Sleeping with a pillow is standard practice, but for some people, it’s not always comfortable. However, before you consider going the pillow-free route, you should consider the drawbacks. Then you can evaluate whether you should sleep without a pillow, or consider other options.
Cons of Sleeping Without a Pillow
First of all, let’s look at why you shouldn’t be sleeping without a pillow. It has everything to do with your spine.
Pillows keep your spine aligned by supporting your upper back and neck. These areas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to supporting your back overall—you need adequate support to prevent back pain.
When your spine is out of line, it doesn’t lead to great posture in sleeping. Anyone who’s ever slumped in their seat for a few hours will now the dull, burning ache that sets in on the back of the neck when this happens—it’s because your muscles are doing all the work to support the spine when it’s out of shape.
Spinal misalignment can lead to chronic pain, fatigue, aches in other parts of your body, even tingling in your hands and feet.
Of course, a few nights without a pillow will only lead to neck pain and potential pain in other parts of your back. It won’t cause spinal misalignment straight away, but if you make a habit of it, that’s when the damage can sneak in.
Caught early, simple lifestyle changes and a visit to a chiropractor can fix your spine. If you let it get serious you may require surgery to repair the damage.
Pros of Sleeping Without a Pillow
On the other hand, the rules above only apply to two types of people: side and back sleepers. What if you sleep on your front?
In this case, you don’t really want your neck pushed up and back in slumber. It’s almost the same as sleeping on your back without a pillow.
You could consider pillows made for stomach sleepers. They’re lower and provide mild support without forcing your neck into an uncomfortable position. On the other hand, you may want to take your regular pillow and repurpose it for use elsewhere.
The University of Rochester Medical Center mentions that sleeping on your stomach can create back stress. When you sleep on your back, it’s supported by the mattress and other body parts like your shoulders and hips.
Sleeping on your stomach, your front sinks down towards the mattress and makes your spine curl in. To prevent this, you should place a pillow under your stomach or pelvis to ensure your spine stays aligned, comfortable, and stress-free.
If you let the stress continue, you’re in for a world of lower back pain which this study shows can decrease the quality of your sleep.
Can Sleeping On Your Stomach Lower Neck Pain?
Even when sleeping on your back with a pillow to support you, your neck can be out of line if the pillow is too thick or thin. Does that mean stomach sleeping can help alleviate that pain?
Yes and no.
While there’s no longer strain on your nack vertically, your head is twisted to the side unless you sleep face down. You could wake up with aches and pains from this unusual position. Experts state that side and back sleeping is best for your neck.
So while it’s better to go pillow-free when sleeping on your stomach, it’s not the best position to sleep in overall.
Sleeping Without a Pillow: Tips and Tricks for Comfort
You can still choose to favour sleeping without a pillow even if you’re a back or side sleeper. Ultimately, it’s up to you and what makes you feel comfortable.
If you want to switch to the pillow-free life, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
As a back or side sleeper, don’t just quit your pillow cold turkey. Go slowly first; if you sleep with two thin pillows, switch to one. If you sleep with a thick pillow, replace it with a thin one.
Once you’ve decreased the size of your pillow, then you can sleep with your head on a folded blanket or piece of clothing before taking the final step and going pillow-free.
For front-sleepers, you can speed up the process by switching to a blanket or ultra-thin pillow right from your old, thick one. As it’s more comfortable to go without a pillow while sleeping on your stomach, it’s less of a jarring transition.
Change Your Mattress
If you have back pain and think your pillow is the problem, it may not be. Ensure you have a new mattress, suited to your needs.
A firmer mattress is widely regarded as the best for back pain, as well as for heavier people. However, a memory foam mattress is best for aligning your spine.
With memory foam mattresses you sink into the foam as you sleep. It contours to your body—so it’s easier to go without a pillow with a bed like this. Your shoulders are heavy so they’ll sink deeper into the mattress than your neck. This leaves your neck and head slightly elevated, erasing the need for an enormous pillow.
Repurpose Your Pillow
As mentioned earlier, a pillow under your stomach—or perhaps your pelvis, if you’re a little larger—does wonders for easing the strain on your back if you’re a front-sleeper.
If you’re a back sleeper, you may want to place your pillow under your knees instead. If gives your legs some lift and lets your lower back and hips relax more.
Finally, side sleepers may wish to sleep with a pillow between their knees. The University of Rochester Medical Center states this helps keep your spine in alignment by supporting your upper leg.
Are There Any Alternatives to Pillows?
If you’d rather stay away from pillows entirely, there are a few other options you may wish to look into.
There are pillows made for front-sleepers, great for supporting the neck in this position, but the rest of these options work well for sleeping in any position.
Pregnancy pillows are best for solo-sleepers or large beds. They support your entire body, with a small dip for your torso to sink into. They’re not just great for pregnancy—anyone with sleeping aches or woes can benefit.
Do you curl sidewards, your neck included, as you sleep? A body pillow may be a better fit for you. You can rest your head to the side and still have support, as well as having something for the rest of your body to fall against or hold.
These pillows are great for single people who dislike sleeping alone. They’re also fantastic for cuddly sleepers with spouses who prefer personal space in the bed.
If you find your head is up too high on your pillows, or they strain your neck, consider an orthopaedic pillow. They’re firm around the edges with a dip in the middle to keep your head low, almost flat.
A thick, washable, stuffed travel pillow is excellent for someone who wants pillow neck support and not an entire pillow. They’re also great for use on top of a thin pillow.
These are fantastic for neck pain as they prevent your head from moving too much at night. Back sleepers will gain the most benefit from them.
Were you giving up pillows because you need to sleep more upright, and think you should just lean against the wall? A wedge pillow can help. The steeper the wedge, the higher it rises you. It’s great for sleepers with acid reflux, frequent nausea, or other ailments that make sleeping flat a pain.
Backrest pillows are also great for this purpose if you need to sleep entirely upright. They go against the wall and support your head, back and arms.
Sleeping Without A Pillow: Final Thoughts
While you can sleep without a pillow, it’s most suitable for stomach sleepers, or if you use a pillow alternative. Remember to keep the following things in mind when going pillow-free, or switching up your sleeping positions:
- You need a pillow to adequately support your neck and upper back.
- Sleeping on your stomach with a pillow can cause neck strain.
- You can strain your neck when sleeping on your stomach in general.
- Place a pillow under your stomach when sleeping on your front.
- Consider alternative pillows for reducing pain.
As always, if you have any comments or questions feel free to leave them down below.