Should I sleep with one or two pillows? Sleep experts reveal all

Everybody has a preference when it comes to pillows – but this is the number the experts recommend for a good night's sleep

A kingsized bed close up, with two pillows and a cushion
(Image credit: MintHouse)

While it can be luxurious to have mountains of pillows on your bed to make it look cozy and cloud-like, you need to take most of them off to achieve a comfortable night's sleep – but how many pillows should you leave behind for the best night's rest? 

Even the best pillows can't correct a poor sleeping position if you don't use the right amount, sleep experts warn.

Below, sleep scientists end the age-old debate of whether you should use one or two pillows to sleep better and explain why your sleep position could make a world of difference to how you feel in the morning.

Should I sleep with one or two pillows? 

The answer to the question of whether you should sleep with one or two pillows is: it depends on your sleep position and your pillow size

Different sleep positions require different pillow depths to wake up without that crick in your neck. So, considering the sleep position you generally adopt will help define how many pillows you should sleep with. 

If you are already waking up with that crick in your neck, it's likely that you are currently sleeping with the wrong pillow, the wrong pillow positions, or the wrong number of pillows. 

The right amount of pillows for side sleepers

California casual style bedroom with a neutral color scheme and pops of blue and coral

(Image credit: Dmar Interiors/Charlotte Lea)

If you are a side sleeper (research suggests the majority of people sleep on their side), then you should sleep with one deep pillow or two shallower pillows under your head – and one between your knees. 

'For side sleepers, using two pillows is best due to the nature of the vertical shoulder position,' explains Alison Jones, a sleep expert at leading mattress brand Sealy. However, while you may place two slim pillows under your head, Alison suggests one medium-high pillow will do just as well – but an extra one will be even more useful for spine alignment.

'Place a medium-high pillow under the head and use an additional soft pillow placed gently between the knees,' she says. 'The additional pillow helps to limit rocking, which can cause stress on the lower back and hips, and helps to keep the spine and neck straight and well-aligned.'

If you are a firm side sleeper, it is also essential to pick out the best mattress for side sleepers to help support your shoulders and hips. 

The right amount of pillows for back sleepers

blue bedroom with wood ceiling and two ottomans at foot of bed

(Image credit: Jennifer Robin / Photography Paul Dyer)

Sleeping on your back is generally considered one of the best positions for the perfect night's sleep, but only if you have the right support. 

While it might seem logical to have a big cushy pillow to nestle your head back into, Byron Golub, Vice President of Product & Merchandising for Saatva, suggests one medium-thick pillow is best to keep your head, neck, and spine nicely aligned. This will help to reduce neck pain drastically, he explains. 

Byron adds that a softer, medium-thick pillow is also generally advised for combination sleepers who like to toss and turn in the night, as it offers all-round support with a little give to accommodate movement. 

The right amount of pillows for front sleepers

neutral bedroom with a hidden tv in the base of the bed

(Image credit: Jennifer Robin / Photography John Merkl)

Sleeping on your front generally requires one thin pillow under your head, although you can get away with sleeping without a pillow if your mattress is supportive. The idea is to have your neck in a natural position and not angled upwards. 

When sleeping on your front, you may need to take extra steps to support your lower back and spine and avoid aches and pains in the morning, however, adds Alison Jones, sleep expert. 'Adding a medium-thickness pillow below the hips will help the spine when in this position.'


Can I sleep without a pillow?

Sleeping without a pillow is generally not recommended as it can put pressure on the top of your spine and neck when you sleep on your back or side. If you sleep on your front, however, forgoing the pillow (or using a very thin one) can be beneficial, as it allows you to keep your spine in a neutral position.

What is the healthiest sleeping position?

Sleeping on your side or your back is generally considered to be the healthiest sleeping position, especially if you have a supportive mattress and pillows. In these positions, your spine is supported, whereas sleeping on your front can put pressure on your neck. That being said, if you sleep comfortably and well with no aches or pains to complain of, you can sleep in whatever position you want. 

How you care for your pillows is just as important as how many you sleep with, reminds Lauri Leadley, Founder of Valley Sleep Center: 

'Investing in a pillow that’s right for you, whether it be one memory foam pillow that conforms to the “line” of your body or a fluffy one that gives you just the right support – always buy pillows that serve you. Remember to replace your pillows every one to two years, or when you notice they stop offering you support,' she urges. If you start to wake up with a new pain in your neck, it is time to go shopping.

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.

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