If You’re a Pillow-Stacker, I’m Sorry but You’re Doing It Wrong

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Learn your favorite sleep position and upgrade your downtime.

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I consider myself a true sleep aficionado. I get the requisite eight hours nightly, with 90-minute naps each day on the weekends to supplement the overnight dozing. I have strong preferences about top sheets (absolutely not), mattress firmness (quite firm, please), and, perhaps more important than all the rest, the proper pillow situation. I’m willing to entertain arguments about the other stuff, but when it comes to pillows, it’s my way or the highway.


Alice Yoo / BuzzFeed

Make ‘em thin, make ‘em firm, and use only one.

So you’ll understand my shock when, last year, a coworker innocently posing a question about pillow preferences in our team’s chatroom revealed that some of my fellow BuzzFeeders — people I work with every day, people I thought I knew — sleep with up to three plush pillows under their heads each night. I was left mystified, wondering what kind of nocturnal abomination is going on in these people’s bedrooms.


Alice Yoo / BuzzFeed

Well, pillow-stackers, I’ve got news: You’re doing it wrong, and it all comes down to maintaining proper sleep hygiene. The most important thing, no matter your sleep style, is supporting your neck and helping to keep your body aligned so as not to cause spine problems; having your head crane too far forward or backward can cause pain and muscle strains. As the Cleveland Clinic puts it, “A pillow should keep your neck parallel to the mattress.” Three pillows = not parallel. 

I personally rotate between sleeping on my back and sleeping on my sides. According to WebMD, thinner and firmer pillows are the right choice for me because they keep my head from being tilted too far forward when I’m on my back and help “fill in the distance between the ear and outside shoulder” when on my side, keeping proper spine alignment. That’s not to say that my “one pillow only” stance is the be-all and end-all. The University of Rochester Medical Center suggests adding extra pillows — but not under your head. For back sleepers, they note that a pillow under your knees can aid in supporting the spine, and for side sleepers, a pillow between the legs can “reduce stress on your hips and lower back.” 

For those stomach sleepers out there, the pillow equation gets even more complex. Turns out, having a pillow for your head at all might not be the best move. Because of the importance of maintaining spinal alignment, the experts at Rochester note that you should add a pillow under your stomach and hips instead, and use a very flat pillow for your head if you insist on having one.


Alice Yoo / BuzzFeed

Of course, there’s more than just “flat” or “plush.” Different materials provide varying levels and types of support, and the relative firmness or softness of your mattress can affect where you need to have your head and neck positioned to maintain alignment. Whatever factors make you most comfortable when you sleep, whether on your side on a firm mattress or your back on a plush mattress, you can find the pillow that slots perfectly into your personal sleep equation.

As for me, I’m sticking with flat and firm. If you prefer a softer or more voluminous pillow, I will (hesitantly) accept that decision as long as you’re keeping the neck in check and the spine aligned. But for my coworkers using three pillows underhead, it might be time to reevaluate your sleep preferences. It’s not me — it’s your neck.

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