Sleeping Without A Pillow: Benefits and Effects On Your Spine
written by sleep expert Lauren Hall
Can You Sleep Without A Pillow? Here are the top benefits and drawbacks:
Have you been struggling to fall asleep and tirelessly looking for ways to improve your night’s sleep while reducing aches and pains?
Well then let me tell you, you’re not alone.
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 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.
But wait let me tell you something:
There are actually some benefits to sleeping without a pillow, but it may only help if you’re sleeping in a certain position. Today I will be going through all the benefits and drawbacks of sleeping without a pillow to see if it is really worth having one.
Let’s jump into all the pros and cons, shall we?
Different sleeping positions :
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.
The benefits of sleeping without a pillow all depend on your sleeping position, as some sleeping positions need to have a pillow in order to relieve pressure points, relieve neck pain, and align your spine.
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.
For both back and side sleepers, I would recommend using a pillow, especially if you suffer from scoliosis or back pain as sleeping without one may actually be damaging and unsafe.
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.
For side sleepers it is always best to sleep with a pillow as it provides the support you need, it also helps to align your spine for pain and pressure relief.
f you struggle to sleep with a pillow as a side sleeper this may be an indication that your pillow isn’t right for you, it may not have enough loft to fill the gap between your head and shoulders.
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 thin pillow under your hips to curve the spine.
Stomach sleepers also need a pillow to keep their spine aligned throughout the night but this is the only position you may be able to get away with not using a pillow. Even using a thin pillow may be more beneficial than not using one.
Benefits of sleeping 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 one is actually a good way to promote good spinal health, among other health benefits.
Can sleeping without a pillow benefit your posture?
Pillows are designed to align your spine and keep it in a neutral position, as well as aligning your neck with the rest of your body. This supports good posture but what about sleeping without a pillow?
Well, studies only show the benefits of sleeping with a pillow and the best types of pillows for posture rather than how sleeping without affects your spine.
The only sleepers that may benefit from ditching the pillow are stomach sleepers, this is because sleeping on your stomach puts your spine in an unnatural position. By putting the majority of your weight in the middle adds stress to your back and neck and makes it difficult for your spine to maintain a natural curve.
Sleeping on your stomach without a pillow will help to keep your head flat, reduce stress on your neck and promote better spinal alignment. Sleeping on your back or side without a pillow may actually be detrimental and may cause more harm than good.
Can sleeping without a pillow relieve neck pain?
Surprisingly yes, but only if you sleep on your stomach. While you’re sleeping on your stomach with a pillow your head is turned to the side and extended backward which puts your head at an awkward angle which may actually cause pain and discomfort.
But if you suffer from neck pain I would recommend consulting with a doctor before going pillowless as they may be able to recommend a pillow that’s right for you/
Disadvantages of sleeping without a pillow:
Sleeping without a pillow only really benefits those that sleep on their stomach, but often the disadvantages out weigh the benefits and here’s how:
Causes Poor Posture:
When it comes to sleeping on your stomach it may be better to scrap the pillow as it will better align your spine than sleeping with a pillow. However, sleeping without one won’t completely resolve the off-set of this natural position.
This is because it is still difficult for your spine to remain neutral as most of your weight is not disturbed at the center of your body. Rather than go pillowless, to promote a better posture while sleeping on your stomach, put a pillow under your stomach and pelvis.
This will help to distribute your body weight better, and take away the pressure from the middle of your body and promoting a more natural spinal alignment (even without one under your head).
Sleeping without a pillow in other positions is really a no-go. It will put your spine in an unnatural position and put a strain on your joints and muscles. When looking for a pillow for side sleepers I would recommend going for a high loft, with a good balance of firmness and for back sleepers go for a medium loft with a good level of firmness too.
Causes neck pain:
Similarly to posture, sleeping without a pillow can actually cause neck pain. For stomach sleepers, it may help to keep your neck in a more natural position but won’t stop you from turning your head throughout the night, which can actually strain your neck.
With side and back sleepers ditching the pillow may actually make your neck pain worse. Sleeping with a pillow is crucial for supporting your head, neck, and shoulders while easing pressure points and balancing out the weight.
It keeps your head in the same position throughout the night and prevents your head-turning, without a pillow you won’t get the same support as you usually would. Even sleeping on your back or without the pillow will cause your neck to overextend, causing pain.
It can also cause neck stiffness because your neck muscles and pressure points won’t be relieved and evenly distributed, you’re more likely to experience pain, stiffness, and even headaches.
How To Sleep Without A Pillow
Suppose you do decide to sleep without a pillow; here’s how to sleep safely and promote the best posture possible while sleeping without one. I would only recommend sleeping without one if you sleep on your stomach.
Start with a folded bedsheet/towel:
It is unlikely for you to immediately adjust to sleeping without a pillow and hold your head and neck perfectly aligned with your spine.
The best way to start is to ease into the practice by replacing your pillow with a thin pillow or 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. Eventually, you’ll be used to sleeping at a lower elevation without putting the strain on your neck and back.
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.
Choose the right mattress:
Without a pillow, it is even more important to have the right mattress that provides you with enough support. A good mattress will support your spine and protect you against any back pain. It will align your spine and give you the support you will need while not using a pillow.
As you can see, getting a good night’s rest is not an easy feat. We’ve relied on pillows for so long that 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. I would only recommend easing into sleeping without a pillow and only sleep without one if you’re sleeping on your stomach.
That’s everything you need to know about whether or not sleeping without a pillow might be good for you. Remember always to do what is tried and true for you and not 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.
Happy sleeping, my friends!
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