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

Nothing on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The contents of this website are for informational purposes only.

Most of us have experienced sleep deprivation. This can be devastating and prevent us from performing even the most straightforward daily tasks (learn tricks to beat it). Do you sometimes wake up with a sore neck? And do you often greet the day with a terrible headache? Perhaps you experienced rapid heartbeats and anxiety in the chest when you woke up early for no reason?

Sadly, these are only some of the signs that you aren't getting quality sleep. What you might not know is that the cause of these issues can be the pillows you sleep on. It seems like a perfect crime. No, one will judge pillows because of their softness. Do you believe that they are indispensable for a good night sleep? Think again. They can harm you without you suspecting anything.

We will guide you to as to why you should get rid of your good old pillows and start sleeping without them. Without any pillow for that matter. You may ask why?

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.
Read the Article

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 will most likely wake up the next morning feeling light-headed or even 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 any sort of pain in the morning, get rid of your current set of pillows immediately. Try to sleep one night without any head and neck support to see if the back or neck pain is gone the next morning.

back and neck pane

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.

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

There is no way your skin can benefit from being pressed on the pillow for hours at a time. Do not fool yourselves, please. By pressing your face onto the surface of a pillow will prevent it from being able to perspire and breathe. You are preventing the pores on the skin to have access to air. This results in an increase of perspiration and aid in the forming of all the grease and oil on your face. Blackheads also form in the skin's pores because added dust and impurities on the pillow's surface come in contact with your face.

Not to mention grime that can colonize your pillow if you don't clean it often, that can attack your skin during the night.

skin problems

Okay. So How Do I Start Sleeping Without Pillows?

Well, I am glad you asked. It is quite simple. There are good ways of getting rid of them permanently and never going back to using them. For a start, you can use a folded cloth. This can be any thicker cloth that, when folded, will give you some height while sleeping. Make sure it isn’t too high when you fold it over. Start with the height that will keep your neck and head leveled with our back when you rest on it. It is okay if your head is tilted slightly upward. Then, during the next few weeks, reduce the height of your new resting cloth until you feel comfortable when your head and neck are completely in line with your body.


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:

Author: Jill Thompson

I've been self-employed for almost four years and I would not change it for anything! I believe that anyone can achieve their goals with the right attitude and determination.

I'm an avid traveler (25+ countries and counting) that loves to meet new people doing amazing things.

When I'm not researching for the Sleep Advisor, you can find me reading, running, traveling, golfing, or meditating.

I wish you the very best on your journey!

  1. Reply
    Jo September 7, 2017 at 4:43 am

    I just start sleeping without pillow, it’s great; but now my abs hurt! Any advice?

    • Reply
      Michelle October 6, 2017 at 4:16 am

      Put a round pillow under your knees to help support your stomach/back area

  2. Reply
    Marina Elizabeth September 13, 2017 at 3:24 am

    Thank you for a great advice. It works for me. Love it!!

  3. Reply
    Kaylin November 10, 2017 at 6:03 am

    I just started sleeping without a pillow and the results are amazing! No more headaches or neck pain! My traps feel relaxed and no more knots! I sleep so much better now and wake up feeling rested

  4. Reply
    Ryan November 11, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    Hi, I don’t like sleeping on pillows, I am a stomach sleeper and have been sleeping without pillows under my head since I was little, I am 45 now and still sleep with pillows at my side instead of under my head. Do I encourage my daughter to do the same?

    • Reply
      Todd March 12, 2019 at 11:49 pm

      Ryan, I’m not a specialist, but I’ve read countless articles that say stomach sleeping is terrible for your back. If you insist on doing so, more power to you; but please don’t encourage your daughter to do so.

  5. Reply
    Amanda December 5, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    3 herniated discs in my neck and severe lat muscle strain incorporating my entire back left me with so many freakin back/muscle issues, even with my TENS unit, massages, chiropractor and acupuncture. I stopped using pillows and feel much better. I’m a side sleeper but trying to adjust to back sleeping because it does help, even sleeping on my side without pillows works though.

  6. Reply
    dan December 28, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    I just slept last night without a pillow and my lower back is in pain all day. Not sure what caused this?

    • Reply
      Brittany August 15, 2018 at 3:59 am

      Dan….. I had the problem. . I just folded a towel kinda thick and place it under your lower back or neck…where ever you feel pain ….ya body Will tell you what to do

    • Reply
      Sarah Cummings February 8, 2018 at 9:48 am

      Hey Dan, that happened to me too when I tried it. It takes time to adjust and you need to be careful for the first couple nights.

      • Reply
        Tracy June 29, 2018 at 8:54 pm

        Hi Sarah,
        Army vet here
        I had back surgery a year ago
        Now still have pinched nerve in neck
        Was reading y’all s conversation and was interested to know where you stood now being since February in your improvements if any.

        • Sarah Cummings July 4, 2018 at 2:19 pm

          Tracy, thanks for reaching out. Any sleep habit adjustment or change will take some getting used to, especially in the beginning. Considering your history, I may suggest discussing the best methods for alleviating your pain with your doctor who can evaluate your individual case and give you the best advice. Best of luck to you!

  7. Reply
    Michelle Whit January 1, 2018 at 10:53 am

    I just started sleeping without a pillow a few days ago. I have been having terrible neck and shoulder pain from carrying my little baby around all day long and from a lack of exercise. It has worked wonders. I do use a pillow while reading in bed, but then put it away when ready to sleep.

  8. Reply
    Kasey woods January 27, 2018 at 2:59 am

    Sleeping on your side can be harmful as your Spine is often unaligned but if switching to your back doesn’t work you can always hold a pillow in between your arms while sleeping on your side to keep spinal alignment and good posture

  9. Reply
    Manya February 11, 2018 at 10:29 am

    Hi! I’ve been sleeping without a pillow for a long time now. I sleep very poorly because of many dreams (it appears I think too much, long story, working on this and other issues with a therapist) but with a pillow my sleep seems even worse! Recently though, I’ve been waking up with a strained neck and shoulders regularly (tiger balm is my savior now! haha) I usually sleep on my stomach and slightly on my side I guess (somewhere in between?) with one knee up.
    What do I do?
    I’d greatly appreciate some advice 😀

    • Reply
      M May 18, 2018 at 2:50 am

      sleeping on your stomach means your head is propped up unnaturally. that’s why your neck hurts. you need to get a flat pillow or ditch it. you also need to prop your stomach a bit because your spine is pressured downward on that position.

      otherwise, convert to lateral sleeping by propping your back with a bolster or pillow (or the wall). the knee up is alright.

      working out a bit during the day can help you get used to your new sleeping position faster. (you’ll be more exhausted and ready to sleep and less likely to think about it)

  10. Reply
    Virginie March 20, 2018 at 3:16 am

    Do you need to use a towel at the beginning or sleep right away without anything

  11. Reply
    Mickeylyn April 22, 2018 at 7:03 pm

    What about those with mild sleep apnea? My husband doesn’t breath well on his back and his pillow is practically non existent. Also, pregnant women are advised NOT to sleep on their backs.

  12. Reply
    M May 18, 2018 at 2:53 am

    Switching to a lateral position could help with it. His airway could be blocked when facing upward due to the force of gravity on his tongue. the pillow has little to do with it.

    when sleeping, be sure that your neck are propped aligned with your spine.

    Yea, pregnant women are better when they sleep on the left side to relieve back pain and it also helps with heartburn.

  13. Reply
    Sally Ellis June 11, 2018 at 8:36 pm

    I’ve just started to experiment sleeping without a pillow after months / years of lower back and neck ache. I’m a front sleeper and since ditching my pillow I’ve had such deep sleep. No longer fighting with the pillow. My neck has untwisted and my lower back is unbelievably painfree. There’s no way I’d pop a pillow under my head again. I feel so rested in the morning and can even do 10 hours sleep.

    • Reply
      kristin August 31, 2018 at 3:24 am

      Thank you for your results of not using a pillow! I have returned to various stores in the last week
      6 pillows in search of what will feel good for my recently diagnosed neck stenosis. My physical
      therapist suggested I find a new pillow after I showed her my 20 year old pillows I had been using!
      I cannot tolerate the pillows in the stores: even the so called soft ones are too thick and non
      responsive. I have found myself just trying to sleep with NO pillow and think this is better than
      what is out on the market today!

  14. Reply
    Ali June 22, 2018 at 2:18 am

    Sleeping without pillow is not good for cervical spine ..over arches your spine as your head falls backwards putting extra pressure on spine.
    trying using a hard book under your head and lie down for few minutes in a day to properly align your spine.
    Keep neck free at all times.

  15. Reply
    Gem June 23, 2018 at 12:18 am

    So I have been sleeping in a lot this past month since I have a lot of free time. My head sometimes slides off the pillow. Very recently, I’ve discovered how comforting it is to sleep without a pillow. The first time I slid off my pillow and continued to sleep flat, I had a dream about lying on a plateau and staring into the sky. It felt very freeing and relaxing. I love the way gravity feels when it presses down on my whole body. Thanks to this article, I’ll try ditching my pillow all together.

  16. Reply
    Philip July 28, 2018 at 11:31 am

    I am finding it difficult to fall asleep on my back even when exhausted.

    I have always started sleeping on my side, and a few years ago went from 2 pillows to 1.

    How can I get rid of my pillow without hurting my neck?

  17. Reply
    Jake August 14, 2018 at 5:04 am

    I am temporarily out of work after coming down with severe neck pain. I have gone to two doctors, physical therapy, a chiropractor, a masseuse, a pain specialist, and am now being referred to a neurologist. It feels like my neck is slipping out of alignment constantly creating deep fissure stabbing headaches, severe ringing in the ears, and a stiff, tired, and exhausted neck muscles, barely able to hold my neck up by the end of the night. And now I’m hearing it’s as simple as getting rid of all the expensive pillows I recently bought to balance my neck and head?

    • Reply
      Cindy October 18, 2018 at 12:52 am

      Jake did your symptoms improve when you stopped using a pillow?

  18. Reply
    Izaak c Warmenhoven October 17, 2018 at 11:31 am

    I have had sore stiff neck issues for a while at times I tried no pillow and pain was less. Now I’m on day 3 of no pillow and neck pain is gone . Who would have thought?

  19. Reply
    Halo November 10, 2018 at 4:05 pm

    Hi, I’m a side-sleeper (I hear it has a lot of benefits), would this method work for me? Its just that I’ve had neck pain for the last few days and I really need some sort of solution… thanks for the article.

  20. Reply
    Susan statkewitsch November 17, 2018 at 8:28 am

    What is the best position when you have shoulder pain and a little neck pain on one side from over worked muscles and ligaments which pressure makes pain worse?

  21. Reply
    IAM November 23, 2018 at 9:08 pm

    I’ve been sleeping without pillows for several years now but I’ve neck pain on both sides.. for some years

  22. Reply
    proto kirby December 6, 2018 at 3:59 am

    i never sleep with a pillow unless i have a cold and i need to prop my head up to breathe. but i frequently change sleeping position and randomly wake up in the night. do you think it’s from stress or something? im constantly being assaulted by bullies at school and the principal and everyone else including the school cop do nothing about it just because i have autism and they never take anything i say seriously. honestly i’m only the “weird kid” because i’m always drawing in my note books and i have very heightened senses. i never can fall asleep or stay asleep

  23. Reply
    Eric M. Damron December 6, 2018 at 10:55 am

    Hey Jill, it’s such an informative article.we all use pillows for various purposes but doesn’t know the right uses of described the things will be helpful for me.thanks for sharing this.keep posting this type of post. Good wishes for you.. 🙂

  24. Reply
    Jerilyn Familetto January 17, 2019 at 5:38 pm

    Hello! I’m a seventy-two year old female who often, especially during these winter months, wakes up with painful earaches. Do you have any understanding of why this occurs? Presently sleeping, both on my back and side, with a pillow. HELP! Thanks, Jerilyn

    • Reply
      Sarah Cummings January 21, 2019 at 4:23 pm

      Hmm, Jerilyn. that sounds painful! I’m so sorry you are struggling with this. I would strongly suggest discussing the matter with your doctor who knows your history better and may have ideas on how to address it. Feel better!

  25. Reply
    Arnold Rinehart January 30, 2019 at 1:43 am

    I Think Sleeping with Pillows is much better. Cause with proper knowledge about it you are not struggling on positioning a good posture for a good rest.

  26. Reply
    Brac February 6, 2019 at 6:32 am

    I’m trying to find an answer to people like me who fall asleep on their backs and then sometimes roll over during the night. It seems to me that a perfect support on my back is no pillow, or a contoured pillow to support the curvature of the neck naturally, and side sleeping is a pillow that keeps the spine alignment straight (read: horizontal). And I am left wondering if those two types of sleep support are mutually exclusive? I don’t think I can start without a pillow and then when I roll on to my side in my sleep, reach for a pillow to support my head… Is there an answer?

    • Reply
      Claire March 14, 2019 at 5:26 am

      BRAC: I have the exact same sleeping habits and use a cervical pillow that is designed for this purpose. There’s a depression in the middle of the pillow for when you are lying on your back, and if you roll on your side, you can rest your head on the higher sides for correct spine alignment. Best of luck!

    • Reply
      Sarah Cummings February 11, 2019 at 4:46 pm

      Hi Brac. Thanks for reaching out to us. That’s a very interesting quandary. It may be that your particular sleeping style is best served with a pillow that is highly adjustable. You may not be able to reach out for a pillow when you’re sleeping, but you might be able to “fluff” one up to your desired loft. Try that and see how it goes.

  27. Reply
    David UK February 8, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    I keep waking up with severe pains in my neck and back of head which seem to go when i have some cereal for breakfast although some soreness remains throughout the day! I will try sleeping without pillows as I can’t keep on like this.
    Thanks for all the comments and advice.

  28. Reply
    Anne G February 28, 2019 at 3:11 am

    I hope you have figured out how to sleep better and I’m sorry people give you a hard time.

  29. Reply
    Shiza March 3, 2019 at 6:04 pm

    I am sleeping without pillow and i am really enjoying it

  30. Reply
    Diana March 12, 2019 at 4:56 am

    I was waking up dizzy and losing my balance. My neck and was hurting. I decided to run some experiments on my own and would lay back to bed but remove my pillow. I felt blood running through my neck and determined the pillow was cutting off circulation just like when you wake up and your arm feels like it is asleep. Laying back for a few seconds without a pillow was enough for me to regain my balance with I got up out of bed. This repeated several nights until I was convinced it was the pillow. Now I dont sleep with one at all and then found your article that substantiates my theory.. Thank you!

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