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When not to use a pillow at all – and what to do instead

Who’d ever want to part with their comfy pillow right? Well if you sleep on your stomach then we’ve got some bad news – ditch the pillow, or change your sleeping position!

On average, we spend around one-third of our lives resting or sleeping, so sleeping in an optimal position should be our prime focus in order to better our wellbeing.

However, we found that many people don’t optimise their sleep posture and instead sleep in positions that cause substantial problems in the long run. Stomach sleeping is the main offender.

Stomach sleeping

Stomach sleepers are susceptible to both back and shoulder pain, as this front lying position pushes the spine out of its natural, neutral curve. Following extensive work with local authorities and NHS trusts, we identified the twelve most common sleeping positions. Out of the twelve positions, we recognised two classic front lying positions;

illustration of two front lying sleeping positions

The Tackler

This sleeping position leads to extension of your lumbar spine and neck rotation, which can lead to upper back and neck soreness, and longer lasting problems.

The Starfish

This sleeping position leads to extension of your lumbar spine and neck rotation, which can lead to upper back and neck soreness, and longer lasting problems.

If you associate with one of these positions and like the images show you use a pillow, then we strongly advise that you don’t use it at all.

In fact,  this is the only time we would pass on this advice, as with other positions it is often the body posture that needs correcting whilst the pillow can remain.

Problems of using a pillow as a stomach sleeper

Firstly, if you’re a stomach sleeper there are ways we can optimise your sleeping position in order to avoid the associated problems already mentioned – more on this later.  With that said, if you wish to continue sleeping on your front then first be aware of the problems caused by using a pillow as well.

  • Sleeping on your stomach is bad enough however, using a pillow as well is just causing sustained strain on your spine
  • The pillow causes you to lift your head resulting in you stretching  your neck muscles in all the wrong ways 

This lack of support and feedback causes us to adopt positions like The Wrestler, whereby we compensate for being unsupported by literally grabbing the pillow with dear life.

This action makes our proprioceptive feedback inform our brain that we are now safe in our environment.

However, by not addressing your lying environment, what seems a safe alternative can in fact be causing you harm – resulting in spinal rotation and anterior shoulder instability.

So without the optimal lying environment you’re not going to receive the right amount of proprioceptive feedback telling you that you’re secure in where you lay and sleep.

That means you’re not accessing the optimal sleep quality because you’re constantly ready to fall out of that tree!

Here’s what to do instead

We recommend that anyone sleeping on their front should ultimately consider changing their sleep position and start to transition into a much more optimal posture. There are two positions we love the most that help optimise your sleep posture:

The Dreamer

Man lying on the bed with pillow between knees and ankles

In this position the shoulders,  hips, knees and ankles are all stacked on top of each other in a nice straight line. Use a pillow between your knees and ankles to give you extra support.  You can see this position puts the least amount of tension through the spine

Back lying

Grilling on her back on bed with pillow underneath her knees

Lying on your back is also good. Place a pillow beneath your knees bending them slightly – you’ll find this eases the tension in the lower spine.

For most back sleepers who are under below 5’10”, a thin, 8cm Levitex pillow, will be best.

If you’re taller than 5’10”, go for the 10cm Levitex pillow

For those of you who are attempting to lie on their sides, but find that you are still waking up on your stomach then try this little hack. Before going to sleep, move into the side lying position and grab an old pillow and give it a hug. With the pillow against your chest it is less likely that you’ll roll over it onto your front.

Optimise your sleep posture

Hopefully you now have the knowledge of why we advise to not use a pillow if you lie on your stomach, but more importantly how to transition into a new position that optimises your posture. These two positions mentioned will help your body rest and recover to its fullest potential – benefiting both your physical and mental wellbeing.