So, is it better to sleep without a pillow? What are the pros and cons of sleeping without a pillow? Is it better for your neck and spine to sleep without a pillow? There are different views on this, so let’s have a look at the pros and cons of sleeping without a pillow.
Medical Disclaimer: Let us first state that the information provided below is for your general information only, and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, or advice on treatment for any medical condition.
Why is Sleeping Without a Pillow an Option?
Sleeping without a pillow is a genuine option to sleeping with a pillow. If you wake up with a sore neck it could be due to the pillow you are lying on. First, consider the shape of your spine when you are standing straight up. Now consider the shape of your head in relation to your body when you lie with your head raised on a pillow.
From the side, your spine has a natural ‘S shape. From the front or back it is straight. These two views of your spine are very important when considering the following information and recommendations.
Common Sleeping Positions
Think of the three common sleeping positions: a) on your back, b) on your side and c) on your stomach. Then imagine you are standing up in the same position as you sleep. With a pillow, in position:
- Your head will be bent down towards your chest while you sleep.
- Your head will likely be close to its optimum position, depending on the thickness of the pillow.
- Your head will be bent backwards – as if a force was applied to your face if you were standing up.
Are any of these three positions natural positions for your head when you are standing? Yes, position b) is! But why have your head in one of the other two unnatural positions for the third of your life you spend in bed? That’s what you are doing when you sleep on a pillow on your front or your back. So, is it better to sleep without a pillow? Let’s examine that question carefully.
Is It Better To Sleep Without A Pillow?
First of all, let’s revisit the above three questions without a pillow. With a) and c) your head would be close to its normal position if you sleep without a pillow. For b), sleeping on your side, your head has to be supported in order to keep your neck level with your spine. You have the space between your neck and your shoulder to fill in with a pillow!
In each case, much depends on the pillow. If you are a side sleeper, a thick soft down pillow could support your head slightly enough to bring your neck into alignment with your spine. Or perhaps, a thinner medium density foam pillow. In these cases, a pillow could be an advantage – but only the right sort of pillow. Not one that holds your neck up higher than the rest of your spine.
Pros and Cons of Sleeping With a Pillow
Too many pillows under your head, or a thick hard pillow, could deform the relative positions of your spine and your neck, leading to back pain and pain in your neck muscles. If you experience any back or neck pain at all while sleeping, try sleeping with no pillows for a while and find out if it makes a difference.
Many people who experience back pain while sleeping find that the pain goes when they take away their pillows. It’s not the ultimate cure for back pain, but many find it works for them.
If you sleep without a pillow it helps your spine to extend. If your head is tilting downwards on a pillow that offers too little support for your head and neck, then you can restrict the flow of air into your trachea and lungs. This could cause you to wake up in the morning with a headache.
If you find it uncomfortable to sleep without pillows, try a towel folded so that your head is slightly elevated and fairly level with your back. Once you get used to sleeping on this, try making the towel thinner, and so on until you aren’t sleeping on the towel at all but on the mattress surface.
Side, Back and Front Sleepers: With and Without Pillows
Let’s look more closely at the three ways people sleep. First side sleepers, and then back and front sleepers because it is they who are likely to find it hard to adapt to sleeping without a pillow. As explained, side sleepers can still use a pillow, although a fairly thin or soft pillow. This is because a pillow helps keep the head supported and in line with the rest of the spine of somebody who sleeps on their side. Otherwise, the head would fall and take the neck with it – out of line with the rest of the spine.
Pillows for Side Sleepers
For the reasons explained above, side sleepers need a mattress and a pillow that keeps their spine straight. The mattress should be able to absorb the pressure of the shoulder and hip (e.g. an adaptive or memory foam top with a firmer base) and the pillow should support the head, rather than allowing it to sink in.
Feather or down pillows are not as supportive as a foam pillow. A more supportive pillow will help to support your head, and keep it between the shoulders rather than dropping down. Imagine looking through your body from front to back. Your spine should form a straight line from the base to the top.
That is how the mattress and pillow should support your entire body. For that to happen, the mattress must conform to the natural shape of your body, with the pillow making up for the space between your head and shoulder. For that reason, it is not healthy for side sleepers to sleep without a pillow, but it usually OK for back sleepers.
The pillow for side sleepers should be supportive and fairly thick – slightly thicker than the distance of your shoulder to the side of your face. If you are using a feather or down pillow, it would need to be even thicker depending on the fill of the pillow.
Pillows for Back Sleepers
Back sleepers have no need for a pillow. Lying flat out on a mattress provides all the support they need to keep the spine straight. If you have a firm mattress, then many back sleepers find this to be the most comfortable sleeping position.
However, if you are particularly large bodied, then you may find a thin, soft pillow to take some of the strain of your neck. That said, many back sleepers who suffer back pain often find relief by sleeping without a pillow. So if you sleep on your back and suffer from pain in your back, then try sleeping without a pillow. It may help, particularly if you sleep on a firm mattress.
Pillows for Front Sleepers
Front sleepers sleep with their head to the side. Many front sleepers find it uncomfortable to sleep without a pillow. For them, a softer down pillow would be good since they don’t need the same level of support as a side sleeper. A very thin or very soft pillow would be ideal.
However, if you are able to sleep without any pillow, then resting your head sideways on the mattress is a healthy way to sleep. It keeps your spine straight and reduces lower back and neck strain. Finally, we come to back sleepers!
So, is it Better to Sleep Without a Pillow?
Is it better to sleep without a pillow or with one? Sleeping without a pillow has its pros and cons, and there are as many benefits of sleeping without a pillow as sleeping with one. A lot depends on how you sleep side, front or back. If you find it comfortable to sleep without a pillow, then do so. If you sleep on your side, you might find it better sleeping with a pillow because it will help you to keep your spine straight.
Back and stomach sleepers often find it better without a pillow since they have less obvious pressure points. Your body is generally flattest when sleeping on your back, though stomach sleepers may or may not be more comfortable with a soft thin pillow. You can use folded towels as a pillow until you find what is best for you, thus avoiding the cost of a pillow you may have to change.
It should be stressed here that not all back pain can be cured by sleeping on a pillow or without one. If you suffer back pain, then we recommend you consult your physician or doctor. Some back and neck pain can be alleviated by using an appropriate mattress or pillow, but they may not deal with the root cause of the pain. However, it is possible that perhaps sleeping without a pillow may help. Sometimes it is better to sleep without a pillow – but not always!