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Is Sleeping Without A Pillow Good For You?

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Written By Alex Petrović

Certified Sleep Consultant

Featured image of sleeping without a pillow.

29 April 2024 7 min read

Is sleeping without a pillow a good idea or will you wake up as sore as ever? Turns out… it's not that simple. Let's figure out why!

There are a lot of debates on whether or not sleeping without a pillow is good for you. Some people swear by it. Others say that it's terrible for your neck and can cause all sorts of health problems. So, which is it?
Well, as always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Before you jump on the pillowless sleep bandwagon, think again. It's important you realise that just because this works for someone, it doesn't mean it will work for you.

So, if you're interested in trying out sleeping without a pillow, we suggest you keep on reading. We'll go over all the pros and cons of doing so, as well as some tips on how to make the transition.

Are there any potential benefits of sleeping without a pillow?

The most common reason people ditch their pillows is because they believe it will reduce neck pain.
However, there is little to no evidence that sleeping without a pillow will do this. In fact, most of the research on the matter is inconclusive. Also, most of these benefits are simply anecdotes and claims made by people who sleep without pillows.

An image of a man sleeping after the workout.

That being said, there are a few potential benefits of sleeping without a pillow that we can't ignore.

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Improved posture

We know that sleep posture affects our everyday posture which is why removing a pillow might be beneficial. But here's the deal, sleeping without a pillow only works if you're a stomach sleeper.

Stomach sleeping is generally considered to be the most strenuous sleep position. That's because your head is resting in an unnatural position, at a 90-degree angle to your body. This can cause all sorts of muscle stiffness, imbalances and pain, especially in the upper back and neck area.

Naturally, adding a pillow would result in an even more awkward head position and an even steeper angle, only leading to more pain and aggravation of neck muscles..

An image of a woman holding a trash bag.

Following that logic, removing the pillow from the equation could result in a more optimal spinal alignment (although still far from perfect), which could positively reflect on your posture.

On the other hand, if you were to try and sleep on your back or side without using a pillow, you would almost certainly overextend your neck, which would lead to pain, soreness and stiffness, and would definitely have a detrimental effect on your posture.

Less neck/back pain

While we can all agree that pillows are there to alleviate pain and minimize the stress on our neck and spine, sometimes they do the opposite.

If your pillow is too high, it can place your head in an awkward and unnatural position, resulting in poor sleep quality and/or neck pain. Conversely, if you use a very thin pillow, it won't be able to support your head and neck properly, which can also lead to pain.

Related reading:

An image of a man holding his neck due to neck pain.

So, once again – it's all about the sleep positions and the only ones benefiting from ditching the pillow are stomach sleepers.

Fewer wrinkles

While there is almost no evidence to support this theory, some studies are suggesting that sleeping without a pillow could help prevent wrinkles. The logic behind it is that when you sleep on your side or stomach, your face is constantly resting on the pillow, which can cause wrinkles.

a-woman-showing-her-wrinkle-free-face

So, by removing the pillow from the equation, you might be able to avoid this problem since the mattress wouldn't conform to your face as much as the pillow would.

Potential drawbacks of sleeping without a pillow

Sleeping without a pillow possesses some serious drawbacks that could have negative consequences on your health.

Bad posture

In the same way it could improve your posture, sleeping without a pillow could also make it worse.
If you don't have a pillow to support your head, neck and spine, you're more likely to sleep in a suboptimal and discomfiting position which would inevitably lead to pain and stiffness.

an image of a woman suffering from a lower back pain

Naturally, this time around we're talking about side and back sleepers, for whom it would be impossible to get into a natural position and get a good night's rest without a pillow.
Not only would their neck overextend in one direction, but the upper back and shoulders would also be affected, which could result in a hunched-over position during the day.

Back/neck pain

As a result of resting in an unnatural sleeping position, you might experience neck or back pain, which could lead to chronic issues if left untreated. And, it's not just the upper back and neck that are affected.

If you don't have a pillow to support your head, your lower back will be forced to arch unnaturally in order to compensate, which could lead to pain and discomfort in the lumbar area.

An image of a woman suffering from back pain due to improper sleep posture.

Numbness in arms

Without a pillow, you'd probably try to compensate for the lack of support by using your arms.

Not only would this result in your arms being in a less than ideal position, but it could also cause numbness and tingling in the hands and fingers due to the sheer weight of your head.

Breathing issues

As anyone with sleep apnea or snoring issues will tell you, sleeping without a pillow is definitely not an option.
If you don't have a pillow to support your head and neck, your airway could become constricted, which would lead to breathing difficulties coupled with excessive snoring.

A young woman wears a breathing mask.

Who should not sleep without a pillow?

To keep their head and neck aligned, back sleepers need a pillow that's neither too high nor too low.
The perfect pillow for back sleepers would be a mid-loft pillow that would raise the head just enough to ensure proper spinal alignment, offer proper support, and keep the entire body in optimal sleep posture.

Side sleepers

Side sleepers on the other hand need a thick pillow and shouldn't even consider sleeping without one.
How tall the pillow should be is debatable. It mostly depends on the side sleeper's height, but in general, it should be high enough to support the head and neck and keep them in line with the rest of the body.

Usually, side sleepers enjoy mid and high-loft pillows. We recommend you checking our guide on best side sleepers' pillows in the UK.

sleep on side to prevent snoring

How to start sleeping without a pillow?

If you're a stomach sleeper that is considering switching over to a pillowless sleep setup to improve your sleep health, we suggest you take your time and make the change gradually.

Try it during the day first

You will want to ease into this transition and the best way to do it is by starting during the day. Start by ditching the pillow during your naps first. It's much easier to make it through an hour-long nap than it is to get through an entire night sleeping solely on a flat surface.

If you find that sleeping without a pillow during the day is doable and doesn't result in any pain or discomfort, you can then start to experiment with pillowless sleeping at night.

An image of a woman taking a post workout nap.

Ease into it with a thin pillow

If you've decided to give it a go and ditch the pillow at night, we suggest you ease into it. Start by switching over to a thinner pillow or even a folded blanket. Once you get used to that, you can then start to phase out the pillow completely. Do it gradually and if at any point you start to experience pain or discomfort, stop and reassess.

An image of a woman sleeping and breathing in bed.

Make sure you have an adequate mattress

Finally, unless you own a supportive mattress that will keep your spine in alignment, we don't recommend you ditch your pillow and rest on a bare mattress.

A good mattress is essential for a good night's sleep and if yours isn't up to par, you're much better off sticking with a pillow.

An image of a man pressing Sleepsoul Wish 3000 Series Pocket Cool Gel mattress.

Is sleeping without a pillow for everyone?

Absolutely not. In fact, we would recommend everyone tries to find the right pillow, that suits their sleeping position and provides adequate support. Whether that's a softer pillow or a firmer one – doesn't matter.

The important thing is to be comfortable and if you find that you're not, don't hesitate to experiment until you find what works for your sleeping style.

Sleeping without a pillow might be the answer for some people but it's certainly not a one-size-fits-all solution.

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About the author

Alex Petrović
Sleep Consultant
A CPD certified Sleep Consultant with more than 2000 hours of research into all the different ways we can get a great night's sleep. As a former insomniac, I know how difficult life can be without a nightly recovery and I love that I get to share everything I've learned with you all. So hopefully we can all sleep soundly!
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