Is it better to sleep without a pillow? This is a super good question. And a lot of people have different ideas about it.
On one hand, there are people who talk about the advantages of sleeping without a pillow. They claim that it helps their back, makes them more comfortable, and improves their posture.
Some of these same people also advocate sleeping without a bed… which is a topic that often goes hand-in-hand with the big ‘pillow’ question!
On the other hand, there are people out there who absolutely espouse the advantages of using not just one, but multiple pillows while sleeping.
What This Article Is All About?
These people, as it turns out, love the idea of being surrounded by a pillow fort when the time comes to hit the hay. And so, they pile up the pillows and sleep with them.
But, which one is better? Which one will offer you the most benefits to your health, comfort, and quality of sleep?
In this post, that’s exactly what we are going to explore.
Let’s dig in.
Is It Better to Sleep Without a Pillow? What Are the Benefits:
First of all, it is important to understand that, for the most part, medical professionals in the civilized world espouse the benefits of sleeping with a pillow in almost all cases.
But this is not where the story ends.
I found a fascinating paper on this topic, titled “Instinctive Sleeping And Resting Postures: An Anthropological And Zoological Approach To Treatment Of Low Back And Joint Pain,” and in it, the author… a man by the name of Michael Tetley, talks about how ‘civilised’ humans suffer unnecessarily from musculoskeletal problems that forest dwellers and nomads tend not to suffer from.
He summarizes the study by saying that pillows are simply not necessary for a healthy resting posture.
Of course, the sleeping position makes all of the difference in the world.
Let’s take a look at some of the unlikely benefits…
First Advantage of Sleeping Without a Pillow: You Can Listen for Danger With Both Ears
In one non-pillow position, people tend to sleep on their sides, with one arm raised, bent at the elbow, and tucked under their head.
Their body is also folded, and their knees are bent
They sleep this way so that their ear will not be covered up by the arm they are sleeping on.
This not only helps to support the spine, but helps them to sleep with ‘both ears open,’ so that they can have an advantage when the time comes to sense incoming danger.
Second Advantage to Sleeping Without a Pillow: Gravity Keeps Your Mouth Closed
When you sleep on your side, with your shoulder hunched, your head will generally be deviating toward the ground.
This leads to gravity keeping your mouth closed during sleep. In primitive environments, this would keep insects from entering your mouth.
But it is also possible that this could contribute to less snoring as well!
Third Advantage to Sleeping Without a Pillow: No Snoring
Now, this next position is a bit extreme… but hear it out!
According to the paper, Tibetan Caravaneers sleep on their shins, hunched over, with their heads near their knees.
There are several reasons for this. First of all, on the cold, wet ground, using your shins as the ‘contact point’ with your sleeping surface helps to reduce heat-loss… because there is very little muscle on the shins. It is mostly just bone and skin.
Secondly, when sleeping in this position, with the body folded and the head resting downward, it is virtually impossible to snore. In this position, both ears are also available to listen for danger.
These Are Obviously Some Radical Ideas for Civilized Society – But They Go to Show Us That Sleeping Without a Pillow Has Been Done for Years
The idea of sleeping on the ground, on your shins, folded over to conserve heat, is not only unnecessary in most civilized settings… but it is also just straight-up uncomfortable (at least at first) to those of us who are used to sleeping in a comfortable bed.
And yet, we also know that people who sleep without pillows in more primitive conditions suffer fewer musculoskeletal ‘lesions’ than people who do sleep with pillows in ‘more civilized’ settings.
What Are the Disadvantages to Sleeping Without a Pillow?
When you start to look at how modern humans in comfortable, modern societies sleep (on comfortable beds, on their backs… which is basically unheard of in more primitive settings), you begin to see that the rules for pillow use really change.
There is much less of a need to sleep with both ears open, as we are protected by civilization and the dwelling we live in.
We also have a soft surface to sleep on (a mattress), so we feel more comfortable laying on our back, or flat out on our stomach.
With that being said, when we adopt these ‘modern’ sleeping poses, we begin to see some disadvantages to sleeping without a pillow.
Let’s talk about that.
First Disadvantage: If You Sleep on Your Side Without a Pillow, Your Spine Will Be Crooked
Now, we have already covered the fact that sleeping on your side, and supporting your head with your arm, is a position that is used by many people in the world who do not have pillows.
But when you introduce a soft mattress and modern sleeping environment to the picture, this changes a little bit.
And as it turns out, if you actually sleep in a bed, side-sleepers should always use a pillow.
Why? Well, sleeping on that soft surface tends to change the alignment of your spine a bit. And when you also sleep without a pillow, you get a curve in your neck that isn’t always super conducive to a good night’s sleep.
Second Disadvantage: Sleeping on Your Back Without a Pillow Can Put You at an Increased Risk for Snoring
As it turns out, when it comes to sleeping on your back, having a low-profile pillow to support your head is important.
Why? Well, snoring is one part of this. If you sleep with the proper pillow, you can really help to curb your risk of snoring while sleeping on your back.
Whereas, sleeping on your back without a pillow might tend to increase the odds of suffering from this noisy problem.
Third Disadvantage: Sleeping Without a Pillow on Your Side Is Inconvenient in Modern Settings
In more primitive settings, people use their arms to support their head while sleeping on their sides.
This is not only good for the musculoskeletal system, but it is also good because it helps them to listen with ‘both ears’ for danger.
With that being said, there is also something to be said for ‘not needing to sleep that way anymore.’
In modern settings, we may be safer than people who need to sleep in the jungle. And as such, comfort might become more important to use than safety while we try to get a good night sleep.
This is a priority shift… and as it turns out, it can simply be far easier to use a nice pillow to support the head instead of your arm!
It can also be more comfortable, and possibly give you a better night’s rest.
How to Start Sleeping Without a Pillow – Quick Guide
There are many good reasons to consider sleeping without a pillow. And if you have decided that you want to give it a go, here are some tips that may help you to successfully experiment with it.
Firstly, Take Your Time
When you’re used to sleeping a certain way for such a long time, changing is going to be difficult.
At first, sleeping without a pillow might not be comfortable. But it is important to give yourself time to adjust. Your body literally needs time to get used to sleeping in such a manner!
Try decreasing the thickness of your pillow first, working your way to sleeping without one.
This can actually be done with a towel! Start with a thick folded towel, and then start working your way down, making it thinner and thinner as time goes on.
Should You Use a Mattress?
Some people advocate using a mattress when trying to transition to sleeping without a pillow… while some advocate that you should sleep on the floor as part of it.
But of course, as with all things, this is entirely up to you.
Personally, I spent a great deal of time floor sleeping on two yoga mats…but for me, floor sleeping felt better to me than sleeping without a pillow.
My favorite position was to sleep on my stomach/side, but with a pillow, while sleeping on the floor.
But, there are a lot of advantages either way.
The main thing to pay attention to is your level of comfort.
Obviously, you need to give your body time to adjust to the difference, and transitioning slowly can be a great way to do that.
But at the same time, be aware of what does and doesn’t feel good, and use that to make your determination.
Frequently Asked Questions
The simple answer to this question is a ‘no.’
But of course, whether or not you decide to sleep with one is up to you.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that sleeping without a pillow is really good for you.
But at the same time, if it is not done correctly, it can actually cause more problems than it solves.
Only in certain circumstances.
As explained earlier in this article, there are some sleeping positions, especially those used in more primitive cultures, where no pillow is used to great effect, contributing to better musculoskeletal health.
And then, there are positions (such as sleeping on your side in a very soft bed) where you really need to use a pillow to avoid making your neck cramp.
So, sleeping without a pillow isn’t automatically good for bad for you. It all depends on the context and on exactly how you are doing it.
If you are sleeping on a bed or on a soft pad, then many people would say that the healthiest sleeping position, in most cases, is sleeping on your back.
This position lets your spine, neck, and head rest in neutral positions that don’t put undue stress on the joints or muscles.
Incidentally, this is also a great position if you want to ward off acid reflux!
The only problem? Sleeping on your back can actually make snoring problems worse!
As a general rule, most people agree that sleeping without a pillow will help your back to extend. It is said, over time, to help you overcome some of the aches and pains you may wake up with in the morning.
But of course, once again, this is all about context.
My general opinion on this issue is that our bodies are actually better designed to sleep without a pillow than with a pillow.
Though I will be honest and say that this is a big transition. Most people are not going to be able to just switch over to this. And for some people, it may not even be worthwhile.
We never see monkeys taking pillows with them to bed… so why would we?
Of course, modern civilization has made things different. We now have nice soft beds to sleep on, and pillows have become a bit of a luxury item.
Can you live a full, healthy life sleeping with a pillow?
Yes, you absolutely can.
But is it better to sleep without a pillow?
I think that science says yes, at least to a certain point.