Should You Sleep With or Without a Pillow?

Have you ever wondered about whether or not we need pillows at all? Some people believe that they are indispensable, and use multiple pillows at night. Others think it is better to sleep with your head as close to your mattress as possible.

The wide variety of opinions on the matter makes it an interesting question to answer. Using something to rest your head on at night is not exactly a new concept. In ancient Egypt, for example, people used wooden headrest to support themselves while asleep.

Lucky for us, we don’t have to use a wooden headrest anymore, but do we really need anything at all? If we go back to a time before man started to get advanced enough to make tools and fashion items, you have to wonder.

Looking at how primates sleep could give us some of the answers that we are looking for. Primates tend to make “nests” of leaves and branches, and these could give some support while sleeping. Do they have to have these? Probably not.

So, our good old caveman ancestor probably didn’t have too much cushioning to sleep on either. However, we also have to take into account that his lifestyle would have been very different to our own. He would have been fairly active, and so would have had better muscle tone.

This would have made sleeping on the hard floor easier for him, and it is unlikely that he suffered from a lot of back or neck aches.

Fast-forward to today, where around 80% of Americans, according to statistics from the American Chiropractic Association, will have some kind of issue with our backs, and you have to wonder about whether or not the pillows are doing their jobs.

Also, according to the same organization, the causes are usually mechanical – in other words, related to bad posture or misalignments in the spine. That might be considered pretty damning for the pillow industry. If these pillows were as wonderful as claimed, why are we suffering from all this backache?

Health Benefits of Sleeping With no Pillow

I think you know what way this is going – we didn’t come into this world with a cushion behind our heads, why sleep with one now? But, maybe you need some more solid reasons for ditching the cushion. Here they are.

1. Allergies

Am I trying to freak you out? Okay, sure maybe just a little bit. However, if you have allergies, it is worth keeping this in mind. Every night skin cells flake off your body. These dead cells fall onto your mattress and your pillow and create the perfect food source for dust mites.

According to CTVNews, dust mites can infest all kinds of pillows -- down, feather, polyester foam or microfiber. That means not one type is immune to them. If you were to go and analyze your bedding now, you would find millions of these tiny little suckers. Washing your bedding often helps, but unless you do it every day, they will accumulate.

2. Your beauty sleep

facial skin problems

Lying on any pillowcase other than a satin one causes friction on your skin when you sleep. Over time, this can help speed up how much time it takes for wrinkles to develop. It also can cause snags with your hair and make it more brittle as a result.

And, if that weren’t enough, the bacteria that build up could cause acne breakouts or worsen these breakouts.

A satin pillowcase helps, but it won’t allow you to have the most comfortable night’s rest.

3. Align your spine

If you watch any ads about sleeping aids, you have seen how they push the idea of you getting back into alignment while asleep.

The only one who might need help in this department, though is a side sleeper. They need to keep their neck supported in order to avoid neck pain. Here we covered the best pillows for neck pain suitable for side sleepers.

If you sleep on your back or your stomach, all the cushion is doing is to cause the neck to lie in an unnatural position.

4. Clearing up neck pain

Keeping your neck unnaturally elevated for long periods at night has unenviable effects on your neck. You could develop a crick or pain that is deeply rooted. It might not seem bad at first, but over time it will become harder to avoid this pain.

5. Posture

How many times did your parents tell you to stop slouching? Posture is extremely important in maintaining the good health of our bodies. Sleeping on a pillow exacerbates the problem because the head and neck become a lot weaker and so are less able to support the head.

How to Sleep Without Pillow?

If you have decided that the arguments listed above make sense, you might be thinking of throwing out your cushion tonight. Before you do that, though, I do advise that you work through this sensibly. Rather do it in stages so that you can adjust more easily, without a lot of discomfort.

You don’t have to go out and buy any special tools or anything, just get yourself a towel. It must be big enough so that when it is folded up, it is the same height as your cushion. The first night or two, sleep with your head on the towel instead of the cushion.

Then unfold it so that you are reducing the height of it. Give yourself a few nights to get used to that, and then unfold the next layer. Carry on in this manner until you are ready to ditch the towel as well.

It also won’t hurt to gently stretch your neck every night before bed, and every morning when you wake up.


Human beings were not designed to sleep on a soft mattress or cushion. Our early ancestors didn’t do so and were still fine. Getting comfy at night does feel a lot more pleasant, but it is not good for our overall skeletal structure.

And, considering that we have now got very advanced when it comes to what we sleep on, it is not just a matter of finding the right loft or firmness. If that were all it was, there would not be so many of us with back and neck pain.

You can take the first steps towards restoring balance by weaning yourself off your pillow. Try it for yourself; you will be surprised at the results.


More reading:

  • Casper Pillow Review for Wonderful Sleep
  • My Pillow Reviews – Our Expert Weigh In
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