Can you imagine a relaxing evening that ends with climbing into bed, tucking yourself in, and then sleeping without a pillow? “Wait… what? Sleeping without a pillow? That’s crazy!” we can hear you yelling through your computer already. Hold your horses! Have you ever considered that the pillow didn’t always exist? So, why do we use pillows? What are the benefits of sleeping without a pillow? Will this new information change your sleep lifestyle? It might not seem so strange after you read ahead.
Sleeping Position and Pillow Use
Sleeping without a pillow isn’t as crazy as you might initially think — sleep comfort all boils down to finding a neutral position for you to sleep in (and sleeping position does matter). What you want is to find a position that keeps your spine and neck in line while you sleep without tilting or curving. For some of us, that means just tucking an arm under your head, for others it means a host of head-cradling options.
Some people just don’t enjoy sleeping with a pillow (I know, right??). If you want to get decent sleep without pillow support, you’ll have to take your natural sleeping position into consideration:
Back — Some back sleepers benefit from sleeping without a pillow. It’s a personal preference (and broad-shouldered folks tend to find pillow-free sleeping less comfortable when supine) but if you sleep on your back, especially with a firm mattress, you might benefit from stretching out your spine and easing the tension. Most people don’t require the added support of a pillow when sleeping on their back, and you’ll likely adjust best to non-pillow use in this position. Laying still on your back without a pillow is even a common yoga pose!
Side — Is it bad to sleep without a pillow if you’re a side sleeper? Definitively, yes. Do not do it! “If you don’t sleep with a pillow and you sleep on your side, most likely your neck is laterally flexing or side bending and so one side of the spine is getting compressed,” notes physical therapist and yoga teacher Lara Heimann. If you naturally sleep on your side, sleep without pillow support for your neck is not an option. If you’re a side-sleeper, a pillow between your knees can also provide ample additional support and help ease the pull of gravity on your hips and thighs. If you’re considering switching from being a natural side sleeper to your back or stomach, don’t -- side sleeping is the proven best option for your body.
Stomach — While it’s important to note that stomach sleeping is the worst position for sleeping… we don’t always get to choose what’s most comfortable for our bodies. Some of us sleep this way and that’s just how it is. That said, it might benefit stomach sleepers to toss the pillow aside — elevating your head, neck, and chest with a pillow while on your stomach can create unwanted curvature and tension in the spine. Why do we use pillows? To improve our sleep quality! If it’s not doing that, maybe it’s time to let it go.
Sleeping Without A Pillow: A Timeless Tradition
Pillows weren’t always around, and while the benefits of sleeping without a pillow weren’t discussed (or at least not recorded), we know that people have been enjoying pillow use in some form since 7,000BC — in Mesopotamia, the birthplace of early human civilization. Why do we use pillows? Well, during that time only wealthy folks used pillows and they were nothing like the ones we have today — these were carved from wood or stone, something that sounds pretty rough but is still used in some places today. As with a lot of common things today, maybe pillow use started as a way to show class and wealth. At that time, most people (and primates) simply curled their arm under their head for support.
While ancient China may have expanded the pillow to ceramic, bamboo, jade, and porcelain options with the addition of a soft fabric cover (sometimes), it was the ancient Romans and Greeks who really mastered the creation of the soft pillow. While still more popularly used by the upper class, these pillows were stuffed with reeds, feathers, and straw in an attempt (a successful one, at that) to make them more comfortable than the pillows of the past.
Today, pillows are made from a wide variety of materials: feathers, memory foam, latex, polyester particles, polyurethane or silicone gels, you name it! What will the future of pillows bring us? Maybe new fabrics to wick away moisture and keep dust mites at bay, but also maybe we’ve found the pinnacle of pillow perfection already.
Why Should You Sleep Without A Pillow?
Okay, so you’ve decided to try out sleeping without a pillow. You’re looking for that authentic Mesopotamian peasant lifestyle but want some solid reasons to give it a shot so when your partner looks at you sideways (and if they’re sideways, they should have a pillow) you have the facts to back your new lifestyle up:
Reduced Allergies — is it bad to sleep without a pillow? For you, maybe not, but for dust mites… yes! Because pillows collect dust and debris, they’re also home to dust mites, which quickly accumulate and can cause really muck up your allergies.
Improved Spinal Health — Incorrect posture is a very common problem. Just because your pillow is comfortable doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for your neck and spine alignment. Adjusting to sleeping without a pillow can help you keep your body’s natural curvature… goodbye back pain!
Cleaner Skin — Pillows are a hotbed for dead skin, sweat, saliva, oils, and dirt. It’s hard to clean ‘em since you can’t really throw the whole thing in a washing machine, so sleeping without a pillow may help clear up some of your acne.
Less Tossing & Turning — One of the benefits of sleeping without a pillow is that your body will find an optimal position during the night. Sure, this might take a couple of adjustment weeks, but in the end, you might find yourself tossing and turning less and improving the quality of your sleep!
Sleeping Without a Pillow: Final Thoughts
Have you decided to ditch the old pillow? Remember that you’ll need to prepare for an adjustment period of several weeks — after a lifetime (so far) of pillow use, you might find it difficult to change how you do something you’ve done every day of your life. Ease into it! Science has shown that we don’t need a pillow to get a decent night of sleep, but before you dive into pillow-free sleeping, maybe there’s a reason other than the aristocracy of past eras that accounts for why we use a pillow today. Maybe it’s more… comfortable? It depends on your body, so maybe we’ll sleep on that decision one more night!