Got neck pain? This is how many pillows you should actually be sleeping with

How many pillows is too many pillows?!

Smiling woman lying on a pillow with her eyes closed
(Image credit: Anna Nekrashevich / Pexels)

Do you often find you wake up with neck or shoulder pain after a night’s sleep? It turns out your pillow, or rather the amount of pillows you’re using, could be to blame.

Everyone has preferences when it comes to the best pillows. Some like them firm whereas others prefer them to be softer. While down or feather pillows tend to be most common, others might lean towards pillows made out of memory foam or even latex (see our down vs memory foam vs feathers comparison guide for more).

But whatever your choice of pillow, it’s important that they support your head and neck, while aligning your spine. Many people will overcompensate for flat pillows by stacking multiple on top of each other to make up for the lack of height or they prefer their head to be lifted and cradled by fluffy cloud-like pillows. However, sleep experts warn that using too many or too few pillows night after night can have a serious impact on your sleep, health and wellbeing.

P.S. If you have consistent neck pain night after night, this could be a sign you need to replace your pillow.

How many pillows should you sleep with?

According to Tom Greenspan, CEO of VS Mattress, pillow height is extremely important. In conversation with Livingetc, Greenspan said that “when lying on your back, a pillow should fill in the gap between your neck and the mattress, while when sleeping on your side, it should be thick enough to support your head and neck without pushing them too far forward or backward.”

You should be able to notice if you’re using too many pillows, as you’ll feel a strain in your neck and back, or wake up feeling stiff and sore in the morning. It’s also fairly obvious if you rest your head on your pillow and feel too high up. In comparison, if you have too few pillows or your pillow is too soft, you might feel too low down or like your pillow is cupping the sides of your face. This can have an effect on how comfortable you feel and your breathing.

There are many debates around whether you should use one pillow or two. Overall, it’ll vary from person to person as some people will need the extra height for their alignment whereas others will need to be lower to the mattress to do this. For example, I’m definitely a two pillow person and memory foam is my preferred choice of pillow material. Compared to my fiance, he only uses one pillow and it’s much flatter and more firmer than mine are.

In general, one pillow seems to be the most recommended as it allows for more natural alignment. It can also help your circulation and breathing while you sleep and reduce any pain or discomfort. However, if you feel you need extra support or have any conditions that affect your sleep quality like sleep apnea, sleeping with two pillows can provide this support and comfort.

Pillow size guide

(Image credit: Emma)

What pillows do I need for my sleep position?

If you’re still not sure how many pillows you need, take a look at your sleep position. Side sleepers, back sleepers and front sleepers all have different needs and will need different levels of support for a comfortable night’s sleep.

For side sleepers, it’s recommended to choose a medium to medium-firm pillow that keeps your neck and head aligned with your shoulders. As side sleepers tend to sleep with their knees bent or one leg over the other, experts say using a pillow between the legs can improve alignment, so side sleepers will need two pillows for their sleep position. See 5 tips for side sleepers for more tips.

Back sleepers are better off with one pillow that has a medium firmness and a thickness of 3-5 inches. If your pillow isn’t as thick as this, you can use two pillows to create that height. To ensure good alignment and posture, you can also place an extra pillow under the back to help with this. See 5 tips for back sleepers for more.

As sleeping on your front is one of the worst positions you can sleep in, it’s important you get the amount of pillows right otherwise you can feel very uncomfortable and sore in the morning. It’s recommended to choose a thin pillow or no pillow at all, as you’re lying completely flat on your stomach and don’t want to be too high to prevent straining your neck or have it at a weird angle. See our 5 tips for front sleepers for an in depth explanation.

For more advice, check out our pillow size guide to find the right pillow for you.

Bethan Girdler-Maslen
Home Editor

Beth is Home Editor for T3, looking after style, living and wellness. From the comfiest mattresses to what strange things you can cook in an air fryer, Beth covers sleep, yoga, smart home, coffee machines, grooming tools, fragrances, gardening and much more. If it's something that goes in your house, chances are Beth knows about it and has the latest reviews and recommendations! She's also in the know about the latest deals and discount codes from top brands and retailers.

Having always been passionate about writing, she’s written for websites, newspapers and magazines on a variety of topics, from jewellery and culture, to food and telecoms. You can find her work across numerous sites, including Wedding Ideas Magazine, Health & Wellbeing, The Bristol Post, Fashion & Style Directory, TechRadar, CreativeBloq and more. In her spare time, Beth enjoys running, reading, baking and attempting craft projects that will probably end in disaster!