Is it better to sleep with or without a pillow?

Posted by Matt Cardoni on 13th Jan 2023

Is it better to sleep with or without a pillow?

Is it better to sleep with or without a pillow? There are arguments on both sides of the debate, with some experts claiming that sleeping without a pillow is the best way to maintain proper spinal alignment, while others insist that using a pillow is essential for neck and head support. This can be confusing for people who are trying to figure out the best way to sleep for maximum comfort and rest. In this blog post, we will take a look at some tips for choosing the right pillow if you decide to use one.

Most experts believe sleeping without a pillow is considered harmful to your health in a variety of ways including:

  • quality of sleep
  • health of your neck and spine
  • posture
  • sleep apnea
  • digestion

A pillow should provide support for your back and spine. The human spine is naturally curved, so it is imperative that we have this support when we are sleeping. Having support for both your head and neck will help to maintain the proper alignment of these areas of the spine. Sleeping without sufficient support will not only have a negative impact on your sleep, but it can also result in stiffness in your neck and back. Sleeping with a pillow is generally recommended as it can help maintain proper neck and spine alignment. A pillow that is the right loft and density for your sleep position and body size can support the head and shoulders and reduce muscle tension and discomfort. However, for individuals who prefer a minimalist feel, a flat pillow can also align the neck and spine, reduce pain and promote quality sleep for stomach and back sleepers. Not using a pillow may lead to more aches and long-term damage for most people.

Myth vs. Fact: Sleeping without a pillow

When it comes to the age-old debate of whether or not to use a pillow while sleeping, opinions are certainly divided. Some argue that going pillow-free can have potential benefits such as reducing aches and pains, however, it is important to note that many of these claims are not backed by research. Keep reading to debunk some of the myths about going without a pillow:

Myth: Sleeping without a pillow can reduce pain in your head, neck, and spine.

Fact: Sleeping without a pillow or the wrong size pillow may aggravate head and neck discomfort. Pillows cradle the head for added comfort. The right-size pillow also props the neck in a neutral position rather than flexed forward or back. Sleeping without a pillow eliminates this support, and misalignment of the cervical spine may result in tension heads and muscle tightness.

Myth: Sleeping without a pillow improves spine alignment.

Fact: Sleeping without a pillow in most positions causes an unnatural curve of the spine and neck. Pillows optimize spine alignment for better sleep and reduced pain. Even the slightest adjustment from a soft and flat pillow can make a world of difference in your posture, sleep quality, and soreness throughout the day.

Myth: Sleeping without a pillow reduces the risk of wrinkles

Fact: A pillow does not increase the appearance of facial wrinkles. This theory is based on the belief that removing a pillow allows the skin to lie flat and avoid being pressed against a surface all night. However, even without a pillow, side and stomach sleepers press their face against a sheet and mattress for the same amount of time. The best way to avoid wrinkles at night is to add a silk pillowcase to your pillows or train yourself to become a back sleeper, keeping your skin away from any surface or linen while you rest.

Myth: Sleeping without a pillow improves digestion

Fact: No scientific evidence suggests that sleeping without a pillow will improve digestion. Many experts recommend laying on your left side to aid digestion and reduce acid reflux symptoms. But side sleepers need the most pillow support to align the spine. If you suffer from regular indigestion, avoid sleeping on your back for the best results.

How to choose the right pillow

Multiple factors contribute to pillow selection, but sleep position is the most important. Check out Downlite's Pillow Buying Guide to learn more about choosing the perfect pillow. As a rule of thumb, follow these tips when shopping for a new pillow:

Side sleepers should select pillows with a loft (or thickness) that matches the distance of their ear to the outer shoulder to ensure proper alignment. A medium to firm-density pillow will cradle the head, neck, and shoulders to keep the spine straight. Without a pillow, a side sleeper would sleep with a craned neck and curved spine, resulting in pain and poor posture. A body pillow can be a great option for side sleepers to maintain proper posture while sleeping.

Back sleepers should opt for a thinner, medium-density pillow that offers just the right amount of support without hyperextending the head and neck. Low to medium loft pillows tend to cradle the natural curvature of the spine and prevent misalignment in this position. Without a pillow, a back sleeper’s head will tilt too far back, resulting in an unnatural bend in the spine.

Stomach sleepers should select a thin and soft pillow or an extra soft pillow to maintain proper alignment of the spine. A compressible pillow with a low loft ensures that the head isn't propped too high, which can lead to pain and stiffness. While stomach sleepers are the best candidates for going pillowless, a thin pillow is best to prevent the neck from reaching an awkward angle.

No matter the quality of the pillow you sleep on, selecting the wrong thickness, density, or material can lead to discomfort and poor sleep. If you would like personalized advice on choosing the right pillow for you, contact our customer service representatives, who will assist you in your decision-making.