Choosing Between Side, Back, And Customized Pillows For The Combination Side/Back Sleeper

by Jenny Banks

Take a look at the pillow section in most department stores and you'll see pillows made in all sorts of firmness levels and sizes. These levels and sizes are usually linked to particular sleeping positions, like best for back sleepers and best for side sleepers. But if you're a combination sleeper, someone who turns a lot and doesn't have a single preferred sleep position, you could end up choosing the wrong pillow. Here's a look at what side, back, and contoured pillows can do for you and which might be best.


A pillow meant for back sleepers is somewhat firm but still rather soft. There's enough heft to cradle the head, but it isn't a particularly bulky pillow. If you spend most of your time sleeping on your back, this is great, but once you turn onto your side, you lose a lot of support. Your head can tilt down too much if the pillow is on the softer side of the back-sleeper range. Plus, if you later turn onto your stomach, the pillow may be too firm, forcing your head back just enough to make your neck feel like it's being twisted a bit.


Side pillows are much firmer, meant to hold your head up and level with your spine as you sleep on your side. If you always sleep on one side and have fairly average collarbone and shoulder length/width, a side pillow can be very supportive.

However, if you ever switch sides by rolling onto your back and then to the other side, a side pillow can be much too firm. Your head can be forced forward as you roll over, cutting off your breathing temporarily and driving your chin into your chest. If you roll over a lot, a side pillow is not the best choice. Plus, if you're a smaller person and don't have very wide shoulders, then when you sleep on your side, your head can be tilted up too much.

One problem that exists with both side and back pillows is that they support the head at the neck, but not the jaw. This can be a problem if you have TMJ and have a tendency to have stiff jaws in the morning.


Special pillows exist for people who deal with TMJ or headaches when they sleep. These help cradle the head and support all parts of the head, and they are often covered with material that prevents your skin from wrinkling up and looking creased in the morning. If your sleep position affects your jaw or gives you headaches, look at special pillows like these, such as the Space Sleeper Pillow.

Don't forget to take pillowcase softness and any fragrant laundry detergent you use into account when choosing a pillow. If you want to see more options like these when you choose a pillow, contact a bedding store that offers lots of different types, including those special customized pillows.