How High Should Your Pillow Be When Sleeping?

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Written by: Alex Savy
Read 10 minLast updated on August 21, 2022

Picking the correct pillow height can do sleepers a lot of good.

After all, the role of the pillow isn’t linked to comfort only. It also has to do with the sleeper’s back health.

That’s why today’s guide will focus on finding an ideal pillow height for every sleeper type, plus explaining why this aspect matters so much.

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Why Pillow Height Is Important

Finding a proper pillow height is crucial because this aspect can directly affect one's sleeping posture. Consequently, a pillow would also be responsible for the sleeper’s back health. 

The thing is, a proper pillow should ensure the sleeper’s head and neck remain in a correct alignment with the rest of the spine. 

If the pillow is too tall, it will cause the head to tilt and the neck to curve. This typically leads to neck strain and even pain. Additionally, because the neck is not aligned with the rest of the spine, it can cause pressure build-up in one’s back. That’s why sleeping on the wrong pillow often causes back pain.

Now, when the pillow is too thin, it can still cause neck strain. In this case, the head will kind of fall down onto the mattress, as a thin pillow won’t provide the needed support. The neck is going to curve in this case too. As a result, sleepers can experience neck pain, stiffness, headaches, or back pain.

That’s why choosing the correct pillow height is vital. The right pillow will support the head and the neck, keeping them aligned with the rest of the spine and, thus, tension-free. This could lead to enhanced comfort and even improved sleep quality.




How High Should a Pillow Be for Back Sleepers?

Sleeping on one’s back is considered the healthiest position as it promotes neutral spinal alignment. Now, this sleeping style calls for a medium loft. The pillow has to be around 4-5 inches tall for average sleepers. Additionally, it has to be medium in terms of firmness.

A medium pillow would keep the head elevated enough to align the neck with the rest of the spine. Additionally, the pillow has to support the cervical spine's natural curve (the neck curve). That’s why a medium height would be ideal in this case. A taller pillow would lift the neck too much, while a thin one won’t be able to fill in the curve.

Ideal Pillow Height for Side Sleepers

In this sleep position, the most important factor is proper support. A pillow has to be tall and firm enough to prevent one’s head from tilting to the side and falling closer to the shoulder. Instead, the head has to be aligned with the rest of the body. 

A good pillow for side sleepers should also fill in all that space between the mattress surface and the neck. That’s why this sleeping style works well with lofty pillows (around 5-7 inches for average sleepers).

Now, users shouldn’t worry about the firm support of the pillow – it’s still going to feel comfy. Firmer support will make sure that the neck remains neutral instead of curving during sleep. Even pillows for shoulder pain sufferers can be firm if users sleep on their side. In this case, a supportive pillow would promote proper alignment that might reduce the tension in the shoulder and, thus, offer pain relief.

Here is an example of a great pillow height for side sleepers:

pillow height for side sleepers

What Is a Proper Pillow Height for Stomach Sleepers?

When it comes to stomach sleeping, this position is usually considered the least healthy one. That’s why choosing a proper pillow height might be tricky.

The thing is, stomach sleeping can cause too much strain on the neck. Not only can the neck end up elevated when resting on a pillow, but also it may experience too much accumulated tension when the head is turned to the side.

That’s why stomach sleepers are advised to choose thin pillows that can provide softer support. A moderate loft (around 2-3 inches) could guarantee that the neck and the head remain in a relatively straight line with the rest of the spine. In other words, a low-profile pillow would prevent the neck from arching, keeping the pressure levels low and mitigating the risk of neck pain.

Want to learn more about ideal pillows for stomach sleepers? Read here!

How to Choose a Perfect Pillow Рeight for Combination Sleepers?

It can be quite difficult to pick a suitable pillow height for combination sleepers. They can switch positions frequently during the night, and different positions require a different loft.

However, in most cases, combo sleepers have a dominant position – the one in which they spend the most time. So, to find a good combination sleeper pillow, it’s better to choose the loft according to one’s dominant sleeping style.

Another good option would be an orthopedic pillow with higher sections for side sleeping and lower areas for back and stomach sleeping.

A pillow with adjustable filling might also do the trick for combo sleepers. For instance, thin fibers or buckwheat shells are easy to adjust. This way, sleepers can make the pillow taller to sleep on their side and then spread the filling and make the pillow thinner for stomach or back sleeping.

Does Choosing a Pillow Height Involve More Than One’s Sleeping Style?

Deciding how high the pillow should be typically has to do with one’s sleeping style. 

However, the pillow choice would also depend on the body build. For example, heavier individuals are likely to sink deeper into the mattress (especially side sleepers). Naturally, there will be less space between their neck/head and the mattress surface in this scenario. That’s why heavier sleepers are often advised to choose slightly thinner pillows for each sleeping style.

Just like that, petite sleepers usually do not apply enough pressure to the mattress to sink into it. As a result, they tend to sleep with their head and neck higher above the mattress surface. This is why lightweight individuals are often advised to go for slightly loftier pillows.

How to Find the Ideal Pillow Height Fast and Easily

Now, it might sound easy in theory, but picking a suitable pillow height can be tricky, even when users have a general idea of what they need. 

Here are a couple of ideas on how shopping for a new pillow could be done easier:

  • Getting a model with an in-home trial. Luckily, many manufacturers allow shoppers to test the pillow at home and return it if needed. This is an ideal option for hesitant shoppers. They can test as many pillows as they want until they find the perfect height. The key is to watch how they feel when using each pillow. Users need to wake up feeling rested, without any tension in the neck, back, or shoulders. When lying down, they shouldn’t feel any strain on the neck. As for the head, it shouldn’t tilt or fall too far back. It should remain approximately on the same level as the rest of the body.
  • Looking for an adjustable loft. Many pillows have shredded or fiber filling and come with a zippered cover. Such a smart design can help sleepers adjust the height of their pillow and find that ideal loft that feels the most comfortable. All users have to do is unzip the pillow and either add or remove some of the filling.
  • Trying the DIY towel method. This simple trick can help sleepers determine the comfortable height of their pillow before buying it. What they need to do is grab a few towels, fold them into squares, and stack them on each other. Then, users need to lie down and rest their heads on the towels. It’s easy to find the perfect loft by removing or adding the towels. This way, shoppers will know the approximate height of the pillow they need. Luckily, most manufacturers mention the pillow height on their product pages, so finding the one shouldn’t be too difficult.


Is it better to have a high or a low pillow?

The answer would depend on one’s sleeping style. High pillows are more suited for side sleepers. Low pillows work better for stomach sleepers. And people who sleep on their back should look for something with a medium loft.

How high should a pillow for side sleepers be?

The recommended pillow height for side sleepers is around 5-7 inches (for average users). Heavier individuals can go 1-2 inches lower. And for petite individuals, 7-8 inches should be enough in most cases.

How do I pick the right pillow height?

To choose a suitable pillow loft, users need to consider their favorite sleep position. Thus, side sleepers require loftier pillows, back sleepers – medium height, and stomach sleepers – thinner pillows.


Healthy sleep is impossible without a proper pillow.

And the easiest way to find one’s ideal pillow height is to determine their favorite sleeping style. After all, different positions call for different levels of support. And the rest of the process is easy, as manufacturers offer all types of pillows – tall, thin, and even adjustable.

What is your favorite sleeping position? And how tall were your pillows in the past? Let us know in the comments!




  1. Measurements for “How high should a pillow for side sleepers be?” makes not sense because it says taller pillows are recommended for heaver and petite individuals, and lower ones for heavier individuals. I can’t understand why (especially taller for more petite). Tks,

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