You probably already know that a pillow, just like a mattress, can make or break your sleep. And if you’re in the market for a new pillow, you’ve probably given some good thought to the type of pillow you want and your preferable material.
But did you know that another factor you should consider is pillow height? Read on to find out everything you need to know about pillow height, why it’s important, and how to get the right pillow height for you.
What is pillow height?
When referring to pillow height/thickness, manufacturers use the term “pillow loft.” The loft is important because it’s what’s largely responsible for making sure your spine is in proper alignment when you sleep by supporting the natural curvature of your neck.
If a pillow is too thick or too thin, your head will be either too high or too low relative to your spine—and you may wake up with neck and back pain.
Pillows are generally classified as low loft, medium loft, and high loft.
- Low loft pillows are pillows up to 3 inches thick.
- Medium loft pillows are between 3-5 inches thick.
- High loft pillows are 5 inches thick or more.
So, what height pillow is best? As with most things sleep-related, there isn’t one right answer. The right pillow height for you depends on several factors, most notably your sleep position.
Is a high or low pillow right for you?
There are different factors that go into choosing a pillow height. Sleep position is the most important one, but you should also take into account things like your body type, mattress firmness, and pillow firmness.
A pillow’s job is to keep your head aligned with your spine. The pillow height that will best keep your head aligned with your spine depends on your sleep position.
When you sleep on your side, there’s a pretty big gap between your neck and the mattress. A pillow too low will make your head drop down too much, putting pressure on your spine. You should opt for a high-loft pillow for optimal alignment.
If you’re a back sleeper, the gap between your neck and the mattress is smaller than it is for side sleepers. That means you can get away with using a medium-loft pillow for proper support.
Stomach sleepers, on the other hand, should look for a low-loft pillow. Stomach sleeping puts undue stress on your neck and spine, so you want a pillow that doesn’t elevate your head too much.
Generally, to ensure the pillow properly supports you in your sleeping position, make sure your ears are at the same level as your shoulders. (You might need a friend and a camera to help you determine that.)
Pillows have different levels of firmness, depending on the type and density of the materials. For instance, down or down alternative pillows are generally softer and more malleable than foam pillows, while the latter tend to hold their shape better.
That means that a low-loft foam pillow will keep its shape better than a low-loft down pillow when you lie on it. Take that into account when determining what pillow height is best for you.
Believe it or not, mattress firmness is another important factor to take into account when choosing a pillow height. That’s because the softer the mattress, the more your body sinks into it.
The more your body sinks in, the closer your spine is to the mattress and the lower you need your pillow to be. On a firmer mattress, there’s a larger gap between your shoulder and head and neck, so you’d need a higher pillow.
Although not as crucial as sleeping position, you should consider your body type when choosing a pillow height. Generally, people with smaller bodies need a low-loft pillow, those with medium builds need a medium-loft pillow, and people with larger builds need a high-loft pillow.
That said, there are a couple of caveats to keep in mind.
If you’re a side sleeper and have broad shoulders, there will be a larger gap between your neck and the bed. That means you’ll want to select a high-loft pillow.
Additionally, depending on the mattress’s firmness, those with larger bodies may sink into their mattresses more. That means larger individuals may need a lower-loft pillow than someone with a smaller body.
How to choose a pillow height
You’ve probably figured out now that while it’s good to be aware of all the factors, the most straightforward way to choose the right pillow height is based on your primary sleeping position:
- Generally, side sleepers require the highest pillows to ensure proper spinal alignment. The best pillow height for side sleepers is around 5 inches. (Here’s how to choose the best pillow for side sleepers.)
- The average back sleeper needs a medium-loft pillow. Look for a pillow height between 3-5 inches. (Here’s how to choose the best pillow for back sleepers.)
- If you’re a stomach sleeper, your main concern is not elevating your head too high. So the best pillow for stomach sleepers would be a low-loft pillow under 3 inches. (Here’s how to choose the best pillow for stomach sleepers.)
Find the right pillow for you at Saatva
Is it better to have a high or low pillow?
The right pillow height for you will depend mainly on your sleeping position and to some extent on your body type and the firmness of the pillow and the mattress you sleep on. A pillow’s job is to make sure your head is aligned with your spine, so the more distance there is between your neck and the mattress, the higher your pillow should be.
What’s the best pillow height for side sleepers?
The best pillow height for side sleepers is usually high-loft (5 or more inches). In this position, there’s a great distance between the mattress and your spine, so your neck needs more support than in other positions.
Does pillow height affect posture?
A good pillow should support your neck and promote correct spinal alignment. If it doesn’t do this, you’ll have an improper sleeping posture, which will inevitably carry over into your day and affect your posture throughout the day. To properly support the natural curvature of your neck and promote correct posture, you should choose the right pillow height for your sleeping position.
Find the best pillow at Saatva
Saatva offers a wide range of pillows to suit every sleeping position and body type. From
Hotel-quality comfort with responsive & ultra-breathable support
Cooling comfort and contouring support ideal for side sleepers
Hypoallergenic with a plush and airy feel that’s perfect for cuddling