Is it better to sleep with or without a pillow

The age-old debate surrounding the use of pillows during sleep continues to pique the curiosity of those in pursuit of the perfect night’s rest. The choice to sleep with or without a pillow is deeply personal, influenced by factors ranging from individual comfort preferences and spinal alignment considerations to cultural practices and medical recommendations. While there is no universally applicable answer, understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each option can assist individuals in making an informed decision that promotes their overall well-being.

Sleeping With a Pillow:

Many individuals find solace in the gentle cradle of a pillow beneath their head. Pillows are designed to support the neck and head, helping to maintain the natural curvature of the spine. When positioned correctly, a pillow can alleviate strain on the neck muscles and joints, reduce the risk of developing neck pain, and foster a comfortable sleep posture. Additionally, pillows contribute to creating a sense of comfort and security, often promoting relaxation and aiding in the transition into a peaceful sleep state.

However, the efficacy of using a pillow is contingent on several factors, including the type of pillow and the individual’s unique body structure. Different pillow materials (such as memory foam, feathers, or polyester fill) offer varying levels of support and comfort. The height and firmness of the pillow should be tailored to the sleeper’s preference and physical requirements. Moreover, excessive pillow height can lead to misalignment of the spine, potentially causing discomfort or exacerbating existing neck and back issues.

Sleeping Without a Pillow:

Opting to sleep without a pillow, sometimes referred to as “pillowless sleep,” can have its own set of advantages. Sleeping without a pillow can encourage a more neutral spinal alignment, which is particularly beneficial for individuals who tend to experience neck pain or have certain medical conditions. This sleeping position can reduce the strain on the neck’s ligaments and muscles, promoting a healthier posture over time.

However, sleeping without a pillow may not be suitable for everyone. Individuals accustomed to sleeping with a pillow might initially find it uncomfortable or unfamiliar. Furthermore, those who sleep on their side could experience discomfort in their shoulder or hip without the added support of a pillow. For some, the absence of a pillow may disrupt their sleep quality and contribute to a restless night.

Expert’s opinion on sleep with or without a pillow

Experts’ opinions on whether to sleep with or without a pillow can vary based on individual considerations, medical conditions, and sleep preferences. Here are some viewpoints from experts in the field:

  1. Spinal Health: Many orthopedic and chiropractic experts emphasize the importance of maintaining proper spinal alignment during sleep. According to Dr. Andrew Bang, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, using a pillow that supports the natural curvature of the neck and spine can help prevent discomfort and neck pain. He recommends that individuals who prefer to sleep on their back or side should use a pillow that fills the gap between the head and shoulders, promoting neutral alignment.
  2. Neck Pain and Medical Conditions: For individuals with pre-existing neck pain or specific medical conditions like cervical spine issues, sleeping without a pillow or with a minimal pillow might be recommended. Dr. Natalie Dautovich, an expert from the National Sleep Foundation, suggests that individuals with neck pain should opt for a flatter pillow or even consider sleeping without one to reduce strain on the neck muscles and joints.
  3. Individual Comfort: Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist, highlights the significance of individual comfort in the decision to use a pillow. He notes that some people find sleeping with a pillow more comfortable and conducive to relaxation, which can positively impact sleep quality.
  4. Sleep Position: Sleep position also plays a crucial role. Dr. Alex Dimitriu, a double board-certified psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist, mentions that side sleepers may benefit from a thicker pillow to keep the head and neck aligned, whereas back sleepers might require a thinner pillow to maintain proper spinal curvature.
  5. Experimentation and Adjustment: Dr. Shelby Harris, a sleep medicine expert, recommends that individuals should experiment with different pillow types and sizes to find the one that suits their needs best. She emphasizes that personal comfort is key and suggests adjusting the pillow’s height and firmness to achieve optimal spinal alignment.
  6. Middle Ground: Some experts suggest a middle ground approach. Dr. Neil Kline, a sleep physician, suggests using a pillow that is supportive but not overly thick, allowing the head to rest in a neutral position. This approach aims to balance comfort with spinal alignment.
  7. Varied Recommendations: It’s important to note that recommendations can differ based on cultural practices and medical philosophies. In some cultures, sleeping without a pillow is considered beneficial for various health reasons. However, these practices should be considered alongside modern medical advice.

Tips for improving sleep

Improving sleep quality involves adopting healthy sleep habits and creating a conducive sleep environment. Here are some tips to help you achieve better sleep:

  1. Stick to a Sleep Schedule: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Consistency helps regulate your body’s internal clock and improves sleep quality.
  2. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine: Engage in calming activities before bed, such as reading, taking a warm bath, practicing relaxation exercises, or gentle stretching. Avoid stimulating activities like watching intense TV shows or checking emails.
  3. Optimize Your Sleep Environment: Make your bedroom comfortable and conducive to sleep. Ensure the room is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Consider using blackout curtains, earplugs, or a white noise machine if needed.
  4. Limit Screen Time Before Bed: The blue light emitted by phones, tablets, and computers can interfere with your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. Aim to avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime.
  5. Watch Your Diet and Hydration: Avoid heavy meals, caffeine, and alcohol close to bedtime. These can disrupt sleep or lead to nighttime awakenings. Also, limit liquids before bed to avoid waking up for bathroom trips.
  6. Stay Active During the Day: Regular physical activity can improve sleep quality, but try to avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime as it may be too stimulating.
  7. Manage Stress and Anxiety: Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to reduce stress and anxiety that can interfere with sleep.
  8. Limit Naps: While short daytime naps can be refreshing, avoid napping for too long or too close to bedtime, as it might disrupt your nighttime sleep.
  9. Mind Your Sleeping Position: Choose a sleep position that’s comfortable and promotes good spinal alignment. Back and side sleeping are generally better for preventing neck and back pain.
  10. Evaluate Your Mattress and Pillows: Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable and supportive. If they’re old or causing discomfort, it might be time to invest in new ones.
  11. Limit Clock Watching: Staring at the clock while you’re trying to fall asleep can create anxiety. If you find yourself awake for an extended period, consider getting out of bed and engaging in a calming activity until you feel sleepy.
  12. Limit Daytime Naps: While short naps can be refreshing, long or irregular daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep. If you nap, aim for a short nap (20-30 minutes) early in the afternoon.
  13. Avoid Large Meals and Heavy Snacks Before Bed: Eating heavy meals or rich, spicy foods close to bedtime can cause indigestion and discomfort, making it harder to fall asleep.
  14. Get Exposure to Natural Light: Sunlight exposure during the day helps regulate your body’s internal clock. Try to spend time outdoors or open your curtains to let natural light in.
  15. Consult a Healthcare Professional: If you consistently struggle with sleep despite trying these tips, consider consulting a sleep specialist or healthcare professional. There might be underlying issues such as sleep disorders that need to be addressed.

Remember that improving sleep habits takes time and consistency. Implementing a combination of these tips and finding what works best for you can lead to better sleep quality and overall well-being.


The decision of whether to sleep with or without a pillow is highly subjective and influenced by individual preferences, sleep habits, and physical conditions. While sleeping with a pillow offers advantages in terms of comfort, neck support, and relaxation, sleeping without a pillow might be more beneficial for maintaining proper spinal alignment and relieving neck pain.

Ultimately, the key lies in striking a balance between personal comfort and maintaining healthy sleep postures. It’s advisable to experiment with different pillow options and sleeping positions to determine what works best for one’s unique needs, always prioritizing the goal of achieving restful and rejuvenating sleep.

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