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Are there benefits to sleeping without a pillow?

Sleep is one of the most important parts of our day. It keeps us mentally and physically healthy, allows us to reenergize, and increases productivity (among other things). The same way people have strong opinions on sleeping in a cold versus a warm room or sleeping on cotton or flannel sheets, there are big thoughts on to pillow or not to pillow.

Some people love to sleep on big, fluffy pillows; others prefer a flat variety. Some don’t like to sleep with a pillow at all. But are there benefits to sleeping without a pillow, or can it actually be bad for you? It’s possible that the position and material of the pillow may play a key role.

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There are some benefits of sleeping without a pillow but know it’s really an individual, case-by-case decision. If you suffer from neck or back pain, you may have tried ditching your pillow in lieu of a fully horizontal position.

Pillows, by nature, are meant to keep your spine in a neutral position and align your neck with the rest of your body, which supports good posture. Because of this position (as it were), research has mainly focused on the best type of pillow to improve one’s posture. There hasn’t been much in the way of research about how sleeping without a pillow specifically affects the spine.

If you ever wake up with a headache or feeling lightheaded, your pillow might be the culprit. Try sleeping without a pillow and see if you feel better the next day or feel like you’ve gotten a better night’s sleep. The reason: Pillows can reduce blood flow to the head, and your headache may be a sign of the disruption of oxygen distribution.

Another benefit of sleeping without a pillow is reducing or avoiding facial acne altogether. Dirt and oil can accumulate on your face as you sleep, which clogs pores. Since your face rests on your pillow and your pillow can often be the source of dust, sweat, makeup, and debris, it can also clog pores unless you’re washing your pillowcase every day (which not many of us have the time to do).

Finally, if you toss and turn through the night because you can’t get comfortable, your pillow may be to blame. Try sleeping without a pillow, and if you wake up refreshed, it may be something to consider.


Position matters

Losing your pillow doesn’t work in all sleeping positions. If you sleep on your back or side, sleeping without a pillow may do more harm than good because of your body’s alignment, causing headaches and back pain.

If you’re a stomach sleeper, there may actually be proven benefits to ditching your pillow. However, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center, sleeping on your stomach puts your spine in an unnatural position because most of your weight is in the middle of your body. This can add unnecessary stress on your back and neck. However, if you’ve been a stomach sleeper all your life and haven’t experienced this, it is the best position to sleep pillow-less.

If you’re a back sleeper, sleeping without a pillow can keep your head flat. This may reduce some stress on your neck and promote better alignment, especially if you’re used to sleeping on more than one pillow. If you ditch your pillow, it may help prevent nerve damage and strained muscles so you experience less neck pain, but experts say the best bet for back sleepers is a thin, contoured pillow.

Teerawit Chankowet/Shutterstock

In conclusion

Despite the potential benefit, research is lacking. If your neck hurts after sleeping, talking to your doctor about options is the best place to start.

Generally speaking, sleeping without a pillow isn’t good for your overall posture. Pillows were created to keep your spine aligned, and by choosing not to use one, you could be messing up a good thing. If you are determined to try, sleeping on your stomach is the best bet.

Making sure you have a solid mattress is one of the best ways to help you get a good night’s sleep and prevent pain altogether. According to experts, you should be shopping around for a new mattress every five to 10 years, depending on the type of mattress you have. Don’t skimp. Sleep is critical to your overall well-being, so invest in a quality mattress regardless of whether you go sans pillow or not.

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