Home / Blog September 08, 2022

What Is a Body Pillow? Its Purpose and Different Types

A body pillow is usually a long, narrow pillow that you cradle while you sleep. Other types are available with different shapes. The main benefit of a body pillow is that it gives extra support to side sleepers, especially those suffering from back issues or sleep apnea. Body pillows can also be a useful sleep aid for pregnant people.

what is a body pillow

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Many people naturally prefer sleeping on their sides, but it can be hard on the spine. Body pillows can help keep your limbs aligned for better sleep.

Body pillows are sometimes as tall as a person and come in I, J, U, and C shapes.

Studies have shown that body pillows can be particularly helpful for people with back/joint pain, pregnant people, and people with sleep apnea.

Did you know?
Body pillows have been popular in Japan for a long time and often come with full-sized cartoon characters printed on the front. They’re called dakimakura, which translates directly to ‘hug pillow.’

Did you hear the whispers about a big, cushy spooning buddy that can save your spine? Did you dig a little deeper and start to wonder, “What is a body pillow?”

In this age of desk work and long commutes, back issues are common. And while side-sleeping is the most popular bed position, it can make matters worse. That’s where a body pillow steps in.

Longer than traditional pillows, body pillows offer joint and back support to side-sleepers and anyone who needs a little extra lift. They come in a variety of shapes and materials, all of which can help your spine feel more comfortable in the morning.

What Is the Point of a Body Pillow?

It’s natural to wonder how crowding your bed with extra pillows could help you. After all, you might already be fiercely defending your bed space from partners, pets, or kids.

But if used properly, a body pillow can be a cozy sleep aid, not a hindrance.

If you’re considering adding one to your sleep routine, there are two main incentives to think about.

Support for Side Sleepers

The first reason for using a body pillow has to do with sleeping positions. We all have a preferred way of snoozing that our bodies naturally fall into during the night – but some are kinder to our backs than others.

In particular, side-sleeping – the most common sleeping position – can lead to problems with the spine and joints.

As we lay on our side, our legs and arms pull on our hips and shoulders, producing poor posture throughout the night. This can make existing back pain worse and can create issues where there were none before.

By hugging a body pillow – one particular type of orthopedic pillow – you relieve pressure from those key areas, allowing the spine to stay in its preferred location.

Psychological Benefits

The other major body pillow benefit affects the mind. Many people feel a simple comfort from hugging body pillows, allowing them to drift off to sleep easier.

The reason for this is a little less well understood. It’s possible that giving a hug can produce the same neurotransmitter-affecting deep touch pressure benefits that receiving one can. It could also be a version of the placebo effect.

Whatever the case, these puffy bed-fellows have earned a reputation for easing minds –enough that they are commonly referred to as comfort pillows.

what is a body pillow

Body Pillow Types

While all body pillows can deliver the benefits above, they don’t all look alike, and there are several types of filling.

Here are just a few of the options:

  1. Memory foam. Commonly used in mattresses to conform to each person’s unique shape, this soft filling is made of polyurethane.
  2. Polyester. A petroleum based material that can be cheaper in some cases.
  3. Down. For those looking for a soft touch that also provides warmth, dense down feathers might be a good choice.
  4. Melofoam™. A satisfyingly squashy material derived from rubber trees used in our Cuddler body pillow and Hugget knot pillows. It molds to your body for soothing support, and it’s fully natural and biodegradable.

Of course, filling is just one way to sort the different types of body pillow. Let’s take a closer look at the many shapes these cuddly pillows come in.

The I-Shape

Sometimes created in the form of a cylinder, other times a rectangle, the I-shape is the classic orthopedic pillow. This is the most versatile shape, since you can typically arrange it into any of the other body pillow shapes. To use one, you can start by wrapping your legs and arms around the upper and lower portions. After that, all you need to do is rest!

Keeping this pillow between both of your legs and arms can be the key to opening your body and supporting your spine.

The J-Shape

Add a little bend to the bottom of your pillow and you have the J-shape. There are many ways to hold this pillow, but the most common version is to sit in the bend and hug the straight portion. Another possibility would be to use the bend as a head pillow.

The U-Shape

If you continue the little bend and extend it all the way back up you have the U-shape. The most common way to use this type of body pillow is to keep the open part at your feet, cuddle whichever side you prefer, and rest your head on the bend.

Since this one has two arms, you can use the rear cushion to prevent you from rolling onto your back in your sleep.

The C-Shape

The last body pillow type is a smaller, more open version of the U. To use a C-shaped body pillow, place the left side of the C snug against your back, wrap your legs around the lower curve, and rest your head on the upper curve.

.body pillow types

What Is the Size of a Body Pillow?

With different shapes and fillings, you may be wondering about sizes. How big a body pillow is depends on the type and brand, but there’s one general rule of thumb: They should be big enough to wrap both your arms and legs around.

Because of that, I, J, and U-shaped body pillows are typically at least 4 feet in length, and can sometimes be 5 or even 6 feet.

Since C-shaped pillows are meant to fit a bit snugger, they’re smaller and can be closer to 3 feet high.

There are plenty of variations, though, making body pillow shopping a great opportunity to tailor your bedding to your own needs.

Who Can Benefit From a Body Pillow?

So you have a pretty good idea of what a body pillow is, but maybe you’re wondering what a body pillow is for.

The great thing about body pillows is that they can be helpful for many different people in different situations.

People With Back and Joint Pain

The first and most common reason for using a body pillow is as a back and joint pain remedy. If you’re a side-sleeper dealing with back pain, you may find yourself waking up stiff each morning. Cuddling up to a big ol’ body pillow could help keep your spine straight and relieve pressure from your joints.

These orthopedic pillows are commonly recommended by physiotherapists as a crutch during sleep for those with back conditions like sciatica, herniated discs or even chronic arthritis.

Pregnant People

While it’s usually a happier medical condition, pregnancy can often cause just as much back pain as other issues. For that reason, and for the health of the unborn baby, experts recommend that expectant mothers sleep on their sides.

However, the extra size around the belly can make side sleeping (and sleeping in general!) uncomfortable. Thankfully, body pillows can help ease the burden on your hips and shoulders while offering a secure pedestal for your little angel. That’s why body pillows are often called “pregnancy pillows” and recommended to pregnant women.

People With Sleep Apnea

If you snore at night or have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, someone has probably recommended sleeping on your side. This is because snoring is often caused by the tissues in your neck and throat relaxing and obstructing airways.

Sleeping on your back makes those episodes more common, but side sleeping has the opposite effect. Body pillows like our Cuddler can keep you in place for longer, setting you up for a restful night with fewer interruptions.

Postoperative Patients

Recovering from surgery can be a long and uncomfortable process depending on the procedure, and body pillows can help.

Hospital pillows are often used to give patients stability and keep them on their sides, and one study from 2014 found that body pillows offered greater comfort than traditional pillows for pediatric spinal fusion patients.

Regular Side Sleepers

If you’re one of the many healthy people who enjoy sleeping on their sides, you too have plenty of good reasons to give one a try. A 2021 study found that they decreased interruptions to slow-wave sleep and reduced pressure across the body.

Body pillows have also been shown to increase circulation and even aid digestion when combined with left-side sleeping.

They’re also great at being the little spoon.

Conclusion

Bigger and longer than typical cushions, body pillows can help side sleepers keep their spines aligned throughout the night.

Side sleepers or not, many different people have troubles with back and joint issues, and that’s what body pillows were made for. They come in shapes like I, J, U, and C, and can offer much-needed support for all types of sleepers, from people with no underlying conditions to people with sleep apnea. Because they provide many different health benefits, body pillows are sometimes called by different names such as “orthopedic pillows” or “pregnancy pillows.”

If you’re looking for a body pillow that can support you from bed to couch, our Cuddler might be a good option. It’s a long body pillow that’s ergonomically designed to mold to your body in any position. Plus, it’s made out of our signature squashy Melofoam™, which is completely natural and biodegradable.

Using a body pillow can help relieve discomfort and improve your sleep. However you choose to support your body, we hope that you find a comfortable way for your joints to rest easy.