Sleep Apnea affects millions of Americans. There are a number of treatment choices on the market to treat the disorder. Among the more common CPAP and BiPAP/APAP machines used to keep airways open to facilitate better breathing at night are position pillows. They come in a variety of shapes and styles. While standard pillows are not designed to support the head or neck to keep the airway open, sleeping with a position pillow may keep the airway from closing, and in turn prevent snoring and apnea events (similar to apnea mouthpieces). The American Sleep Apnea Association recommends using a pillow and learning to sleep on your side to reduce blockage. Barring this change in position, elevating the upper body improves airway opening as well. This kind of positional therapy may only work in very mild cases of obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea pillows will not help someone with central sleep apnea.
Types of Apnea Pillows
Sleep apnea pillows can be used with or without a CPAP machine.
These pillows used without a machine will position the neck to keep the airway open. Positional pillow styles include cervical and wedge shaped.
Cervical pillows are meant to primarily be used by side sleepers, and wedge pillows – the more popular – are used by back sleepers.
Cervical pillows are also known as contour pillows. In addition to keeping the airway open by keeping the head and neck in a certain position, this type of pillow can relieve neck and shoulder pain, and headaches. While cervical pillows can be used by back sleepers, they are really intended for side sleepers, as sleeping on one’s back has been known to make sleep apnea worse. This can be aided by use of the next type of positional pillow, the wedge.
A wedge pillow elevates the upper body when it is in a reclining position. For those who suffer from sleep apnea, this is the ideal position as a back sleeper. The elevated height counteracts natural gravity and may prevent your tongue from dropping into your throat when snoring.
Used in conjunction with a machine and meant to make the mask more comfortable to wear, as this is an issue many people have. There are side, back, and stomach sleeping CPAP pillows. However, as stated previously, a positional wedge pillow should be used if you are a back sleeper.
CPAP pillows typically have either a cut-out or moldable design feature. A cut out feature is the space wear the CPAP mask and hose go. This style of pillow can be used for side, back, and stomach sleeping. The second type of pillow, moldable, has buckwheat hull as its filler, and this material allows a person to create a space for their mask. The moldable pillow is mainly used by stomach sleepers.
What to consider before buying
Before delving into recommendations on the best sleep apnea pillows, there are a few things someone with the disorder need to consider when deciding on positional sleep therapy.
Support: The main purpose of the pillow is to support the neck and head in a way that will prevent the tongue from falling back through the throat, leaving their airway open, and preventing apnea events.
Firmness: Firmer pillows provide a longer support period than soft pillows. A soft pillow will collapse and lose shape, whereas a firm pillow holds its shape.
Comfort: Sleep apnea pillows can come in a variety of shapes and made from different materials. In order to have your best night’s sleep, you must consider what you are comfortable with using. For instance, memory foam may become too hot for use after a few hours.
Back Sleeping Pillows: Back sleepers tend to snore a lot and therefore have a number of sleep apnea episodes. While there are apnea pillows designed for back sleepers, it is discouraged to continue sleeping in this position, as it is detrimental. Sleeping on the stomach or side is the better choice.
There are of course, negative side effects from using a sleep apnea pillow. These may not necessarily outweigh the proven benefits of use and depend on the individual.
Temperature: certain materials, such as memory foam, grow hot when slept on. To counteract this issue, a cooling gel may be incorporated into your pillow.
Comfort level: It is very important to find a pillow with contours that fit your body.
Quitting: Some people want instant results when finding a treatment for an issue. Due to the number of styles and different body types, there is no one size fits all pillow. One pillow may not work where another could be the answer. Don’t give up on using an apnea pillow after the first product.
Best Sleep Apnea Pillows
FitPlus Premium Wedge Pillow
The FitPlus Premium wedge pillow is made of high density memory foam. Some people may think this is too firm for their liking and comfort. The 1.5 inches of memory foam is on top of a polyurethane base. Memory foam molds itself to the contours of your shoulders, neck, and head. This will take some time to happen, as the pillow will need to “inflate” after delivery to its starting shape. The foam’s therapeutic qualities provides you with a comfortable night’s sleep. The pillows wedge shape supports the back and shoulders, elevating the upper body for a better sleeping position. In addition to alleviating snoring and apnea events, this position can improve allergies, back and neck pain, GERD, and acid reflux. The FItPlus can be used when awake as well, to elevate your feet when watching TV or reading.
The doctor recommended pillow comes with a return policy and 2 year warranty. It has a removable cover that is machine washable.
- High density memory foam
- Support for head, back, and neck
- Helpful for relief of GERD, acid reflux, and allergies
- Removable, washable cover
- This type of foam can be too hard for some
Endurimed CPAP Memory Foam Contoured Pillow
The memory foam of this CPAP pillow will keep its shape during the night. The design of this pillow includes indentations in the corners which is intended for the CPAP machine hose to lay while a person is side sleeping. This allows the breathing mask to remain in place. The foam material contours to the face and mask; preventing air leaks and allowing for the neck to rest comfortably no matter which side is slept on.
Smaller than a regular pillow, the Endurimed can be used by anyone, and is about 2 inches thick. The indentations for the mask are dust mite and allergen resistant. The pillow comes with a removable, washable pillowcase. A manufacturer warranty is available.
- Combines softness and support
- Indentation design helps keeping CPAP hose in place
- Works for side, back, and stomach sleepers
- May take some time getting used to due to the difference in size and material from a regular pillow
Therapeutica Sleeping Pillow
The indentation design of the Therapeutica pillow is meant to hold your head and face in place, to provide support during the night, keeping the airway open. This style of pillow is not meant for stomach sleepers, but will work well for side and back sleepers. It is not recommended for CPAP machine users who sleep on their stomach or side however, as there is no place for the hose to fit into the pillows contours. It is also not recommended for restless sleepers, as it works better for those who don’t move around too much. The pillow shape may take some getting used to as well, despite the fact it is similar in size to a standard style pillow. The Therapeutica is available in different sizes from child to extra large. Measure your head and shoulders to find the right fit for your body.
- Available in different sizes
- Can fit into standard size pillow case
- Provides neck and back support
- Not recommended for CPAP users
- Can take some getting used to
- Not good for restless sleepers
Coop Home Goods Hypoallergenic Certipur Memory Foam Pillow
This memory foam pillow has removable shredded filling, and can be adjusted in sizes from 4 – 6 inches. It is smaller than the average sized regular pillow. The adjustable fill allows the pillow to be configured for optimum neck and head support, this part can be a bit trial and error as one gets used to it. The cover incorporates a gel designed to stay cool on the skin.The Coop pillow allows room for a CPAP hose. It is recommended for side and back sleepers, but not stomach sleepers as it will not provide the neck support. Made in the USA, the pillow comes with a 5 year warranty or money back guarantee within 100 days.
- Adjustable thickness
- Works well for side and back sleepers
- Works well for CPAP users
- Good neck and back support
- Money back guarantee or warranty
- Not recommended for stomach sleepers
- Will not fit standard size pillowcases
Katherine is a medical sales assistant and focuses on senior products. She is an expert when it comes to mobility for seniors as well as for safety equipment. When she is not counseling seniors or their family members, she enjoys riding the bike and spending time with her two kids.