Benefits of a Sleeping Wedge Pillow

A triangle of foam can provide relief from apnea, heartburn, and more

Couple sleeping in bed.

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A sleeping wedge pillow is, as the name suggests, a triangular pillow. It can be used to help manage a variety of conditions that are exacerbated during sleep or by lying in certain positions. These range from heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) to swollen ankles during pregnancy.

Most sleeping wedge pillows are made of moderately firm foam and form an angle of between 30 degrees and 40 degrees. When used in place of a regular pillow, a sleeping wedge pillow can elevate the head six to eight inches—what's sometimes referred to as head-of-bed elevation (HOBE).

Sleeping wedge pillows can be an inexpensive and convenient alternative to other measures for elevating the head during sleep, such as putting risers under the bedposts at the head of the bed or investing in an adjustable bed.

Uses

Sleeping wedge pillows are quite versatile. Because they're portable and lightweight, they can be positioned in multiple ways.

Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (GERD)

In this condition, pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) allows digestive acids to escape from the stomach into the esophagus. Reflux tends to be more problematic at night and when a person is lying on their back.

Slightly elevating the head and upper body harnesses gravity to help prevent the backward flow of stomach acids. Research has found people with GERD who sleep this way have significantly fewer and shorter reflux episodes, more rapid acid clearing, and fewer reflux symptoms.

Sleep Apnea

People who have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), in which breathing stops periodically during sleep, often benefit from sleeping in a semi-upright position. It's believed elevating the head and upper torso keeps the airways open, which in turn helps to prevent disruptions in breathing.

Sleeping propped up on a wedge pillow also can help prevent snoring: According to the National Sleep Association, 45% of people snore—and three out of four of them snore because they have sleep apnea.

Neck and Back Pain

A wedge pillow can be positioned to help take pressure off of the cervical spine—the vertebrae that comprise the neck. This entails turning the pillow so that the lower end faces the headboard, allowing the higher end to provide support for the neck while lying on one side or on the back.

Likewise, a wedge pillow tucked between the legs while lying on one side can help relieve lower back discomfort caused by pain radiating from an inflamed or compressed nerve.

A wedge pillow can be especially helpful for relieving low back pain during late pregnancy. It also can be used to prop up the lower legs in order to reduce edema (swelling) of the ankles.

When it comes to providing support for the back, some people find two wedge pillows can be better than one: This is achieved by placing the pillows with the narrow tapered ends facing each other. The pillow at the head of the bed can elevate the head and shoulders. The thighs can rest against the upward slope of the pillow at the lower end of the bed, with the upper edge supporting the backs of the knees. This position can help lesson pressure along the length of the spine, providing for more restful sleep and lowering the likelihood of waking up with an aching back.

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