What Is A Bolster Pillow – And How Can It Improve Sleep?
A bolster pillow is a short, narrow cushion stuffed with firm materials like memory foam. It usually comes in a cylindrical or half-cylindrical shape and has a range of uses like joint and back support, general comfort, and support during yoga exercises. It’s commonly linked to East Asian cultures.
The bolster pillow is a firm, cylinder-shaped pillow that’s typically around the length of a head pillow.
Bolster means ‘to support or strengthen,’ and the bolster pillow is often used to make piles of pillows sturdier.
More recently, people have started using the bolster pillow as a sleep tool, propping their limbs up on it.
Did you know?
The bolster pillow has different names like bamboo wife or dutch wife. Supposedly it got these names because people would use them to make the loneliness more bearable while traveling.
Are you looking for ways to make sleep – or lounging – more comfortable? Going down the list of cushion options and found yourself wondering what a bolster pillow is?
If so, you’re not alone. Bolster pillows have been around for a while, but they’ve recently grown in popularity. That’s because people are realizing how great they can be for providing comfort and stability, whether you’re asleep or awake.
And they could make a good addition to your bedroom, too.
The Roots of the Bolster Pillow
Bolster pillows have been around for a long time. Possibly several centuries.
Families in Asian countries like Vietnam, Korea and Indonesia have used them in their bedrooms or while traveling, for so long that they’re tied to national identity. Oftentimes they can be found under a pile of other pillows. Other times they act as decorative pieces to accent furniture like beds and sofas.
These ‘pillows’ were often made of hard materials like bamboo in the past, and because of the firmness they provided great support for your elbows while lounging or for hugging during a snooze.
More recently, they’ve grown in popularity for those same sleep-related uses.
What Is a Bolster Pillow Used For?
While bolster pillows are sometimes used as decorative cushions or for extra support, people also use them to aid sleep. Here are a few of the specific ways they can help:
- You can slide the smaller ones under your back or legs for lumbar support.
- You can put them between your knees if you like to sleep on your side.
- You can hug bolster pillows for joint relief or simply for emotional comfort.
- If it’s the right size, some people like to use bolster pillows under their necks.
- You can even slot it into your yoga routine and use it for support there.
Some of these are similar to the uses for body pillows, which can be great tools for those who suffer from discomfort throughout the night or for those who want a little extra support.
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Why Is It Called a Bolster Pillow?
The term ‘bolster’ refers to one object that supports another. It’s one of the reasons why the bolster pillow is so often used during sleep alongside other pillows. It adds extra support by giving your limbs a place to rest on, or rests under other pillows, providing extra firmness.
It also helps explain why these pillows make great companions for those lazy Sundays where you want to maximize your couch time. Or, you know, when you want to get more active and use them as a yoga tool, like you can with our weighted blankets.
Bolster Pillow Design
In the past, bolster pillows were often made of hard materials like bamboo and wicker, but these days those materials are commonly being replaced with more forgiving materials like foam and even cotton inside of a pillow casing. Think foam roller, but a little cushier.
They’re also not as long as a foam roller – usually a little longer than a typical head pillow. However, some newer bolster pillows are a bit bigger and have slightly different designs. Some even have clips that allow you to wrap them around your waist, for example.
The casing can come in almost every variety of material that you can think of, too, from cotton to leather.
What Is the Difference Between a Body Pillow and Bolster Pillow?
Bolster pillows and body pillows are different in several ways:
- Body pillows have many different shapes such as C, U, J, and I. Bolster pillows are straight cylinders.
- Bolster pillows are made with firmer materials.
- Bolster pillows are usually much shorter.
Body pillows like our Cuddler can be used in many of the same ways, and its ergonomic Melofoam material allows it to adapt to those uses. It could be a good substitute for a bolster pillow if you’re looking for something more flexible.
However, body pillows tend not to provide the same level of firm support. For example, a body pillow likely wouldn’t work as well as a bolster pillow during a yoga routine.
Looking for more answers? Here are some common questions regarding bolster pillows.
Q. Is It Good to Sleep With a Bolster?
It’s good to sleep with a bolster pillow if you tend to have discomfort during the night in your joints or back. The firm support can provide a place for your arms and legs to rest on, easing the pressure on sensitive areas like your shoulders, hips, or even lower back.
You can even use bolster pillows under your head. However, if you’re going to do that, it’s important to consider the height of the pillow. You can find more information in our previous article on proper pillow use.
Q. What Is a Bolster Pillow for Orthopedics?
In the orthopedic field, bolster pillows are sometimes used as a tool to relieve joint and back pain. The half-cylinder type is particularly popular because it’s just the right size for sliding under the lower back while laying down. This provides support for the spine’s natural curve.
The more common full-cylinder shape is also sometimes used as an orthopedic tool for the neck. In that case, it’s important to ensure that the pillow doesn’t prop the head up too far.
Q. What Is the Best Sleeping Position With a Bolster?
The best sleeping position with a bolster is one that relieves pain or discomfort. Uses will depend on the size of your pillow, but common positions include:
- Under the knees while sleeping on your back
- Under the lower back
- Hugging it between the shoulders while in side position
- Between the knees while in side position
- Under the neck
Many of these positions are similar to how you would body pillow positions. But some won’t work as well if the bolster pillow is too large – sleeping with it under the back, for example.
Q. Is It Good to Sleep With a Bolster Under Your Knees?
Sleeping with a bolster pillow under your knees can be a very effective way to reduce lower back pain. Having your knees in a raised position makes the curve in the lumbar spine (the portion in the lower back) more natural, easing pain from conditions like herniated discs and sciatica.
As with most bolster pillow positions, sleeping with a pillow under the knees works similarly to how it would with a body pillow.
The bolster pillow’s firm, cylindrical design makes it ideal for supporting the body in all sorts of positions – whether that’s lounging on a sofa, laying in bed, or while in an intense yoga pose.
Our Cuddler body pillow works in a similar way and may be a good substitute, but it’s not quite as stiff. If you’re looking for maximum support, a bolster pillow could be the pedestal your joints are looking for.