Could sleeping without a pillow really be better for your neck? We are all so accustomed to sleeping with a pillow or pillows that the thought of sleeping without a pillow seems strange. However, there may be some benefits you're unaware of that could change your mind.

Sleeping without a Pillow – Is It Better for Your Neck?

Sleeping without a Pillow – Is It Better for Your Neck?

Sleep and pillows are like bread and butter. You can't have one without the other, right? Sleeping without a pillow is just what it sounds like. You get in bed and try to doze off without your head resting on your favorite sleep cushion. Pillows are deeply rooted in our sleep DNA, although they weren't always as comfortable as what we're used to today. The Babylonians used to nod off with their heads resting on blocks of stone. But that was back in 7,000 B.C., and we've come a long way since then. Or have we?

Is Sleeping without a Pillow Better for Your Neck?

According to people who study sleep quality, sleeping without a pillow could be beneficial. If you suffer from neck, back or skin problems, pillows aren't always good. There are many types of pillows, just as there are many types of sleepers. How you sleep and what you are comfortable with may determine if sleeping without a pillow is right for you.

Sleeping Without a Pillow - The Benefits

Sleeping without a pillow will extend your spine, resulting in a neutral, natural position that may cause less stress on your body while you're in bed and fewer aches and pains in the morning. Most of us give little thought to the pillow we lay our heads on each night.

Using a pillow that is too soft can cause neck strain and decrease blood flow to your brain. Soft pillows may feel comfortable at first, but with your head, in a downward tilt, and without sufficient support, an overly soft pillow can constrict your breathing, which can lead to you feeling lethargic or suffering from a headache the next morning, or more seriously, a dangerous condition known as sleep apnea.

Using a thick pillow or piling more pillows underneath your head will contort your spine and result in back strain. Chronic back pain can result from sleeping like this for long periods of time. Many of us sleep with a stack of pillows in the belief we are supporting our neck by steering clear of a soft pillow. But choosing a firm pillow or resting your head on a mountain of smaller pillows only transfers the stress to your spine. Instead, try sleeping one night without supporting your head and neck at all and check and see if the back or neck pain is present the next morning.

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Wake Up Refreshed

Eliminating neck and head support while sleeping allows your body to find a natural resting position. Pillows that do not give proper support cause our body to fight against itself by engaging back, shoulder and neck muscles. With your muscles and tendons working even while you're supposed to be sleeping it's no wonder that the added strain will cause increased pain and fatigue. Muscles that undergo strain for long periods of time will produce chronic pain. Symptoms you should know about include changing positions often during the night, restless sleeping and insomnia.

The result is sleep deprivation and increased stress and anxiety. Left untreated these can manifest into serious conditions best treated by a doctor. One thing you should always do first thing in the morning is stretch your body. This will decompress your spine and joints such as your knees, hips, and shoulders and warm your muscles. It doesn't matter which side of the bed you wake up on, remember to stretch.

Sleeping without a Pillow Can Improve Your Complexion

sleeping with pillow

When you think about it, is pressing your face against a pillow for 8 or more hours a night, every night, 365 days a year, year after year, good for your complexion? Probably not.

Your Face Needs to Breathe

Like you, your face needs to breathe, and pressing your face into a pillow doesn't allow for facial respiration, breathing. The pores on your skin need air. If free-flowing air is blocked by a pillow, the result is an increased build-up of oil on the surface of the skin which can cause blackheads and blemishes. Even though you think your pillow might be clean, the fabric holds particles of dust and impurities which then come in direct contact with your face. Sure, you can change and wash pillow cases often, even every night, but most of us don't have the time to do that. The grime and oil on your pillowcase will accumulate and further impact your complexion.

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Pillows Can Cause Wrinkles

Wrinkles result from a loss of collagen underneath the surface of the skin. It's a natural by-product of growing older, but pillows can speed up this process. Applying repeated pressure (such as sleeping with the side of your face on a pillow) against the collagen will promote its breakdown, leading to visible lines and wrinkles.

 Who Should Sleep without a Pillow?

Basically, your sleep position will show what kind of pillow you should use or whether trying to sleep without a pillow will hurt you or help you. Let's look at some common sleep positions and see if sleeping without a pillow is right for you.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers need to keep the neck level with rest of their spine, and a low-profile, contouring pillow is best suited for this sleep style. A rounded pillow or one that offers cervical support are popular choices. Adding a small pillow under the knees or a thin pillow beneath the small of the back can relieve strain on the lumbar region.

Side Sleepers

While considered the healthiest sleep position, if you sleep on your side you definitely need the head and neck supported by a pillow working with a good mattress. An appropriate pillow keeps the side sleeper’s head and neck straight and aligned with the spine. A pillow that is too soft will cause the head to drop, while one that is too thick will tilt the head and neck up and out of alignment with the spine. Side sleepers may also benefit from a thin pillow between the knees to keep the hips aligned and a mattress that supports the pressure points (shoulder and hips) associated with side-sleepers.

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Stomach Sleepers

Some people feel uncomfortable sleeping without a pillow, but if you're a stomach sleeper, you may enjoy sleeping without a pillow. Most experts consider sleeping on one's stomach as the most unhealthy sleeping position. By placing their heads on a pillow, stomach sleepers twist their head and neck out of alignment with their spine. Stomach sleeping is the one position that can benefit from sleeping without a pillow because the head and neck are then in a more neutral, natural position.

How to Transition to Sleeping without a Pillow

There are many benefits to sleeping without a pillow:

  • Prevents neck pain
  • Good for your spine promotes a natural curve
  • Facial benefits reduce blemishes, lines, and wrinkles

Yet, how does one transition from pillow to pillowless sleep? You do it step by step until you can sleep easily without a pillow.

Step One - Folding

Start the transition by using a folded towel. Doing so ensures you maintain a head height you're used to. Then reduce the height by unfolding your towel gradually.

Step Two - Height Reduction

Continue reducing the height of your towel by unfolding over the course of the next few nights until the towel is flat on the mattress and you can sleep with no support. Make sure you do it gradually so that your body can get used to the new height.

Step Three - Stretch

We mentioned the importance of stretching when you wake up in the morning, and it's the same when reducing your dependence on a pillow. Years of using a pillow can make the muscles in your neck and back tight and strained. By stretching the neck and shoulder muscles, you can do wonders for your body's ability to adapt to sleeping without a pillow.

Step Three - Consistency

Stay consistent. Following these tips will be the key to a healthy transition to sleeping without a pillow. Success comes with forming consistent patterns.


Whether you sleep without a pillow comes will ultimately come down to your personal preferences and sleep needs, and your style of sleep. Side, back and stomach sleeping positions all present unique challenges as far as the pillow you choose or if you sleep without a pillow at all. If you try sleeping without a pillow here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Back sleepers should try a thinner pillow or a rounded one that offers cervical support
  • Side sleepers should always use a thicker pillow that offers support for the head and neck
  • Stomach sleepers are the one group that can most enjoy sleeping without a pillow

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