How Many Pillows for Sleep Apnea?

Last updated: February 2nd, 2024

Picture this: you’re snuggled up in bed, ready for a good night’s rest, but your peaceful slumber is disrupted by a loud snore or a gasp for air. If this sounds familiar, you might be dealing with sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder that can affect your overall sleep quality.

But did you know that the humble pillow might hold the key to managing this condition? That’s right! The right pillow can make a world of difference in keeping your airways open and promoting better sleep.

But how many pillows for sleep apnea do you need? And what type should you go for? Let’s dive into the world of pillows and sleep apnea to find out!

Key Takeaways

  • Pillows can improve sleep quality for those with sleep apnea by ensuring the spine is correctly aligned, with memory foam, wedge, and CPAP pillows being especially beneficial depending on the person’s needs and sleeping position.

  • The optimal number of pillows for sleep apnea varies by sleeping position: side sleepers may benefit from a high-loft pillow and an additional one between the knees, back sleepers from a wedge or orthopedic pillow, and stomach sleepers from a thin or no pillow.

  • Apart from pillow selection, managing sleep apnea effectively includes CPAP therapy, sleep position adjustments, and lifestyle changes such as weight management and exercise.

Understanding Sleep Apnea and Its Impact on Sleep

Sleep apnea is like an uninvited guest that disrupts your sleep night after night. But what exactly is sleep apnea? It’s a sleep disorder that can cause neck pain and comes in two main types: obstructive and central sleep apnea. The difference between these two types lies in their cause. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the throat muscles relax and block your airway, causing your chest and abdomen to move out of sync. On the other hand, central sleep apnea is a result of the brain failing to send the right signals to your breathing muscles, leading to an interruption in breathing.

Sounds scary, right? Hence, getting an accurate diagnosis is vital, and at times, employing two pillows might enhance your sleep posture and overall sleep quality.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Imagine this: you’re sleeping soundly, and suddenly, your breathing stops and starts erratically. This is the reality for people with obstructive sleep apnea. When the muscles in your throat relax, they can block your airway, interrupting your breathing while you’re asleep. Causes can range from airway blockage to being overweight or even specific anatomical features of the head and neck.

The consequences of sleep deprivation are significant. They include:

  • Feeling tired during the day

  • Increased risk of heart problems

  • Unsafe driving

  • Changes in mental health

  • Other medical conditions

Sleep deprivation is more common than you might think, affecting around 15 to 30 percent of males and 10 to 15 percent of females in North America. It is a widespread concern that should not be taken lightly.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea, though less common, is no less serious. It happens when the brain doesn’t send the right signals to the breathing muscles during sleep. Factors that can contribute to its development include:

  • Age

  • Sex

  • Heart conditions

  • Other medical conditions

  • Certain medications

  • Obesity

  • Living in high altitude areas

If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to serious health issues, making sleep apnea worse, including:

  • Fatigue

  • Increased risk of cardiovascular events such as stroke and heart attack

  • Heart failure

  • Arrhythmia

  • Obesity

  • Diabetes

  • High blood pressure

Now, you can comprehend the significance of understanding and tackling sleep apnea.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Now that we’ve discussed the types of sleep apnea, let’s look at the signs and how it’s diagnosed. Common symptoms include:

  • Feeling tired during the day

  • Being excessively sleepy

  • Loud snoring

  • Noticing moments of not breathing during sleep

  • Waking up at night gasping or choking

If these symptoms seem familiar, you might want to get yourself checked.

A healthcare professional can diagnose sleep apnea through an examination, your symptoms, and possibly an overnight sleep study. During the sleep study, your heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow, and breathing patterns are measured. Sometimes, a polysomnogram is also done, which records specific physical activities during sleep using electronic devices. Once your sleep specialist has analyzed these recordings, they can make a diagnosis and recommend a suitable treatment, which might just include the right pillow!

Pillow Types Suitable for Sleep Apnea

Illustration of different types of pillows suitable for sleep apnea

You might be pondering, “How can a pillow aid in controlling sleep apnea?” In fact, pillows significantly contribute to maintaining correct spinal alignment and easing symptoms. The right pillow can significantly improve your sleep quality, but the question remains: “Which one?”

Let’s explore a few types of pillows suitable for sleep apnea, such as memory foam pillows, wedge pillows, and CPAP pillows.

Memory Foam Pillows

Memory foam pillows are among the top contenders for sleep apnea sufferers. Known for molding to the shape of your head and neck, these pillows keep your spine aligned and reduce snoring, improving sleep quality. However, if the memory foam pillow doesn’t support your neck properly, it could lead to serious health problems in the long run.

To retain the cleanliness and condition of your memory foam pillows, immerse them in a mixture of lukewarm water and mild detergent, then carefully squeeze and rinse thoroughly using clean water. With the right care, a memory foam pillow can be a game-changer for your sleep quality.

Wedge Pillows

Enter the wedge pillow, designed to elevate the upper body. This simple modification can prevent airway collapse and reduce symptoms of sleep apnea and acid reflux. The wedge pillow’s design, with its angle and firm foam, helps keep your head elevated during sleep, which can provide relief from sleep apnea symptoms.

The Helix Wedge pillow, for instance, can help stop throat collapse, reduce apnea episodes, and even prevent acid reflux. So, whether you’re a back sleeper, side sleeper, or stomach sleeper, a wedge pillow can be a valuable addition to your sleep routine.

CPAP Pillows

For those using a CPAP machine, the CPAP pillow is a must-have. These pillows have special cutouts and shapes to fit the mask and hose, making snoozing a lot more comfortable. One fantastic choice is the Lundberg CPAP pillow. With its special grooves that allow space for a CPAP mask and hose, it’s great for users who sleep in any position. Plus, they’re usually made of flexible materials like silicone, gel, or foam, ensuring comfort while working with the CPAP machine’s parts.

How Many Pillows for Different Sleeping Positions?

But how many pillows do you actually need? The answer isn’t one-size-fits-all and can depend on your sleeping position. Whether you’re a side sleeper, back sleeper, or stomach sleeper, the number of pillows you use can significantly impact your sleep apnea.

Let’s examine each sleeping position to determine the ideal number of multiple pillows.

Side Sleepers

For side sleepers with sleep apnea, a high-loft pillow for neck support and a second pillow between the knees can work wonders in maintaining proper spinal alignment. The Saatva Memory Foam pillow and the Contour CPAPmax 2.0 Pillow are good choices for side sleepers.

The recommended angle for the head and neck is around 30 degrees to help prevent airway obstruction. This pillow arrangement can make a world of difference in managing your sleep apnea.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers, you’re not left out. Using a wedge pillow or an orthopedic pillow with neck support can maintain proper alignment and prevent airway collapse. An orthopedic pillow should have proper neck support, contouring to the natural curve of the spine, and possibly even a wedge shape to elevate the upper body and reduce airway obstruction.

Finding the right pillow for back sleepers can be a game-changer in managing sleep apnea.

Stomach Sleepers

Last, but certainly not least, stomach sleepers. If you’re a stomach sleeper with sleep apnea, a thin or no pillow may be your best bet to maintain proper spinal alignment and reduce the risk of airway obstruction. This can help keep your spine aligned and possibly reduce neck and back pain, leading to fewer airway obstructions during sleep.

Down alternative, memory foam, and latex pillows are great options, as they provide the right support and comfort to keep airways clear.

Tips for Choosing the Right Pillow for Sleep Apnea

Photo of a person testing pillow loft for sleep apnea

Selecting the appropriate pillow for sleep apnea is more complex than merely opting for the fluffiest one in the store. There are a few factors to consider, such as pillow loft, firmness level, and material. These elements can significantly impact your sleep quality, and choosing the right ones can make all the difference in managing your sleep apnea.

Pillow Loft

First up, pillow loft. The loft, or height of the pillow, plays a significant role in maintaining a proper sleep posture. Pillow loft should be chosen based on your sleeping position and body size.

Whether you’re a side sleeper, back sleeper, or stomach sleeper, finding the right loft can make a world of difference in your sleep quality and managing sleep apnea.

Firmness Level

Next, let’s talk about the firmness level. This is crucial for providing adequate support and maintaining proper spinal alignment during sleep. Whether you need a soft, medium-firm, or firm pillow will depend on your personal comfort, your sleep position, and your body type.

A good one pillow provides not just comfort, but also crucial support for a good night’s sleep!

Material and Breathability

Lastly, let’s not forget about the material and breathability of the pillow. Different materials provide different levels of comfort, support, and temperature regulation. Memory foam pillows, for instance, are excellent at regulating temperature, making them a great choice for sleep apnea patients.

Keep in mind, a pillow that is comfortable and breathable can significantly boost your sleep quality and aid in managing sleep apnea.

Additional Strategies for Managing Sleep Apnea

Apart from choosing the right pillow, there are additional strategies that can help manage sleep apnea. These include CPAP therapy, sleep position modifications, and lifestyle changes.

Combining these strategies with the right pillow can significantly improve your sleep quality and help manage your sleep apnea.

CPAP Therapy

CPAP therapy, or continuous positive airway pressure therapy, is an effective treatment for sleep apnea. It involves using a machine that delivers constant air pressure through a mask to keep your airways open while sleeping. There are different types of machines available for CPAP therapy, such as:

  • Standard CPAP machines

  • Auto-adjusting CPAP (APAP) machines

  • Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) machines

  • Travel CPAP machines

They’re all designed to meet different patient needs.

For optimal results, it’s advisable to utilize CPAP therapy for a minimum of four hours each night, at least five nights per week.

Sleep Position Modifications

Modifying your sleep position can also help manage sleep apnea. For instance, sleeping on your side, especially the left side, can help keep the airway open and reduce sleep apnea symptoms. Using a wedge pillow can lift the neck, reduce snoring, and have other benefits like cutting down on mouth breathing, stopping post-nasal drip, boosting blood circulation, easing shortness of breath, reducing the severity of OSA, aiding better chest expansion, and improving overall breathing while you sleep.

Lifestyle Changes

Finally, making lifestyle changes can also contribute to improved sleep quality for those with sleep apnea. Changes such as weight loss, regular exercise, and avoiding alcohol and sedatives can make a significant difference. For instance, if you lose about 10% of your body weight, it can really make a difference in the symptoms of sleep apnea.

Regular exercise can also reduce body fat, especially around the airways, and ultimately lead to better sleep quality.


In conclusion, managing sleep apnea involves a combination of strategies, including choosing the right pillow. With factors like pillow loft, firmness level, and material to consider, finding the right pillow can seem daunting. But armed with the knowledge from this guide, you’re well-equipped to make an informed choice. Remember, sleep apnea is a serious condition, but with the right tools and strategies, you can manage your symptoms and improve your sleep quality. Here’s to better sleep and healthier nights!

Frequently Asked Questions

Does sleeping with 2 pillows help sleep apnea?

No, sleeping with two pillows does not help sleep apnea. Side sleeping with one supportive pillow is recommended for sleep apnea, while using one wedge pillow or two pillows to elevate your head when sleeping on your back can also help.

Does sleeping with 2 pillows help snoring?

Yes, sleeping with two pillows can help reduce snoring by improving airflow and reducing blockages in the air passages.

Why do doctors ask if you sleep with 2 pillows?

Doctors ask how many pillows you sleep with to understand your sleeping position and its potential impact on your spine, neck, and respiratory system. The number of pillows used can affect the alignment of your spine and neck, which can impact overall health.

Is it better to sleep with or without a pillow for sleep apnea?

It's better to sleep with a pillow for sleep apnea as it helps elevate your head slightly, promoting better sleep and an open, unobstructed airway. Removing the pillow may cause your head to sink into the mattress, making breathing harder.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that comes in two main types: obstructive and central sleep apnea, causing neck discomfort, disrupted sleep, and other health issues.


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