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Some people may find that sleeping without a pillow has benefits, but it is not a good idea for everyone.

The type of pillow that a person uses can affect their quality of sleep. Using the wrong one can cause sleep loss and physical aches, such as neck or back pain.

In this article, we look at the role of a pillow during sleep and explain the risks and benefits of sleeping without one. We also offer advice on choosing the right pillow and provide some general tips on improving sleep quality.

a woman sleeping in a bed without a pillowShare on Pinterest
Sleeping without a pillow may affect a person’s quality of sleep.

Poor posture during the night interferes with a person’s quality of sleep and can lead to aches and pains during the day. The individual might also experience neck or back pain when they wake up.

Pillows are important because they keep the head aligned with the neck and backbone during sleep. If a person’s spine or neck is not in a neutral position, they may wake up during the night, causing sleep loss.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the goal should be to keep the head in a neutral position. In this position, it rests squarely on the shoulders and is neither too far back nor too far forward.

Neck and back pain

People who sleep on their stomach may benefit from sleeping without a pillow, but it is not a good idea for everyone.

Stomach sleepers often find that using a pillow puts stress on their lower back. It can do this if it pushes their head too far back, leading to an arching of the spine.

Sleeping without a pillow can align the spine during sleep, helping ease back or neck pain during the day. Alternatively, using a very thin pillow may help.

Wrinkles

Studies have shown that pillows can compress the skin during sleep, particularly in people who sleep on their stomach or their side. Over time, this can lead to sleep wrinkles and contribute to the visible signs of aging.

Sleeping without a pillow can stop the face from scrunching up during the night. However, for people who sleep on their side or back, it can also contribute to spinal problems.

Other ways to help reduce wrinkles include:

  • avoiding sun exposure
  • stopping smoking, if relevant
  • eating a healthful diet
  • moisturizing daily

Acne

There is no evidence to suggest that sleeping without a pillow can improve acne. However, bacteria can make the skin condition worse, so it is advisable to wash all bedding regularly.

Hair

There is no evidence to suggest that sleeping without a pillow is good for the hair.

Sleeping without a pillow can help some people who sleep on their stomach, but it is not a good idea for everyone.

People who sleep on their side or back will usually find that sleeping without a pillow puts pressure on their neck. By doing this, it can ruin a person’s quality of sleep and lead to neck and back pain.

Choosing the right pillow can help people improve their sleep. The National Sleep Foundation advise people to select a pillow that suits the way they sleep:

Stomach sleepers

Instead of using no pillow at all, stomach sleepers could try using a very thin pillow to ease the stress on their neck. They could also try sleeping on their side, hugging a large body pillow to maintain the feeling of slight pressure on the stomach.

Back sleepers

Back sleepers tend to appreciate a thinner pillow that stops the head from being thrown too far forward.

A memory foam pillow or one with a thicker bottom and a thinner middle will cradle the neck and help keep it aligned.

Sleeping with another pillow under the knees can help ease any pressure on the lower back.

Side sleepers

Side sleepers should choose a firm pillow with extra depth to help support the head and bridge the distance between the ear and the shoulder.

Sleeping with a pillow between the knees can also help align the spine more effectively.

Learn more about side sleeping here.

General tips to improve sleep include:

  • waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day, including at weekends
  • having a relaxing bedtime ritual, such as having a warm bath or reading a book
  • avoiding napping during the day
  • exercising daily
  • making sure that the bedroom is cool, quiet, and dark
  • using a comfortable mattress
  • avoiding cigarettes and alcohol
  • avoiding heavy meals before bedtime

Learn more tips for improving sleep here.

Sleeping without a pillow may help some people who sleep on their front. It can help keep the spine and the neck in alignment during sleep, easing neck and back pain.

It is not a good idea for everyone, though. People who sleep on their back or side might find that sleeping without a pillow causes neck or back pain.

Sleeping without a pillow may help reduce wrinkles, but there is no evidence to suggest that it can help with acne or improve people’s hair.

Anyone experiencing ongoing sleep issues should speak to a doctor for advice.

Many different types of pillows are available for purchase online: