We’re always looking for ways to improve our health and well-being. We try new diets, new exercise routines, meditation, the latest wellness craze, and so on. This is good practice — why wouldn’t we want to be optimizing ourselves and our lives?
One of the things many people dabble and experiment with is sleeping without a pillow. Variables like sleeping position, pillow density, material, and conflicting information on the Internet can make it difficult to gauge whether this would be beneficial or harmful. Using the wrong pillow can result in sleep deprivation and physical aches like neck or back pain. We’re here to help you learn about the optimal position and the right pillow to maintain healthy sleeping habits.
Comfort is our job, and we take our job very seriously. We decided to get to the bottom of this question once and for all, and we’re about to share with you everything we learned.
Recall the Purpose of a Pillow
Bringing it back to the basics, the purpose of a pillow is to keep the upper body in alignment, ease tension and stress for the spine, and counterbalance different pressure points. Pillows should cradle the head and neck and support the upper portion of your spine (your cervical spine).
The ideal height for a pillow keeps your neck and spine aligned in a neutral and natural position. Essentially, your spine should be straight from your neck to your tailbone and just about parallel with the floor. In a perfect world, our sleeping position would mimic the natural and healthy standing posture, but we know that’s easier said than done.
When it comes to the optimal density for your pillow, it’s all about finding that happy medium. A pillow that’s too firm isn’t very comfortable or relaxing and doesn’t do a sufficient job supporting the neck in a healthy position (or any position, for that matter). A pillow that’s too soft has its drawbacks as it doesn’t provide adequate support and can be frustrating when we just want to feel snuggled.
So, the takeaway? Pillows should hold your head and neck in a neutral position with healthy spinal alignment and support positioning that’s as close as possible to “perfect posture.”
When Sleeping Without A Pillow is Good
If you’re a stomach sleeper, it’s better to sleep without a pillow.
Sleeping on your stomach puts your spine in a twisted and unnatural position. And with the majority of your weight held in the middle of your body, this creates additional stress for the back, neck, and spine. Although it can reduce snoring and may prevent sleep apnea, many orthopedic doctors consider sleeping on your stomach the worst possible position because of the twist it creates for the neck and the misalignment of the spine.
Ideally, stomach sleepers should try their very best to transition to another sleeping position. In the meantime, the best option is to skip the pillow entirely to avoid further misalignment, stress, and pressure. Your neck and back will thank you.
When Sleeping Without A Pillow is Bad
Besides stomach sleeping, sleeping without a pillow will always be worse for your body. Pillows are essential because they keep the head, neck, and back aligned during sleep. The goal is always to have the head in a neutral position resting squarely on the shoulders, leaning neither too far forward nor too far back.
Back sleepers. Laying down on a flat surface while sleeping on your back forces your neck backward. People who sleep on their back are likely to find that sleeping without a pillow puts uncomfortable and painful pressure on their neck muscles. This can lead to several neck pain and orthopedic problems in the long run which can likely diminish the quality and quantity of sleep.
The best type of pillow for back sleepers will be a slightly thinner pillow, ensuring the head is not pushed or tilted too far forward. You can test this by laying on your back on your bed - as you usually would for sleeping - and see whether your eyes directly face the ceiling.
Memory foam will be the best material for your pillow as it will cradle your head and neck and help you stay in a healthy and supported position throughout the night. Placing a half-moon bolster pillow underneath your knees for sleeping will further alleviate pressure on the spine and maintain the natural curve of your lower back. Additionally, a pillow under your knees will help your weight stay evenly distributed over the broadest part of your body and reduce the likelihood of you rolling into a less healthy position as you sleep.
Side sleepers. Although it's often considered to be one of the healthiest sleeping positions, with side sleeping, the head is sitting further away from the mattress, creating more space and opportunity for unhealthy strain. Therefore, side sleepers will benefit from a thicker and firmer pillow that will fill this gap between your head and the mattress and support your spine in a straight line from head to hips. A good rule of thumb is to always aim for your spine to be parallel with the floor. The good thing about sleeping in this position is that you'll get the maximum amount of airflow, which in turn reduces the chance of snoring as well.
Again, a memory foam pillow will be the most supportive, being sturdy yet soft and able to conform to your unique shape and curves. Premium memory foam is heat-responsive, allowing it to do an excellent job of molding around your body. High-grade memory foam or gel-infused memory foam will also constantly return to its default shape the following day and never lose its shape or structure (deform or flatten over time).
Side sleepers will further benefit from placing a pillow between the knees during sleep. This memory foam knee pillow features dual ergonomic contours for each leg to fit snuggly in the pillow, creating stability for the lower body and keeping the pelvis and spine in a neutral position.
The takeaway? Pillows serve an important function, and most of the time, it’s bad to sleep without a pillow. Pillows help keep our head, neck, spine, and entire upper body in healthy alignment. Pillows also relieve pressure, help counterbalance our weight, and support good posture.
Ultimately, whether or not you decide to sleep without a pillow comes down to your personal preferences. However, if you sleep on your stomach, it will be much better to skip the pillow completely. If you sleep on your back or side, you should sleep with a pillow of the correct thickness to provide adequate support. Keep in mind that side sleeping may call for a thicker and firmer pillow.
We’re always looking for ways to improve our health and well-being — along with the right mattress, perfecting your pillow setup is a great placed to start.