Should You Sleep Without a Pillow?

Sleep Without a Pillow

Why should you use pillows when you can sleep without them? Are you wondering why humans need pillows?

There are several theories on why humans evolved to sleep with a pillow beneath their heads. Even before the age of homo sapiens, tree-dwelling apes (5-23 million years ago) used sleeping pillows made from wood. 

Not only the use of pillows improved the quality of their sleep, but it also prevented them from falling off of trees, which would generally result in death either by the impact of the fall or by being hunted by night predators.

Maybe this is the primary reason why humans evolved to sleep with a pillow under their heads. Another, more solid reason behind why we use pillows is that human bodies have natural curvatures, and the degree of the C-shaped neck curve varies from person to person, a right sized pillow can support proper spinal alignment. This also explains why we use a mattress to support our lower body. The lower body is curved too!

Does Sleeping Without a Pillow Cause Neck Pain?

Ideally, there are no negative consequences to sleeping without a pillow whatsoever. There is a posture in hatha yoga (named Savasana) where a person lies on their back on a flat floor without supporting their neck with a pillow or any other kind of cushioning. 

Usually, at the end of a grueling yoga session, this pose (or asana) is performed. This pose lets the body relax and recover from the wear and tear incurred during the exercise.

Sleep Without a Pillow

As you can see from the image above, the person performing Shavasana is lying on the floor comfortably, resting his head on the floor. The same pose can be incorporated while sleeping. 

However, some people with a higher degree of C-shaped neck curve (a condition known as Cervical lordosis) will experience pain in their neck while lying without the use of the pillow. 

Having too much of a curve in the neck does not mean you are unhealthy. It’s mostly genetic, but in some people, an unfortunate event like a car crash or a sports injury can lead to Cervical lordosis. 

Moreover, Cervical lordosis might not be a concern when a person is standing up or sitting down erect, but things begin to change when they lie on their back without a pillow. The muscles in their neck begin to stretch — as nothing is holding the curved spine — causing pain and discomfort in the region.

If you do suffer from Cervical lordosis and still wish to sleep without a pillow, then changing your sleeping position can be a good idea. Sleeping on your back is out of the question. Consider sleeping on your side and resting your head on top of your folded arm. This may not be as comfortable as sleeping with a pillow to support your head, but it is a lot better than sleeping on your belly. 

Is Sleeping Without a Pillow Bad?

From the last section, it is now clear that sleeping without a pillow may cause neck pain in some people. Others may or may not find it totally comfortable. But is sleeping without a pillow bad if someone does it once in a while? 

We know that some people, during sleep, like to switch between one pillow and two or more pillows (mostly for added comfort). This is very common in stomach sleepers. 

We want to tell you that there is no harm in sleeping without a pillow (even if you suffer from Cervical lordosis). Your body cannot always remain stiff and erect while you are asleep, sometimes it needs to move and adjust, so every inch of it gets the rest it needs.

Are There Any Benefits of Sleeping Without a Pillow?

Yes! There are several benefits of sleeping without a pillow. Sleeping without a pillow is more beneficial for stomach sleepers as it would keep their head in alignment with the spine. Moreover, even back sleepers and side sleepers can benefit by sleeping without a pillow–if they do it occasionally.

Here are the benefits of sleeping without a pillow:

1) It Makes You Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

Not everyone sleeps with a pillow. In certain countries, there is not much emphasis given to bedding, and it’s accessories. People usually sleep on a thin mattress without knowing what a pillow feels like. 

We are not asking you to ditch all your pillows forever. But sleeping without a pillow on occasions can help you appreciate what you currently have. It can also desensitize you to discomfort and help you become more flexible.

2) It Can Help You Identify the Cause of the Neck Pain

Sleep Without a Pillow

Sleeping on a fluffy and soft pillow may seem like a blessing for 2-3 days (after you try them for the first time), but in the long run, it can be damaging for your neck muscles. 

When you rest your head on a fluffy pillow, it sinks in without any resistance; there is a very little passage left between your head and the pillow. This reduces the blood flow to the brain. 

Consequently, sleeping with too many pillows beneath your head can also be detrimental to your posture. Hence, to identify the real cause of neck pain, try sleeping without a pillow for 1-2 days.

3) Prevents Acne 

According to a report by HuffingtonPost, sleeping with a pillow at night can cause breakouts the next morning. It doesn’t matter how well you wash your face before bedtime as the pillow itself houses dirt, oil, and acne-causing germs. 

In the same report, Dr. David E. Bank, a renowned dermatologist, has also admitted to the fact that the oil deposits on the pillow can clog pores and cause blemishes. Hence, unless you can change the pillowcase on a daily basis, you are better off sleeping without a pillow.

4) Prevents Plagiocephaly or Flat Head Syndrome in Newborns

Newborn babies, especially the ones in 1-2 months age range, are susceptible to a condition called plagiocephaly or Flat Head Syndrome. 

A baby’s head, in the early stages of his/her life, is delicate and fictile. If your baby is sleeping with a soft and cushy pillow, he/she might develop plagiocephaly or flat head syndrome. Hence, newborns must sleep on a thin and evenly-shaped mattress.

5) Improves the Quality of Sleep

A study done by Dr. Karen Grimmer-Somers suggests that most people do not make the most of their pillows; they use it the wrong way. In this study, Dr. Karen experimented with 106 participants to find out how the pillow that participants usually slept on affected the quality of their sleep

In conclusion, most participants were sleeping on the wrong pillow (in terms of size, material, shape, etc.). Unlike the participant who chooses a wrong pillow — who showed symptoms like compromised sleep quality and low pillow comfort — the participant who slept on the correct pillow showed no signs of distress. Hence, it is a lot better to sleep without a pillow until you figure out the right one for you.

Also Read: How to Use A Pregnancy Pillow?


Even if the level of comfort drops a bit by sleeping without a pillow, it’s much better than sleeping on the wrong pillow. In the long run, you will see that sleeping without a pillow (whether you do it occasionally or regularly) helps you recover from work-induced fatigue and also makes you feel good all over. But this will take time, particularly if you have been sleeping with a pillow your whole life.

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