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Sleeping Without a Pillow - Is It Bad Or a Benefit?

It’s not surprising that the perfect mattress can positively transform your sleep experience. However, did you know that your pillow also has a role to play when it comes to having a quality sleep? Pillows aren’t just poofy mounds of unnecessary fluff that make our mattresses look cozy. They’re designed to promote healthy spinal alignment, support the natural curvature of our necks, and prevent pain as we sleep.

They can also help you breathe more easily by elevating your head above your body. However, some sleep experts claim that not using a pillow does have its benefits, such as preventing wrinkles and even curing neck pain.

So, the big question is, do pillows really help us sleep better and improve our àhealth, or will we be better off without them?

In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about sleeping without a pillow, including its possible pros and cons to help you make a wise decision. We’ll also share some key insights about transitioning to a flat sleep surface when the need arises and how you can choose the right pillow for your sleep setup.

Possible Benefits of Pillowless Sleeping

Although research is limited, some anecdotal reports suggest that sleeping pillowless can be very beneficial for your sleep health. It may be quite tricky for you to give up sleeping with your pillow, but once you know of the benefits of going pillowless, you might want to rethink!

Improves Your Posture

Poor posture at night dramatically interferes with your sleep quality and can even lead to pains and aches during the day. You might also experience back and neck pain when you wake up. That said, your sleeping position will affect your posture differently, which is why ditching a pillow may be beneficial to certain sleep positions.

For instance, stomach sleeping forces you to turn your head to one side. And as a result, you end up putting a lot of stress on your neck. So, if you use a pillow, you risk positioning your neck at an even sharper and awkward angle; thus, you may experience pain in your neck muscles. That’s why many stomach sleepers prefer sleeping without a pillow.

Back and side sleepers, on the other hand, need a pillow for proper support and spinal alignment. Side sleepers generally leave the largest gap between their heads and pillows. That’s why this sleep posture requires a thick pillow that can help you prevent tension in your shoulders and keep your head, neck, and spine aligned.

While back sleeping allows your spine to settle into a neutral position, putting less pressure on your neck, it leaves a small gap between the sleep surface and your neck. So, if you’re a back sleeper, putting a very thin pillow beneath your head will provide the perfect level of elevation while you sleep.

Less Neck and Back Tension

Bad sleep posture is one of the main reasons many people suffer from back and neck pain, and one of the primary causes of poor posture is the wrong pillow choice. Generally, pillows are designed to straighten the spine and help take pressure off the cervical section. However, some individuals use pillows that work against their spine’s natural curve, resulting in more curvature and misalignment.

Also, if you’re a back sleeper, using plusher beds, such as memory foam models, often allows your body to settle in a comfortable and natural position, with your neck and head sitting higher than your midsection. In this case, using a pillow might tilt your head too far upwards, thus adding more stress to your neck and upper back.

Prevents Acne and Wrinkles

Sleeping without a pillow can significantly reduce your risk of facial acne and wrinkles. Some studies show that your face compressing against the pillow during sleep can eventually lead to wrinkle formation. Unlike lying on a bare mattress, having a pillow that’s directly pressing on your face can cause more skin impressions.

So, how does this happen?

Remember, pillows absorb dirt and body oil over time; pressing your face up against them can cause oil and dirt build-up on your skin. As this occurs, your pores get clogged, thus causing facial acne. Similarly, sleeping on a pillow may lead to wrinkle formation due to the compression.

Note that if you often sleep on a pillow, regularly washing the pillowcase can help reduce acne. It would help if you also considered washing the entire pillow every 2 to 6 months to keep everything fresh and clean for your skin.

Potential Drawbacks of Ditching Your Pillow

Despite the potential merits that come with sleeping pillowless, there are also some disadvantages to consider before you discard your pillow.

It Can Lead to Poor Posture

While sleeping without a pillow is ideal for stomach sleepers, it’s likely to affect spinal alignment for other sleeping positions negatively.
Back sleepers – When back sleepers sleep on a flat surface without a pillow, their head and neck can easily fall into a downward tilt and unnaturally arch the spine. This, in turn, puts pressure on the neck, leading to aches and pain. Instead, consider using a medium-firm or fluffy pillow to keep your head slightly elevated and your spine straight.

Side sleepers – Similarly, if you sleep on your side, there’s a big gap between your shoulders and neck. If you don’t support this space with a pillow, your neck can overextend, thus making it hard to maintain neutral spine alignment. That’s why it’s unhealthy for side sleepers to lie on a flat surface without a pillow. Actually, this type of sleeper will benefit most from a firm pillow with lots of support.

If you’re a stomach sleeper, it’s worth noting that scrapping your pillow will somehow make it difficult for your spine to be in a neutral position. This is because most of your body weight is in the midsection. So, to promote better posture while stomach sleeping, put a pillow beneath your pelvis and stomach. This will help lift the center of your body, decreasing pressure on your spine even when you don’t use a pillow on your head.

It Can Cause Neck Pain

Unless you’re a stomach sleeper, ditching your pillow can strain your neck muscles and joints, causing pain. Sleeping on your back, for instance, overextends the neck, which is why back sleepers need a pillow to bring their spine back to a neutral and comfortable position.

Plus, if you abandon your pillow, the pressure on your neck will be unevenly distributed. This means you’ll be highly likely to experience neck pain, stiffness or soreness, and tension headaches. So, if you're a back or side sleeper, you should always sleep on your pillow.

Tips for Sleeping Without a Pillow

While the thought of suddenly sleeping without a pillow can seem intimidating, some tips can help you get used to it.

Steadily Reduce Your Head Support

If you’ve slept on a pillow for almost your whole life, it may feel jarring to shift from sleeping on a thick fluffy pillow to a flat surface. Fortunately, gradually reducing your head support can help make it a bit easier to get used to this new trend. Instead of immediately removing the pillow, switch it out for a folded blanket or towel. Then, slowly unfold the blanket over time until your neck and head level out with the sleep surface.

Support Other Parts of Your Body with Pillows

Instead of getting rid of the pillows you once used beneath your head, consider using them to support the rest of your body. You’ll have to place the pillow under different body sections depending on your sleep position;

Stomach sleeping – Place the pillow under the pelvis and stomach to help keep your spine in a neutral position.

Back sleeping – Put your pillow under the knees to promote healthy spinal alignment.

Side sleeping – Place the pillow between your knees to reduce pressure on your lumbar spine.

Evaluate Your Sleep Setup

Just because you’re ditching your pillow doesn’t mean you should ignore body support. That said, make sure you have a supportive mattress for your body size and sleep style. Remember, no matter how good a pillow is, it can’t compensate for a mattress that isn’t supportive enough to offer good spinal alignment. However, the right mattress can make sleeping without pillows much more comfortable.

Closing Thoughts

Ultimately, whether you choose to sleep with a pillow or not comes down to your sleep needs and personal preferences. The most important thing here is that you sleep pain-free and comfortable night after night. However, side and back sleepers are often advised to use a pillow to keep their neck and spine aligned during sleep.

Also, if you have a spine condition, such as scoliosis, sleeping on a flat surface may be unsafe. That said, always make sure you consult your healthcare professional for advice before ditching your pillow.

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