleeping on your left side and the 4 inch when sleeping on the right side. Yes, this means flipping the pillow, but is a small price to pay for reduced pain, a better night’s sleep and being able to sleep on your side. By taking pressure off the nerve, it can also aid in healing and help reduce medication intake. The same for a left shoulder problem; you may need a higher height to reduce shoulder pressure on one side, while having the option of a lower height on the other side. It is not as firm and slow reacting as some popular memory foam pillows, thus it is very comfortable and soothing.

contour memory pillow and side sleeping

While these pillows are often seen as primarily a back sleeping pillow, they can be a great tool for side sleeping; although, they need to provide proper height options. The 4 and 5 inch lobes, combined with a pressure relieving memory foam, is ideal for most adults. Pillows with less than an inch difference in heights will not be enough. Generally, most adults need 4 or 5 inches of pillow height when side sleeping.

When looking into side sleeping pillows, these are some of the things to keep in mind to avoid another pillow in the closet or the trash.

  • It is interesting to note that the authors of a 2014 article in the Journal of Sleep Research found that simply by sleeping in the side posture, sleep apnea and hypopnea can be eliminated or reduce significantly. The authors argue that positional therapy by avoiding back sleeping represents a valuable therapy for mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea considering that between 65-87% of of mild to moderate patients are positional patients. It is a simple and effective solution.

Author Bio

Stephen Ornstein, D.C. has treated thousands of neck, shoulder and back conditions since graduating Sherman Chiropractic College in 1987 and during his involvement in Martial Arts. He holds certifications as a Peer Review Consultant from New York Chiropractic College, Physiological Therapeutics from National Chiropractic College, Modic Antibiotic Spinal Therapy from Dr. Hanne Albert, PT., MPH., Ph.D., Myofascial Release Techniques from Logan Chiropractic College, and learned Active Release Technique from the founder, P. Michael Leahy, DC, ART, CCSP.