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What is an Ergonomic Pillow?

By Di L.
Updated: May 23, 2024

An ergonomic pillow is designed to accommodate the user’s sleeping or seating position and to minimize any associated tension that may result from prolonged time spent in one position. Ergonomic pillows tend to be shaped differently from regular pillows, and are often made of foam or another form-retaining material that offers greater support. Most ergonomic pillows are used for sleep, although some do exist for lower back support while sitting. They vary in size, from small neck pillows used for long car trips or flights, to very large full-body pillows meant to cradle the entire body during sleep.

It is believed that the most balanced position for the spine is the neutral position, because it minimizes stress in the body. Most people do not maintain neutral position while they sleep. This creates tension at problem spots like the neck and the lower back and results in waking up with a stiff neck or back pain. These problems can often be corrected by using an ergonomic pillow.

A common kind of ergonomic pillow is specifically designed for the neck. These are usually has a slightly elevated region that maintains the natural curvature of the neck and an indented region in which the back of the skull rests. This type of pillow can help both back-sleepers and side-sleepers maintain proper spinal position. Face-down sleepers usually experience the most back tension, because the position causes the natural curve of the lower spine to dip farther than it should. A special slanted ergonomic pillow allows the user to sleep face-down and breathe comfortably through a U-shaped hole in which the face can be placed. The gentle slope corrects the position of the back and allows the spine to maintain neutral position.

Sometimes a special situation may call for a particular ergonomic pillow. Pregnant women can opt to use a full-body pillow that supports both their back and their growing belly. Travelers who like to sleep during trips can use a small U-shaped neck pillow that provides support for their head and neck, should they fall asleep in a seated position. Some people enjoy having an ergonomic pillow to support their neck when they are taking a bath. With so many variants on the market, shoppers should keep in mind what their intended use is (lower back support when sitting, adjustment of sleeping position, traveling, etc.) and buy the right ergonomic pillow for their specific need.

PillowGuide is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By cafe41 — On Jul 03, 2011

I just wanted to say that I went to this store that specialized in ergonomic products. They sold memory foam mattresses along with wedge pillows and pillows for side sleepers. Their pillows are fantastic but they are very expensive.

The pillows that I was looking at for side sleepers were $90 each, but they have a lifetime warranty. They were made by a Swedish company that is well known for its ergonomic products.

They also sell ergonomic products for the office such as ergonomic keyboards, mouse pads and even ergonomic chair pillows. This store is great if you really want to add more comfort to your home or office.

By SkittisH — On Jul 03, 2011

The article really briefly mentions my favorite kind of ergonomic pillow: the kind you can use in the bath tub!

Some people might scoff at people like me who make bath time into more of an event, but what can I say? It's how I wind down. I light candles, play soft music, put rose petals and scented oils into the water, and always use my inflatable pillow to support my head while laying in there to soak.

The great thing about ergonomic bath pillows is that they're really designed with water and a bath tub in mind. Mine is completely waterproof, but it has a nice soft fuzzy texture on the side that I touch so that it doesn't look like resting against a flotation device.

It also has these little suction cups on the back side so that you can literally stick it to the side of the tub. It stays put, and you can adjust it to be right at the height where your neck will end up resting, no matter what height you are. The article says U shaped neck pillows are popular for the bath, but my pillow is a simple little rectangle shape, like a mini version of a regular sleep pillow.

Bottom line is, whoever invented ergonomic bath pillows for the neck was a genius. I love mine to death, bath time just wouldn't be the same without it.

By seHiro — On Jul 02, 2011

@Malka - Those U shaped travel pillows for the neck are nice and fun to use, but as you've found from a year of using them, they don't really treat actual neck problems. I think a neck massager pillow is similar to taking pills when you have a cold -- it treats the symptoms, not the root cause. In order to massage away pains, you have to first be in pain, and by then it's too late -- your neck is already hurt.

Sleep pillows that are ergonomic are like taking vitamins, on the other hand. They prevent the condition that the U shaped pillow treats -- you'll stop pains before they start. Then again, if sleeping causes the neck pains, they probably don't stop very often, but I digress.

Go out and get yourself an ergonomic sleep pillow -- they work amazingly well! After using my ergonomic pillow, I'm never going back to a regular pillow again.

By Malka — On Jul 02, 2011

@manykitties2 - Hmm...I wake up with neck pains, too. If an ergonomic pillow can make them go away, I'm all for it. What kind of shape an material is the pillow you ended up using?

Thanks in part to my neck pains and partly just because I love to spoil myself, I'm a big fan of those U shaped neck support pillows that most people use for plane trips and stuff. The difference is, I use them at home. I will sit on the couch and use mine.

I didn't know much about neck pillows until last year. My brother, who also has neck problems, bought himself a really cool U shaped neck pillow that has a massager inside, and so I ended up buying one for me, too. The vibrating motion is really soothing for aching neck muscles, and creates a kind of lulling white noise.

Needless to say, in the year I've had the neck pillow it's been pretty easy for me to fall asleep on my couch while using mine!

By hanley79 — On Jul 01, 2011

I've never had any kind of pain from what positions I sleep in (on my side and on my back), but I do get lower back pain a lot, particularly after a long car trip. I think this is caused by scoliosis of the spine, which is a pretty pronounced S-curve that, according to my chiropractor, cannot be corrected at this point.

Because of my scoliosis, regular back pillows that you just stick behind you while driving don't help me. Do you think that an ergonomic back pillow would do the trick?

The article refers to the materials that ergonomic pillows are made of as more supportive and foamy. If they are memory type foam, perhaps the pillow would adjust to my unique spinal structure and be able to support it better. I'm going o go research them a bit, but if anybody here knows of a good ergonomic back pillow that is made of memory foam, please let me know!

By Sara007 — On Jul 01, 2011

Do you have a mate that snores and keeps you awake all night? Buying an ergonomic pillow for them just might fix the problem.

My husband used to snore really loudly, so much so that I had to sometimes leave and sleep in another room because I couldn't take it, and worried I would smoother him just to make it stop.

I found though that it was only when he was laying in certain positions that the volume of his snores really ramped up.

My mom suggested I try getting him an ergonomic pillow, and you know what, it worked! I was thrilled that just an adjustment of his sleeping position helped so much. Apparently if you lay scrunched up your airways can get more blocked resulting in snores. If you sleep in the correct position it can lesson the snoring or make it go away all together. I really wish I had known that sooner, but better late than never.

By manykitties2 — On Jun 30, 2011

If you have trouble sleeping, or find yourself waking up with lots of aches and pains, purchasing an ergonomic pillow can be one of the best investments you can make for yourself.

I used to wake up with terrible neck cramps in the morning, but after talking to my doctor I decided that I should follow his advice and target my sleeping environment for some fixing up.

The ergonomic pillow I bought was only $30 and it made a world of difference. It took a bit of getting used to, but once I got used to being held in the correct spinal position my neck aches stopped altogether.

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