Pros and Cons of Sleeping Without a Pillow


Are you more comfortable sleeping with or without a pillow? There have been multiple studies done on this subject alone. But what is best for you? In this article, I’ll go over the pros and cons of sleeping without a pillow.

I’ll also discuss other details of sleeping. Such as, what position is the best for sleeping without a pillow? And, how many pillows should you sleep with if you decide to use a pillow? Which material makes the best pillow?

Keep reading to make the best decision you can for your quality of sleep and comfort.

Pros of Sleeping Without a Pillow

Alleviates back pain

Sleeping without a pillow can help reduce back pain if you sleep on your back. The reason for this is that lying flat on your back helps to keep the spine extended and allows you to lay in your natural alignment which can help prevent back pain.

The story goes, that if you are lying on your back without a pillow, your spine can stretch to its full length without any unnecessary pressure on your back, thus making it easier to sleep. This is especially true if you have a contouring mattress. If your mattress is of good quality, it should hug you in all the right places for you to sleep without a pillow and get a good night’s rest.

Reduces of neck pain

The same theory for reducing back pain can also be true regarding neck pain. Lying on a contouring mattress has been shown to help those who want to go without pillows by allowing the natural curve of your cervical spine to be in a perfect position, consequently, reducing neck pain upon waking.

Improves sleep quality

Foregoing your pillow at night has been researched and findings show that you can get a better night’s rest when you ditch the pillow. 

Experts say that the reason for this is that you spend less time wrestling with your pillow to try to find a comfortable position. When you sleep without the pillow you can lay back comfortably in the perfect position for alignment and stay in that position all night, which in turn, leads to a less restless night.

Avoids outer ear pain

Sleeping on a pillow at night can lead to outer ear pain. This pain can be caused by sleeping with your ear flat on a pillow leading to decreased blood flow to the area. When this happens, the cartilage of the outer ear can begin to throb or experience other types of pain.

At times the pain can be severe enough to wake you from your slumber or it can hurt more when you get up and blood rushes back into the area. It can also be an uncomfortable nuisance that goes away as the day goes on, but if it does wake you this can cause sleep deprivation and be more tired during the day.

Stop headaches

Headaches can occur when you sleep on your back with a pillow under your head. You risk having your head tilt forward, especially if the pillow is thick or you sleep with more than one pillow. This head tilting can cause disruption to your respiratory system restricting airflow to your brain and the rest of your body causing the headache.

If your pillow is too thin and doesn’t provide enough support, the onset of a headache can happen because of decreased blood flow to the brain.

Prevents acne outbreaks

Sleeping pillow free might work wonders for the prevention of acne outbreaks. Your pillow is covered in sweat, dead skin, dust mites, and body oils. When you add all these things together and then smash your face onto the pillow, you are preventing your skin from breathing and are clogging your pores with all the gunk from your pillow that then results in blackheads and acne.

Reduce wrinkles on your face

Smashing your face into the pillow at night can also put you at greater risk for wrinkles over time. Your best bet is to lose the pillow and sleep with your skin away from the bed, such as on your back, to prevent your skin from wrinkling in odd places that may stay on your face the older you get and your skin becomes less elastic.

Stop allergies

Did you know that pillows can cause allergies? For the same reasons as pore-clogging grime from your pillow, the dust and dead skin can result in allergies. Most people who suffer from allergies are allergic to the dust motes that flow with the dust in your home. Well, the same goes for your pillow. The number of dust motes lodged in your pillow is enough to keep you with watery eyes and sneezing for a long time to come.

Maintains proper spinal alignment

If you are a belly sleeper, it is encouraged to sleep without a pillow. This position is highly discouraged as there is no way to keep your neck and spine in alignment with your face turned to one side or the other while on your stomach. Though, if you are going to sleep in this manner, it is best to go without the pillow and be sure to have a good mattress that contours to your body.

Prevents dandruff

Another great benefit to sleeping without a pillow is better hair. Dandruff is reduced from not sleeping on a pillow because your hair captures the dead skin that is all over your pillow, causing a higher than average amount of dandruff.

Your hair will also be less oily for the same reason. The oil collects on your pillow and seeps into your hair while you sleep, causing an excess of oil to build up.

Cons of Sleeping Without a Pillow

Provides inadequate neck support for side sleepers

Side sleepers should never sleep without a pillow. There is no way to provide enough support for your neck when sleeping on your side. Side sleepers must use a pillow that is thick enough to fill the space left between the neck and the ear.

Without this support, your head will fall and cause your neck to be out of its natural alignment with your spine that can cause terrible neck pain. If this pain continues over long periods, it can become chronic and might never go away. 

Worsens health ailments and conditions

Glaucoma

Glaucoma – When you sleep, the intraocular pressure (IOP) in your eyes increases. While glaucoma patients are often encouraged to sleep in an upright position, studies have found that patients can sleep lying down with a pillow. Not just any pillow, mind you. Your head needs to be raised with a wedge type pillow to keep your head inclined at least 20 degrees.

Acid reflux or GERD

Acid Reflux or GERD – Lying flat during sleep can cause your esophagus to lie in a position lower than your stomach. This allows the gastric juices or acid to work its way up out of the stomach, thus causing the reflux.

It is suggested that you sleep with a wedge type pillow if you sleep on your back to keep your stomach lower than your head. Also, the best way to lay to help relieve acid reflux is on your left side. This is because gravity helps keep the gastric juices in the lower part of your stomach.

Congestive heart failure

Congestive Heart Failure – If you lie flat when suffering from congestive heart failure you run the risk of breathlessness that wakes you from sleep. This can make your condition worse. Also, along these lines, lying flat can cause fluid to build up in your lungs and moistens a greater portion of the lungs, leading to breathlessness. 

It is recommended to sleep with a wedge type pillow or several pillows to keep your heart and lungs elevated.

Respiratory ailments

Congestion in the lungs from cold, bronchitis, or pneumonia can also worsen if you lie flat when you are asleep. Much the same as with congestive heart failure, the mucus buildup in your lungs that come from these ailments can cause you to lose your breath in your sleep.

There is also the risk of choking on mucus when lying flat. This can lead to vomiting or even death. 

It is best to sleep with your head elevated for best results.

Increases probability of snoring

Snoring can worsen if you sleep without a pillow. The fat tissue and the folds in your throat muscles can become overrelaxed and cause your air passages to become blocked. This is adverse for many reasons, and if the condition is severe, you could stop breathing in the night which leads you to wake up often. This leads to sleep deprivation.

However, did you know that it isn’t just your throat muscles and tissues that can obstruct your airways? Your tongue can even fall back and block the air as well. The best thing you can do if you snore is to sleep with a pillow and be sure that it lifts you up off the bed. Risers under the head of the mattress or a slight wedge pillow may help with this condition.

Is not comfortable for some sleepers

Last on our list is that some people just don’t ever become comfortable sleeping without a pillow. They are used to having a cushion under their head and lose sleep if they don’t have one.

This pillow tradition goes back millennia. Ancient Egyptians were discovered to have slept with rocks under their heads to keep them elevated. Though, honestly, I am not sure this was done with comfort in mind. However, it does go back to the idea that pillows are a hard habit to break.

How to Sleep Without a Pillow

You can follow a few easy steps to begin to train yourself how to sleep without a pillow. 

Do it gradually with a thin blanket or towel

The first thing to remember is to train yourself gradually. You want to remove thickness from under your head slowly and over a week or more to allow yourself to become completely used to sleeping without a pillow.

Start off with a light blanket or a cushy towel. Fold it up into a rectangle about the size of your pillow. For argument’s sake, let’s say you folded your blanket or towel 4 times. Sleep with your head at this thickness for at least 2 nights, but more if still needed.

When you feel ready to go thinner, try folding only 2 times. This will be half as thick as the previous nights. Go ahead and sleep on this thickness for 2 or more nights. Allow yourself to become accustomed to it, but not too much so, just enough to be comfortable, but not a habit.

Now, go ahead and remove the blanket or towel altogether. You should be comfortable enough now to go without the pillow and you have broken the pillow habit.

Sleep on your arm

You could also try laying on your arm to keep your head propped a bit without using a pillow. However, you must be aware that there are several negatives to this, so use your best judgment on whether to try this method.

When laying on your arm, you could cut off blood flow to the appendage and thus cause a pins and needles sensation, or a “falling asleep” feeling. Studies have proven that your arm cannot be asleep at the same time your brain is asleep so, if your arm goes numb, it will wake you up. Not only will it wake you up, but when the blood starts flowing back into the arm in question, it will be painful for a bit and you likely will not be able to fall back to sleep until the pain subsides.

Use a body pillow

If it all comes down to it and you just can’t sleep without a pillow, give this one last trick a try. This works best if you are a tummy sleeper but can also work if you sleep on your back. Instead of putting a pillow under your head, hold it in your arm and hug it to you as if it were a body pillow. This gives you something to feel cushiony, but it won’t interfere with your body alignment while you sleep.

How to Sleep with a Pillow

Any position may benefit from the use of a neck pillow. It is not for everyone and you should take care to make sure your neck and back are always in alignment. 

Back sleepers can benefit from laying the pillow down flat and resting their head on the U of the neck pillow. This allows the neck to rest at its natural position while still giving you the benefit of a slight pillow.

An L shaped neck pillow is best recommended for side sleepers. This helps to keep your neck supported while sleeping with the smallest amount of pillow possible.

If you are going to use pillows to sleep, be smart about it and do everything you can to ensure the proper alignment for your neck and spine.

Pillow positions for back sleepers

Back sleepers should sleep with a medium firmness pillow under their head and a firm to a medium-firm pillow under the knees. Also, you may want to add a small rolled-up towel or blanket to lay under the small of your back. 

The reason being is that you don’t want there to be any space between your body and the mattress. If you have a very good mattress, the towel or blanket under the small of your back may not be necessary.

However, you will still need that pillow under your knees. This is because it helps to keep the curve of your back in place while you sleep.

Pillow positions for stomach sleepers

A stomach sleeper does not need, nor is it recommended, to use a pillow under their head while sleeping. Not only does it put your neck at an awkward angle, but it can also cause back pain as well.

Belly sleepers will want to invest in a thin pillow to place under the abdomen and pelvis to keep that natural curvature in the back. While, this won’t likely help with the neck strain, but it may save your back.

It is also possible that you could switch to sleeping on your side if you grab a body pillow and hold it to your stomach so you still have the feeling of the weight of the mattress/pillow next to your body, but you are doing wonders for saving your back by doing so.

Pillow positions for side sleepers:

The best pillow for a side sleeper is a very firm one that is the same thickness as the space between your ear and your shoulder. The point is that you don’t want there to be any space for your head to fall while sleeping. This can be incredibly harmful to your neck, which is why side sleepers are recommended to never sleep without a pillow.

Side sleeper should also invest in a firm pillow to place between their knees. This pillow should be of medium thickness but should still be firm. This should keep your spine in its natural alignment for the duration of the night.

Types of Pillows 

Feather

Feather pillows are generally not firm, but they are squishy enough to place in nearly any position you might want it, which makes it a great pillow for back sleepers. As the night goes on, a feather pillow will naturally contour to your head and shoulders as you sleep. 

Unfortunately, feather pillows do have quills in them which can poke through the pillow cover and be uncomfortable when they touch your skin. Feather pillows have also been linked to allergies in some people which make them inconvenient for those folks. And let’s not forget that feather pillows do go flat easily, so they are not nearly as durable as its down counterpart.

If you purchase high-quality feather pillows these undesirable characteristics virtually disappear. A good feather pillow also comes with a hefty price tag, so consider carefully and remember that you spend nearly one-third of your life sleeping so it may be worth it to go all out for a quality pillow.

Down

A down pillow is not the same as a feather pillow, contrary to popular belief. Down pillows are lofty and can be quite firm. The down is in fluffy clumps with no quills to poke through. Down pillows tend to keep their loftiness throughout the night which means that they will keep your head in a good position for sleep.

Again, there are disadvantages to down pillows that you will want to consider. Folks complain of allergies to down, however, experts say that allergies are probably related to the dust and mold that settle into your pillows after use. Hypoallergenic covers on your down pillows can help immensely though, so don’t count them out for that reason.

Down pillows come with an even larger price tag than feather pillows. You are paying for better quality though, not vanity, in this case. As a rule, the more expensive the pillow, the better the pillow quality. Also, keep in mind that the best down comes from Europe.

Polyester

Polyester pillows are filled with fiberfill. The biggest advantage of these pillows is that they are very cheap. This makes them incredibly popular among shoppers. Buyer beware, however, because this is really the only advantage to a polyester pillow.

The fiberfill stuffing loses its loft after a short time which means you must replace them much more often. What this means to your wallet is that while the initial investment is much lower, you will be shelling out more over your lifetime to replace them.

Memory foam

Solid memory foam pillows are very firm and retain their shape, so these pillows are good for back sleepers.  Though, shredded memory foam is better all around for side sleepers and back sleepers alike. They are malleable like the down pillows, but still firm enough to be helpful.

Unfortunately, these pillows can be toxic, and users often complain of a chemical smell coming from their pillow. This smell is called “off-gassing” and studies have shown that it could be harmful. Another big disadvantage is that they retain heat and build up stockpiles of sweat inside.

These are things that should be taken into consideration when purchasing.

Water

Water pillows are becoming all the rage these days. Most water pillows have a soft filling surrounding the water bladder which can make them more comfortable. However, the preferred filling is polyester which has been proven to not be very long-lasting.

These pillows are quite firm and once they are filled, they do not move, though, they are easy to fill to the proper thickness for back sleepers as well as side sleepers.

The most important disadvantage to water pillows is the fact that they can leak, and from reviews, this seems to be a common hazard. Not to mention that water is very heavy. This pillow is not at all malleable but is probably the best pillow on the market as far as support goes.

Buckwheat

If you are concerned about your environmental footprint buckwheat pillows are a great option . Buckwheat hulls are a 100% biodegradable and compostable material. They are great for back sleepers and side sleepers alike. 

Buckwheat pillows are very firm and can be mashed up in just about any combination to provide the best sleep. They are completely breathable, so the air can flow and keep you cooler as you sleep. What is even better is that these pillows are long-lasting thus reducing the number of times you must replace them.

Some disadvantages are that they are very noisy when the sleeper moves in the night which can wake you up and lead to sleep deprivation. Also, they are incredibly heavy.

Cotton

These are likely the second-best pillow when it comes to environmental friendliness. Cotton is biodegradable and compostable, like the buckwheat pillows, but they are quiet and very light.

However, they are the safe version of the polyester pillow in that cotton does not have the toxic qualities that polyester has. But, like polyester, they do not have a great life span and the filling holds up about the same as the polyester. It can bunch up and become uncomfortable after use.

They are very breathable though and keep you cooler than the synthetic material pillows like memory foam and polyester.

Final Thoughts

As we have gone over here, there are many benefits to sleeping without a pillow. Most of the benefits will go to back and tummy sleepers. The side sleepers can’t reap the same rewards of going pillow free.

The main problem with going without a pillow is that it is nearly impossible to sleep in just one position all night, nor are you recommended to do so. From pressure sores to spine and neck misalignment, it is not a good idea to stay in the same position all night long.

The main takeaway from this article should be that the best sleep method, pillow or no pillow, is the one that brings you the most comfort. 

Harris

Hello, I'm Harris. For many years, I have no problems with sleeping but as I become older, I find sometimes sleeping well can be a challenge. This website is a collection of questions I have had wondered once and seek out answer on the web or from my doctors. As I accumulate more information about sleeping I will post them here. Hope you find these articles helpful. Thank you!

Recent Content