Body Pillow Basics

Have you hugged your pillow lately? More than a snuggle buddy, a body-length pillow can improve your bedtime posture and help you get a better night's sleep by relieving common aches and pains that are keeping you awake.

If you're pregnant, or suffer from arthritis, back pain, or sore muscles resulting from an injury or pain after surgery, a full-length body pillow can provide support to your entire body and help keep your spine aligned while you sleep. A body pillow works when it helps you position yourself in a way that redistributes your weight. For instance, a pillow running the length of your body so you can hold onto it, used in conjunction with a regular pillow under your head, can help keep your arms from getting trapped in a position under the weight of your head or shoulders, which can sometimes lead to temporary pain and numbness.

A wide variety of pillow types and shapes are promoted for relieving pain and improving sleep quality, including contour body pillows. While they sound good, contour pillows don't necessarily work better than standard pillows. One Australian study, published in a 2009 issue of the professional journal Manual Therapy, found that a contour pillow has no benefit over a normal-shaped pillow when it comes to relieving neck pain and improving sleep quality. Rubber pillows were the most supportive and worked better than foam or polyester pillows in this study. But the only types of pillow the researchers do not recommend for the support necessary to relieve pain and enhance sleep are feather pillows, which have no "bounce" and flatten out too readily.

If you sleep on one side, a body pillow will help keep you in that position throughout the night. That's a boon for snorers, who tend to make more noise when they roll over on their backs. If you are a restless sleeper, tossing and turning and disturbing your partner during the night, a body pillow can form a soft, low barrier to protect your mate from getting kicked or whacked in the head. A body pillow on either side of you may also help keep you contained. Holding onto a body pillow and holding it between your knees is good for your spine. If you must sleep with your head elevated to control reflux, a long body pillow can be folded in half to raise you higher. If you're pregnant, you can not only use a body pillow to find a comfortable position while sleeping, but after you deliver your baby, a long pillow wrapped around your midsection can serve as a shelf-like support for both you and your baby while breast-feeding. An extra-long, or double-size body pillow can be curved and tailored to fit your head, neck and body needs.

The bottom line is you have to try a body pillow for yourself. Even if you don't get full pain relief, you may still find yourself in a more comfortable position for sleep. You may find that a combination of pillow types and sizes, or an extra-long double body pillow works best for you. If nothing else, a body pillow is something to lean against and hold onto, potentially providing both physical and psychological comfort when you need it.



Gordon SJ; Pillow Use: The Behavior of Cervical Pain, Sleep Quality and Pillow Comfort In Side Sleepers. Manual Therapy; 2009 Dec;14(6): 671-8. Web. 11 July 2011