Easing neck and shoulder tension: finding the right height for your pillows


I see a lot of clients suffering with neck and shoulder pain, and when I ask them about the height of their pillows and their set up for sleeping, I often find that they are sleeping with to many pillows. Here is a handy guide as to how to find the right height for your pillow.

Sleeping on your front
I know that a lot of people like to lie on the front of their bodies, but anatomically, this is a position which causes considerable strain on the whole of the neck, because unless you happen to be lying on a massage table, you are likely to have your head turned to the side. Even if you regularly turn your head to the other side during the night, your neck will still be placed into deep rotation which can strain all the muscles that surround it.

Using towels
Did you know that you can easily use a towel to help you find the right height for your pillow? Not only can you use towels to help you find the correct pillow height, but you can even use them as a pillow if you want too. Here’s why I recommend using towels:

  • You have them at home already
  • They do not compress like pillows do
  • You can precisely change the height to get it just right for your body

Pillows, no matter how expensive, tend to squash throughout the night and rarely provide a consistent height. They also become less supportive over time, and depending on the filling used, can end up clumpy! Towels, on the other hand, can provide firm support, similar to that of a firm mattress. The right pillow height will depend on your body shape and your sleeping position. Sleeping on your back is good, but sleeping on your side can also be healthy as long as your head is supported at the right angle.

Side Lying
To get a rough idea of how much towel you will need you can follow this guideline, and then adjust it to get it just right for you.

Take your index finger and thumb and spread them apart - this distance will be somewhere around the correct height for you. Pillows that are too high will make you roll backwards, and pillows that are too low will make you roll forwards. Bearing this in mind, remove a few layers and check how you feel. Not comfortable? Still rolling backwards? Take a few layers away and keep going until you feel comfortable and well supported.

Once you feel you are in the right position, take away ONE layer (not one towel, but one layer) and see if it’s better or worse. Believe it or not, you will be able notice the difference between single layers, especially when on a firm bed or using the floor. If better, take another layer away and if worse, replace that layer. Do this until you have it exactly right so that one additional layer or one layer less doesn’t feel as good.

Lie on Your Back
Sleeping on your back is another great way to lie but you will need fewer towels. The thing to bear in mind is not to let the pillow push your head too far forward, as this can create issues for your neck and upper back.

Towels feel too hard?
If you find the towels too hard, a compromise is to use towels underneath a decent pillow to get the correct height.

Now that you’ve found your perfect pillow height, it won't matter where you are sleeping (e.g. a hotel room), you will always be able to adjust the height of your pillow to get a great nights sleep!


Claire Feldkamp

Claire Feldkamp MTI CNHC is on a mission to help people bring balance to their lives. She is passionate about yoga as a tool for self-enquiry, and believes that it has something to offer everyone. Her instruction blends together a deep appreciation of alignment with a fundamental love of movement. An avid rock climber, mountaineer, runner, hungry learner, anatomy nerd and archaeologist, Claire applies her adventurous experiences of life to her teachings, making classes accessible, fun and deeply inspiring. Claire loves to enable others to listen and respond to their bodies, and does so by blending together bodywork, yoga, mediation and mindfulness.