How many pillows do you need?

Last updated: 06-04-2020

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How many pillows do you need?

If you can't sleep, or don't sleep well, or if you wake up with neck pain, it might be down to the number of pillows you're sleeping with. So if you want to know how many pillows you should sleep with, and whether you've chosen the right ones, read on. 

Sometimes pillows are undeservedly neglected in favour of choosing a mattress – but a pillow can actually make or break the quality of our sleep as much as a mattress can. 

You may have determined which type of pillows you prefer, whether they're feather, down, or foam-filled, but how many of them do you need to be comfortable, and does the number depend on your sleeping position? Find out the answer; then, read more comprehensive advice on sleeping well in our guide. 

The answer is, depending on your sleep position, just one.

Whether you sleep on your back or side, the primary purpose of the pillow is to slightly raise your head during sleep to prevent neck pain and to ensure good spinal alignment. 

Historically, pillows were never soft or plump, like they are now: ancient Mesopotamians, for example, slept on pillows made from stone (yes, really), while other ancient nations slept on anything from wood to pillow prototypes filled sawdust, straw, and wool. 

Those pillows would have been thin and firm, and are still the ideal type of pillow if you sleep on your back – although the fillings have obviously moved on since then. Back sleepers needn't be limited to one pillow, though – if you suffer from lower back pain, you might find that a second pillow beneath the backs of your knees relieves the pressure there and stops you waking up with back pain.

If, however, you sleep on your side, you will probably benefit from two pillows, but the second one should go between your knees to alleviate pressure on your thighs and lower spine – unless of course you can roll your duvet between your knees. The pillow you rest your head on can be softer and more voluminous than if you sleep on your back to prevent shoulder pain. Some people (including some of the side sleepers on the team) prefer a firmer below beneath a softer pillow.

And if you sleep on your front? Consider sleeping without any pillow at all, or go for a very thin one. 

This usually happens when we use pillows that are too thick or use too many pillows for our sleep position. Or, if you sleep on your back or side with no pillow at all. This messes with our spinal alignment, forcing it into an unnatural curve which, by morning, causes muscular pain. 

The key? Choose pillow thicknesses and fillings – and a combination of pillows – that you find comfortable, rather than shopping for one pillow type for the whole family. Just as with mattresses, everyone's needs and comfort levels are different.

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