Improve your sleep instantly with this expert pillow trick

Try this simple technique to keep your spine aligned as you snooze

Pillow on yellow background
(Image credit: Jude Infantini on Unsplash)

If you feel comfy when you drop off to sleep, but wake up with aches and pains, it might be that your mattress isn't providing the support you need (in which case, our best mattress guide can help). However, it might also be your sleeping position that's putting strain on your spine or joints. According to sleep posture expert James Leinhardt, the shape in which you sleep can have a major impact on your wellbeing. 

There are good and bad poses to sleep in. A good pose can work wonders, helping improve your posture overall and speed up recovery times. A bad pose does the exact opposite. You probably already have a favoured sleeping pose, and training yourself out of it – if it's not a good one – can be tricky. However, James has a clever trick to help, and all you need is a pillow.  

Here is it: if you're lying on your side, stick a pillow between your knees. This helps to ensure your knees stay stacked one above the other, which is the best resting position to ensure your spine stays neutrally aligned, as in 'the Dreamer' position below. If you let your upper leg drop over the lower, as in 'the Applauder', your spine is twisted, and you're more likely to end up suffering lower back pain.

If you have wider hips – as women often do, it also helps bring the hips, knees in line from a side lying perspective, by widening the knees to a similar width as the hips. This is not a job for your best pillow, says James. Any old pillow will do. And while you're getting used to it, you could even use your duvet folded over. 

Illustrations of two side sleepers, one in 'Dreamer' position, other 'Applauder' position

(Image credit: Levitex)

If you prefer to lie on your back, there's a trick for you too: put a pillow under your knees. 

If you lie flat with your legs down, you'll notice your lower back arches up a bit. You might even be able to get your hand under it. Raising your knees slightly acts to cancel out this curve. 

"By slightly rotating your pelvis and lifting your knees up a bit, a. you take the weight of your legs into the cushion or pillow beneath you. And b. you'll find that the spine straightens in that curve," explains James. "You'll find an immediate change in the tension in your lower back."

James Leinhardt runs Levitex (opens in new tab), a pillow and mattress company, but has also spent a decade providing specialist bed solutions in healthcare. 

Ruth is currently on secondment as Sleep Editor for Tom's Guide and TechRadar. The role is an extension of her work on T3, where she ran the site's Wellness channel, which includes sleep, relaxation, yoga and general wellbeing. She was also Outdoors editor, reviewing and writing about everything from camping gear and hiking boots to mountain bikes, drones and paddle boards. She has tested more mattresses than her small flat can handle, and has had to implement a one-in-one-out pillow policy, for fear of getting smothered in the night.