3 is the magic number for side sleepers

3 is the magic number of pillows for side sleepers comfycomfy buckwheat pillows

This post is from the Sleep Activist Alliance - a community that promotes collaboration and support of professionals who help their clients manage sleep and stress. 

Are you a side sleeper? Do you wake up feeling sore, squashed and tired? You may be able to fix your sleep position by: using more pillows and making sure your pillows properly support your body.

Pillow number one - under your head

This is the pillow we are familiar with. It goes under your head at night, but your head is not the only part of your body that this pillow supports. Your neck and shoulders are equally important. Waking up with neck pain and a shoulder that feels scrunched is a sure sign your pillow is not providing the support you need.

Take a glance at your shoulder. If you’re a side sleeper your pillow needs to fill in the space between that shoulder, to the curve of your neck and all the way to the top of your head. That’s a lot of space to fill! No wonder down, or down-like pillows don’t cut it for many people. So, you need a pillow that will fill all that space, and will mold to shape your curves. Your curves are awesome, and your pillow should be flexible to fit them.

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Pillow number two - the teddy bear

Once your lower shoulder is supported, your upper shoulder and arm might feel a little left out. With no support, you may feel pain in your upper shoulder and back. Hugging a pillow between your arms will elevate your upper elbow and reduce stress on your shoulder. This can be any kind of pillow - a regular bed pillow, a bolster shaped pillow, even a large teddy bear would work.

Pillow number three - the crotch pillow

(Full disclosure, Beth coined this pillow name in episode 25 of the Insomnia podcast. I’m using it for consistency. And because I haven’t thought of a better name.) This pillow goes between your legs, supporting your upper leg and reducing strain on your hips and lower back. I like this one to be a wide, soft pillow.

I’m fairly short, and can use one pillow to hug and put between my legs (as shown in the photo). It’s squeeze, and I’d recommend using two pillows or a king size pillow.

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This may seem like a lot of pillows for one person. You may be wondering - how is there space on the bed for you to fit? And what if you sleep with a partner? On more than one occasion I have woken up in the night to find myself piled with discarded pillows. There are worse things to wake up and find yourself covered in.

Once you’ve arranged yourself, and your pillows, for sleeping you don’t really take up more any more space. Switching position in the night requires a bit more work and coordination. However, people usually change position while sleeping because they are uncomfortable. So, if you’re better supported while sleeping, you may not need to change position at all!

I am naturally a back sleeper, but I find these pillow techniques really helpful in many sleep situations. For example, if I'm ill and cannot sleep on my back the extra pillows provide soft support for an aching body. Or, when I'm traveling and the bed isn’t what I’m used to (I’m sure this is why there are always so many pillows on hotel beds). The time I find using many pillows to sleep the most useful - camping! Granted, I don’t bring 3 pillows to camp, but I will definitely use a folded towel, and a sleeping bag stuff sack stuffed with stuff to better support my body.

To recap, if you’re having trouble sleeping on your side try using three pillows: a head pillow that provides enough volume and moldable support, a teddy bear pillow between your arms and a pillow between your legs. If you need something to think about while falling asleep try coming up with a better name than ‘crotch pillow’? I’ve tried, and fell straight to sleep.


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