Is It Better To Sleep Without A Pillow?
written by sleep expert Lauren Hall
In your quest to find the ultimate good night’s sleep, you’ve probably found yourself tossing and turning one night, adjusting your sleeping position to find the sweet spot that finally lets you doze you.
You fluff your pillows, flip them over, stack them up. Nothing really works and you find yourself waking up unrested and with a crick in your neck.
Next to our mattress, pillows are an important part of our sleep regimen. How we sleep is greatly influenced by the pillows that we use and recent research has posited that maybe you’d be better off sleeping without a pillow.
In this article, we will discuss the question, from what’s the right sleeping position to the benefits of sleeping without a pillow.
Know Your Sleeping Position
We all sleep in different positions depending on what we’re most comfortable with. Some people sleep on their back while some sleep on their side.
Not all sleeping positions are made equal, however, and each has their own pros and cons. It’s good to know what your sleeping position is in order to know its effects on your body and if you should switch it up.
Much like the yoga pose, savasana, sleeping on your back is extremely relaxing. Because the back is straight and not contorted, this sleeping position is great for your spine and neck health.
However, sleeping on your back could also lead to more instances of snoring and sleep apnea because gravity forces your tongue back into your airway, obstructing breathing. If you are a snorer, it’s recommended that you avoid sleeping on your back.
A popular sleeping position, it is recommended that you sleep on your left side as much as possible as it improves blood circulation to your heart. For pregnant women, this relieves pressure on the lower back which prevents overexertion and fainting.
Even if you’re not expecting, sleeping on the left side can reduce heartburn and acid reflux, making it easier for you to fall asleep. On the other hand, sleeping on your left side can also put more pressure on your stomach and lungs, so try to alternate sides when you can.
Side sleepers also run the risk of sleeping on top of their arms which can restrict blood flow, induce numbness and adversely affect muscles and nerves. Your shoulder will also support most of your body weight in this position which can lead to shoulder and neck pain.
While uncomfortable for some, sleeping on your stomach helps reduce snoring and eases some cases of sleep apnea. Besides that, sleeping on your stomach is one of the worst sleeping positions as it flattens the natural curvature of your spine and can lead to lower back pain.
With your head consistently turned to one side, you also strain your neck muscles. If this is the only way you can fall asleep, you can reduce lower back pain by placing a pillow under your hips to curve the spine.
Another popular sleeping positions with 41% of adults reportedly choosing this option, the fetal position is when you sleep on your side with your knees bent and drawn up with your torso curled in, like a fetus.
It’s best to keep this position loose and on your left side as it improves circulation. If you’re pregnant especially, this relieves pressure off your liver on your right side.
It also reduces snoring. However, if you’re curled up too tightly, you constrict your diaphragm and restrict breathing which can leave you feeling sore in the morning.
Straighten out your body as much as you can and if necessary, reduce the strain on your hips by placing a pillow between your knees.
Finding The Right Pillow
Take a look down the pillow section of your local Bed Bath & Beyond or IKEA and you’ll probably find an overwhelming array of pillows.
From firm to flat, and memory foam to down, it’s good to know what kind of pillows are out there and figure out what kind of pillow is right for you — if you decide to still sleep with a pillow at all.
Types of Pillow
- Classic pillows
Classic pillows are the regular fare ones that come in various levels of firmness and material types. Thin pillows are good for back sleepers, while firm and thick pillows are good for side sleepers. Classic pillows might not always provide your neck with the proper support it needs.
If it’s too thick, it leaves your head too elevated and strains neck muscles. If it’s too thin, then your head is sent too far back and misaligns it with your spine.
It’s best to use classical pillows to support your back or hips, rather than to support your head, especially if you sleep on your stomach.
Cervical or Contour
Contour pillows are pillows with a contour or curve in the middle, which is designed to promote better and healthier sleep posture.
Made out of memory foam, contour pillows adjust to the pressure and shape of your head, providing neck support regardless of whether you sleep on your back or on your side. It is recommended to use a contour pillow if you experience neck or back pain from sleeping.
Is It Better To Sleep Without A Pillow?
Say you’ve been sleeping with a pillow your whole life and despite your efforts and several different types of pillows later, you’ve yet to find one that truly supports your neck and helps you get a good night’s sleep every night.
If that’s the case, you might want to consider ditching the pillow altogether. Although counter-intuitive, sleeping without a pillow is actually a good way to promote good spinal health, among other health benefits.
- Good For Your Spine and Neck
Sleeping without pillows extends your back and allows it to rest in a natural position without any consequences or aches. This stands to reason as our ancestors sleep without the aid of pillows for centuries.
Using pillows that are too soft strains your neck muscles and decreases the blood flow to your head, leaving you with a headache in the morning.
Using ones that are too thick or highly stacked deforms your spine. Sleeping with pillows at first can feel very comfortable, but over time keeping your spine and neck in unnatural positions can lead to chronic pain.
- Improves Quality of Sleep
Sleeping without a pillow, when done properly can ensure that your neck and spine are aligned throughout the night, relieving it of unnatural pressure.
This allows you to sleep better and gain all the health benefits that come with quality sleep such as reduced levels of stress, less weight gain and feeling more energetic throughout the day.
- Facial Benefits
Sleeping with a pillow means placing your face on a grimy surface for hours on end. Bacteria and your own perspiration can seep into your pillowcases and ruin your complexion by clogging up your pores and causing acne.
If you do use a pillow, you might want to turn to satin pillowcases which are good not only for your face but also your hair.
How To Sleep Without A Pillow
If you’ve decided to give sleeping without a pillow a try, make sure you’ve exhausted all other options and are doing what’s right for you. Sleeping without a pillow is suggested if you naturally sleep on you back.
For side sleepers, sleeping without a pillow is actually worse as it leaves your head tilted down far too much without elevated support.
You also can’t expect for you to sleep with proper alignment immediately after throwing out your set of pillows. Below is a list of steps to take to transition to sleeping without a pillow.
- Start with a folded bedsheet/towel
It is unlikely for you to immediately adjust to sleeping without a pillow and can hold your head and neck in perfect alignment with your spine.
The best way to start is to ease into the practice by replacing your pillow with a folded bedsheet or towel for some slight elevation, maybe starting at the height of your usual pillow.
Then over time, you decrease the height by unfolding the layers gradually, and eventually, you’ll be used to sleeping at a lower elevation without putting the strain on your neck and back.
- Stretch regularly
Because you’re working your neck, shoulder and back muscles, it’s good practice to stretch them out to keep them flexible and avoid pain and injury when you’re making the transition.
Stretches like the corner stretch and levator scapula stretch, are good for relieving tightness and tension in your shoulders and neck.
As you can see, getting a good night’s rest is not an easy feat. We’ve relied on pillows for so long that our we didn’t realize that our sleeping positions might’ve been making it difficult for us to sleep. Is it better to sleep without a pillow?
That really depends on each person. A good rule of thumb is to find what is comfortable for you and gives you a high quality of sleep. To summarize what we’ve discussed here’s a list of steps to take if you’re considering sleeping without a pillow.
- Know your sleeping position — first of all, you have to be aware of your sleeping tendencies. Do you naturally sleep on your back? Or do you tend to sleep on your side? Each sleeping position has it’s own pros and cons. If you tend to sleep in a position that leaves you waking up sore and unrested, being conscious of it can help you undo the habit.
- Find the right pillows for you — if you do find sleeping with pillows more comfortable, make sure that you’re using them in a way that’s good for you. If you sleep on your side and have trouble elevating your neck, using a contour pillow might be good for you. Placing pillows around your body, like putting one under your hips if you tend to sleep on your stomach, can help keep your spine naturally curved.
- Transition to sleeping without your pillows slowly — having slept with pillows for most of your life, you can’t expect your body to change its way so easily. Start with a folded bedsheet or towel and reduce the height gradually by unfolding the layers. Eventually, your spine will revert back to its natural curvature and you’ll find sleeping without pillows to be comfortable and second nature. Do note that sleeping without pillows isn’t for everyone. You might need elevation to align your neck and spine, especially if you sleep on your side.
- Stretch it out — you can relieve tension in your neck and shoulder by stretching regularly. Small simple stretches can make your muscles more flexible and prevent you from waking up with cricks in your neck. Doing this can ease your transition into sleeping without a pillow as your neck might get strained from sleeping in a position it’s not used to.
That’s everything you need to know about whether or not sleeping without a pillow might be good for you. Remember to always do what is tried and true for you and not to take anyone’s suggestions at face value.
What works for them may not work for you. After a little effort, you might find yourself embracing a lifestyle without pillows and, of course, better quality sleep for the rest of your days.
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