Should I sleep with a pillow between my legs? A sleep expert discusses the pros and cons
Discover if you could get a better night’s sleep with a pillow between your legs
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If you’re asking if you should sleep with a pillow between your legs, we’re going to guess that it’s because you’re waking up with a sore back. Worse, it might be hurting enough to disturb your sleep so you aren’t getting the quality shut-eye that’s necessary for health.
Even with the best pillow and the best mattress some of us still suffer from pain at night, making a simple strategy that can solve the problem more than welcome. And the good news is that many people swear that putting a pillow between their knees at night is that answer.
Here, we take a look at who might be helped by adopting this sleeping position, and why it can help – plus the alternative if it‘s not the right tactic for you.
Should I sleep with a pillow between my legs?
The answer to whether using a pillow between your knees can help is maybe. ‘Why might you want to try sleeping with a pillow between your legs? Mainly for alignment: to help with hip, knee, or back pain. Sometimes it helps with sciatica,’ says Ellen Wermter (opens in new tab), nurse practitioner at the Better Sleep Council.
It does, though, depend on which of the sleep positions you favor. Putting a pillow between your legs is a solution for side sleepers. Additionally, if you’re pregnant, your doctor may well recommend sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs for better comfort.
As for why it can alleviate pain, and how to get prepared for better quality sleep, we’ve put together the details below.
Benefits of sleeping with a pillow between your legs
There are many tactics to try if you’re looking for the answer to how to sleep better. If you’re suffering from pain and you sleep on your side, then sleeping with a pillow between your legs is one of them.
The reason why it could be beneficial when sleeping on your side is that it assists in keeping one knee on top of the other, so that your hips and back do not rotate. Without a pillow between your legs, the leg that’s uppermost can pull the spine out of alignment.
How to sleep with a pillow between your legs
If you want to try sleeping with a pillow between your legs, lie on your side and pull your knees a little towards your chest. Your knees should be stacked one on top of the other. Place a firm pillow in between your stacked knees to lift the thigh that is uppermost. This should create better alignment, preventing the hips and the back from twisting.
You may find there’s a gap in between your waist and the mattress and, if so, inserting a small pillow into the gap can help support your spine.
‘Pay attention to what your body is telling you,’ says Ellen Wermter. ‘If it causes pain, don’t do it. Try to keep that neutral hip position.’
Which type of pillow to use
What’s required for a pillow to be effective in keeping your body in good alignment and retaining the spine’s natural curves during the night? ‘Enough firmness to maintain a gap, although this may be accomplished with a less firm pillow that is bunched up,’ says Ellen Wermter. ‘Bunching may require more repositioning though,’ she adds.
‘Too much of a gap is also important to watch for – in general, you are not going to want the legs opened more than a natural hip distance that you would see when standing. The goal is to maintain a neutral pelvis and spine alignment.’
Rather than using a regular pillow, you might like to choose a pillow that is designed for exactly this scenario. Often these are contoured to fit neatly between your knees and they are typically quite small, so they won’t feel bulky. There are, however, longer versions that fit along the calves to the ankles as well as between the knees, which some people prefer for the extra support.
Choose between foam and memory foam designs or those with synthetic or natural fillings. Knee pillows are typically firm because of their function, although there are medium and soft options with some designs.
Look for a removable and washable outer cover to make keeping a knee pillow hygienic a simple task.
Contour Legacy Leg & Knee Foam Support Pillow | $24.99 at Amazon (opens in new tab)
A top-seller and highly rated by reviewers on Amazon, this orthopedic knee pillow is designed to support your legs and knees correctly and keep your body in alignment. It can help to relieve back, hip, knee and leg pain, and is made from ventilated memory foam to keep you cool at night. The cover can be removed and washed too.
When not to sleep with a pillow between your legs
You might be worrying about whether sleeping with a pillow between your legs could pose problems. ‘It’s generally safe, so long as it’s not painful,’ advises nurse practitioner Ellen Wermter.
If it hurts, then try a different sleeping position like sleeping on your back. In this case, you might want to put a small pillow underneath your knees rather than between your legs. It helps to keep your spine neutral which can contribute to keeping it healthy over the long term.
Does sleeping with a pillow between your legs help sciatica?
Sleeping with a pillow between your legs may help to alleviate the pain of sciatica. When you sleep in a position where your lower back and hips are twisted this can intensify the pain of sciatica because the sciatic nerve becomes even more compressed.
However, if your spine is correctly aligned because of the pillow, the compression may be reduced.
What is the cushion called that you put between your legs to sleep better?
The cushion you put between your legs is called a knee pillow, and they often look like this Luna memory foam knee pillow from Amazon (opens in new tab). They are available in a range of shapes, but are typically hourglass shaped to fit comfortably between your knees and stay in place as you sleep.
Pregnancy pillows, such as the Pharmedoc Pregnancy Pillow on Amazon (opens in new tab), are also designed to fit between the knees but are generally much larger and often U- or C-shaped.
If you're a regular side sleeper and often suffer from back pain, sleeping with a pillow between your legs can help to ensure your spine is perfectly aligned, keeping you in a more comfortable position throughout the night.
If you're constantly waking throughout the night and always feel uncomfortable, trying this new sleeping method could hopefully improve how you sleep. We think it's certainly worth giving it a go, but make sure you choose the best knee pillow for your needs to avoid your pillow ruining your sleep quality too.
Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor. Previously executive editor of Ideal Home, she’s specialized in interiors, property and gardens for over 20 years, and covers interior design, house design, gardens, and cleaning and organizing a home for H&G. She’s written for websites, including Houzz, Channel 4’s flagship website, 4Homes, and Future’s T3; national newspapers, including The Guardian; and magazines including Future’s Country Homes & Interiors, Homebuilding & Renovating, Period Living, and Style at Home, as well as House Beautiful, Good Homes, Grand Designs, Homes & Antiques, LandLove and The English Home among others. It’s no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house renovator.
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