To Sleep With or Without a Pillow
You might’ve heard the phrase, “The best advice is found on the pillow.”, or “Consult with your pillow.”
Those phrases or ones like it generally are recommending that if you’ve got some decision-making to do, it’s best to rest up on your sleeping pillow.
But the contrarian in you asks reflexively, “Do I… do I need to sleep on a pillow?”
As a company in the business of selling sleeping pillows, our first response would be, “Yes, absolutely!” But as much as we are in the business of pillow-selling, we’re more into the business of helping you make an informed decision. So, let’s get into the potential drawbacks and benefits of using or not using a sleeping pillow.
Sleeping Without a Pillow - Benefits
A sleeping pillow is not a prerequisite for a good night’s sleep. We’ve gotten a good night’s sleep without one, and we bet you have too.
Primarily, a good sleeping pillow helps your spine have a good neutral alignment. When your spine is aligned during sleep, it supports good posture and helps you avoid neck pain in the morning. As spine alignment is the principal goal here, a sleeping pillow may or not play a role in achieving it.
Among all the sleeping positions—stomach, side and back—stomach sleepers may benefit with no pillow. When you sleep on your stomach, it puts your spine in a curved, U-shaped position, and adding an elevated sleeping pillow to rest on just makes it that much more curvy. So theoretically, it’ll help you alleviate any additional pressure on your spine.
That said, stomach sleeping is probably the worst position to sleep in as it does two things—it twists the neck (you aren’t sleeping face-first into your pillow… right?) and as discussed above, pushes your spine into a strange U-shape.
Further, if you’re a back sleeper with the right mattress—meaning, it's just firm enough that you neither sink into it nor do you pop up from it—you may also benefit without using a pillow as the mattress has done the work of providing the neutral spine alignment.
Sleeping Without a Pillow - Drawbacks
All that said, sleeping pillows have been around for much of human history. Earliest historical records point as far back as 9,000 years ago, when Mesopotamians slept on stone slabs. This sounds really uncomfortable for us present-day folks, but it does suggest that we’ve always wanted to elevate our heads to increase comfort.
Though, what could a sleeping rock do to increase comfort? Well, for some, it wasn’t primarily to achieve sleeping comfort—historians suggest that sleeping rocks were used to keep hair neat or to prevent bugs from crawling into the orifices on their face, like ears and nostrils. But besides those reasons, whether our ancestors knew it or not, the elevation helped achieve a good neutral alignment with the spine.
The pillow is one component to this goal. For side and back sleepers, a sleeping pillow is important for good posture as without it, you’re going to put your spine in a bad position. This is especially true if you sleep on your side—without a sleeping pillow to support your head, you’re going to be sleeping with your neck at a sideways tilt. Do that for 7 to 8 hours and you’re probably going to wake up with neck pain. Even stomach sleepers may benefit from tucking a pillow under their pelvis to achieve a neutral alignment.
When it comes down to it, if you’re able to achieve a good spine alignment without a sleeping pillow, more power to you. For most people, a sleeping pillow is going to be one of the tools for a good night’s sleep just as much as the mattress you sleep on and the sheets you put over yourself are. And with every sleeping environment being unique, you might as well get the right custom tool to address it.