When we talk about pillows, we often assume the one under our head, but many people also use them to make their body feel more comfortable. For example, some people like to hug a pillow while they sleep, and others prefer one behind their back or between their legs. These “bonus” pillows aren’t just a weird habit some people have picked up but can actually help improve their sleep! Here are just a few ways a body pillow can enhance the quality of sleep:
- Reduces snoring and symptoms of sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea affects 22 million Americans and has the potential to cause serious health concerns and significantly disrupt sleep if not addressed. Positional therapy helps an individual find a better sleeping position to reduce sleep apnea, and a body pillow may help with this. When you are hugging a body pillow, you are laying on your side, which is the best position for reducing snoring. A C-shaped, U-shaped or J-shaped body pillow can help keep you sleeping comfortably on your side, reducing snoring and symptoms of sleep apnea.
- Relaxes you and reduces stress.
Whether you use a body pillow or a second pillow, side sleepers that hug a pillow at night may sleep better. According to psychologist Stephanie Silberman, hugging a pillow can have a calming, soothing effect. It can make people feel safe and let go of their anxieties. It can also act as an environmental cue. Our sleep routines are very important, and if you hug a pillow each night, your body will know that pillow-hugging means it’s time to sleep, so you fall asleep easier. In addition, research shows that huggable objects can reduce cortisol levels. After hugging an object, the stress hormone decreases, blood pressure and heart rate slow, and sleep quality is improved.
- Relieves pressure points and makes you more comfortable.
Just as your neck roll or water pillow helps remove pressure points and maintains proper alignment, a body pillow also benefits your sleep in similar ways. For example, when you sleep on your side, pressure can be placed on your shoulders and hips as all your weight rests on them. However, when you are leaning against a body pillow, some of your weight is put on the body pillow, relieving pressure. Additionally, when you place a pillow between your legs, it helps you maintain spinal alignment.
If you are looking for a pillow to hug or place between your knees, you may simply be able to use your water pillow; however, if you want full-body support, you may prefer a body pillow. There are five main types of body pillows. The first is the C-shape body pillow. This is most commonly used by expectant mothers and is excellent for those who want support on the front and back. The second is the J-shaped or the candy cane shape. This also provides head-to-toe support and can wrap around your head and neck. The third is the U-shaped pillow which is great for head, back, and neck support. These are also great for pregnant women, helping them stay on their side and preventing them from turning on their backs at night, which is discouraged. The fourth option is a rectangular body pillow. These are pretty common and about 54 inches long by 20 inches wide. Lastly, there is the cylindrical pillow. This is your most basic form. It is straight and more narrow, taking up less space, making it ideal when you don’t have a lot of extra space in the bed.
There are also body pillows for kids. These can be shaped like animals or in kid-friendly pastels. Although they are not suitable for babies, they can help young children sleep better as they provide support, comfort, and a feeling of safety.
In addition to choosing the shape of your body pillow, you also have options regarding the length and filling. Generally, most measure between 48 inches to 54 inches long. However, if you are taller, you will want to find a longer body pillow of about 60 inches.
The filling of your body pillow will determine how heavy, flexible and breathable it is. Memory foam will conform to your body as it warms up, and although this is great for relieving pressure, it does mean it can get too warm and trap heat. Down is also flexible and warm but slightly more breathable than memory foam. It can also cause allergies as dust particles get trapped inside. Like shredded latex pillows, you can also get latex body pillows. This is one of the most eco-friendly options and is lightweight, breathable, flexible, and supportive. Shredded latex is great for conforming to your body and providing support throughout the night. There is also some body pillows that you can fill with air. These are much more inexpensive and often aren’t as comfortable as you would hope. That said, they are much easier to bring traveling than a large C-shaped memory foam body pillow is.
The filling of your body pillow will also determine how easy it is to wash. Most are machine washable. If it is small enough, you may be able to put it in your washing machine at home or take it to a laundromat. Alternatively, you can handwash it in a bathtub with a mild laundry detergent – but more on that later!
The way you use your body pillow will depend on the type of pillow you have. Although there are no laws dictating body pillow use, you will achieve the benefits listed earlier by following the guidelines for use below.
There are two options when using this pillow, which will partially depend on the size. One option is where you are lying inside the C. This means your head and neck lay on the top that curves around, extending down your back and up between your thighs. This position provides support for your head, neck, back, and legs. Alternatively, pregnant women may prefer the C to face them with the pillow extending down the front of their stomach.
This can be used similarly to the C-shaped pillow and can support your back or front. The key difference is that this pillow is shorter and doesn’t have an extra curve under your head and neck. So, you can still rest your head on your water pillow while placing the curved part of the J between your thighs.
With a U-shaped body pillow, you have support in the front and back with the curve between your thighs. If it is long enough, you can lay your head on the one end and hug the piece in front of you, acting as a combination of both a standard bed pillow and body pillow. If the pillow is shorter in length, you will lay your head on your water pillow while hugging the body pillow.
A rectangular body pillow isn’t big enough to wrap about both sides of your body but is great for hugging and leaning into. You can take pressure off your shoulder by wrapping your arm around the pillow. You can also place the body pillow between your knees to help maintain spine alignment.
Cylindrical body pillows are used the same way as rectangular pillows, wrapping your arms around it and placing the pillow between your knees.
Just as buckwheat pillows are popular in Japan, so are body pillows. In Japan, they are called dakimakura, roughly translating to “embrace” “pillow.” Since the early 90s, these pillows have featured printed images of popular characters. There are also “love pillows” which feature seductive-looking images of characters. Alternatively, in the U.S the pillowcases and covers are commonly solid colors or simple patterns like plaid or stripes. You can buy pillowcases that match your bedding; however, the body pillow will often already have a cover on it when you purchase it. This cover may be removable, or it may not be. If it is not removable, you may have to wash it by hand.
To wash your body pillow by hand, simply fill a large laundry sink or bathtub with cold water and mild laundry detergent. Place your body pillow in the water and allow it to become saturated before massaging the soap into the pillow. Continue massaging, kneading, and rubbing the pillow to clean it. Once it’s all lathered up, it’s time to rinse. First, drain the soapy water from the tub and then fill it with clean water. Again, massage the pillow and squeeze to get the water out. Avoid twisting or wringing as it can cause certain materials to become malformed. If needed, drain the water and repeat. Once all the detergent has been rinsed out you should place it flat in front of a fan or in sunlight to dry.
Whether you like to hug a pillow, place it between your knees or have a little extra support behind you, a body pillow can make you feel more comfortable, reduce stress, ease pressure, and ultimately help you sleep better!