Is It Better For Your Neck And Spine To Sleep With Or Without A Pillow?

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It’s no surprise that the right mattress can transform your sleep experience, but did you know that your pillow has a lot to do with your sleep quality as well? If you sometimes wake up with a sore neck, a terrible headache, or experience rapid heartbeats and anxiety in the chest, you might be sleep deprived.

What is the culprit, you might ask? Well, it could be your pillow! You might not realize that a pillow being too soft or too hard can cause major issues in the long run.

Read on to find out why you should get rid of your pillows and start sleeping without one.

Can't sleep without a pillow?
If you wish to continue using a pillow while you transition to a pillow-less sleep, check out our recommendations for neck-and-spine-friendly pillows and other comfortable pillows for every sleeping position.
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Because It Will Benefit Your Neck and Your Back

Sleeping without pillows will help your back extend, and you will rest in a natural position without any consequences or aches. Using a pillow that is too soft can strain your neck muscles and even decrease the blood flow to your head. If your head tilts downward on a pillow that doesn’t provide adequate support for your head, then your airflow through the respiratory system will be significantly reduced. Because of this, you might wake up in the morning feeling light-headed or with a headache.

On the other hand, using a thick pillow or even stacking more pillows underneath your head and neck will deform your position of the spine and induce pain in your back. Sleeping like this for long periods will only cause chronic back pain and frequent muscle strain. If you are suddenly starting to experience aches or pains in the morning, try sleeping without a pillow for a few nights to see if it helps.

Find out more about down vs. feather pillows.

woman sleeping on a pile of pillows

You Will Feel Well Rested In the Morning

Not using any neck and head support during sleep will allow your body to find an optimal position for rest. When we use pillows that do not provide proper support, our body has to compensate by engaging neck or back muscles. This leads to even more strain at a time when your body is supposed to recover from everyday stress. Muscles and tendons will work overtime, and the added pressure will accumulate and manifest as pain.

Waking Up Rested Illustration

When they get excessive strain for long periods of time, the pain becomes chronic. To get rid of this persistent pain you must get professional help from your doctor and change your sleeping habits. Some of the symptoms include restless sleeping, frequent waking up during sleep, and often changing your position in bed. All of this leads to sleep deprivation and induces increased anxiety and stress. Make sure to gently stretch out in the morning as soon as you wake up. This will benefit you and your body.

Your Face Will Thank You for Getting Rid Of Pillows

Besides curing aches and pains, your skin can also benefit from not using a pillow. Pressing your face on a pillow for hours every night isn’t exactly the best for your skin—it prevents the pores on your face from being able to breathe. This can result in increased perspiration and a buildup of grease and oil.

Acne can form because of added dust and impurities on the pillow’s surface come into contact with your face. And, if you don’t clean your pillow often enough, dirt and grime can attack your skin throughout the night.

Okay. So How Do I Start Sleeping Without Pillows?

Well, we’re glad you asked! It can be simple to get rid of your pillow permanently. To start, fold a cloth or blanket, maybe even a towel, to give you some height when you are sleeping—this should be slightly lower than the pillow that you are used to using. It is okay if your head is tilted slightly upward.

Then, during the next few weeks, reduce the height of your folded up cloth. Ideally, you’ll start to be more comfortable as your neck and head are more leveled with your back when lying down.

Is Sleeping Pillowless for Everyone?

animated man trying to ease neck pain by massaging painful spot

If you’re tempted to make the change and begin phasing out your old pillow in favor of a more natural feel, you might be wondering if this is the best option for everyone. After sleeping with a pillow for your whole life, you’re likely to become accustomed to it, so you might feel some pain at first. However, if this pain persists or becomes unmanageable, you’ll want to see your doctor for a second opinion.

Not every sleeping position will feel as comfortable without a pillow, especially if you have existing neck injuries. The benefits may outweigh the initial discomfort for some, though for others it might not be the right choice. The decision ultimately depends on user preference.


Once you settle in and start sleeping this way, you will never even think about going back to using pillows anymore. Given the positive feedback from users who saw improvements in their back ache problems and neck pain, we can safely say that even occasional sleeping this way can benefit and help relieve some of the issues regarding spinal and neck-related injury or any other type of discomfort. If you find that you cannot get used to sleeping without pillows, it is always easy to go back to your usual routine of sleep.

Further reading for those who still prefer a good pillow:

Sleep Advisor