Why do we sleep with pillows?

Why do we sleep with pillows?

The use of pillows dates back thousands of years, with ancient civilizations using stones, wood, and other materials to elevate and support their heads during sleep. While pillows have evolved considerably since those times, the basic concept remains the same: to enhance comfort and support during rest.

But have you ever paused to consider why we’ve developed such a practice? Why do human beings find solace in sleeping with a pillow tucked beneath their heads and sometimes other parts of their bodies? Here is all you need to know today!

Why Do We Sleep with Pillows? A Guide to Understanding the Benefits

  1. Neck and Spinal Alignment: One of the primary reasons we use pillows is to maintain proper alignment of our neck and spine during sleep. Without adequate support, the neck can be positioned at an awkward angle, leading to muscle strains and increased pressure on the discs of the spine. A good pillow can fill the gap between the head and the mattress, ensuring that the spine remains in a neutral position.
  2. Comfort: Beyond alignment, the mere sensation of softness and cushioning that a pillow provides can be a comfort in itself. Pillows cater to our inherent desire for softness and warmth, allowing us to snuggle into a restful position.
  3. Support for Various Sleep Positions: Whether you’re a side sleeper, back sleeper, or stomach sleeper, there’s a pillow designed to accommodate your preferred position. For instance, side sleepers might benefit from a thicker pillow to fill the gap between the head and shoulder, while back sleepers might opt for something flatter and softer.
  4. Temperature Regulation: Pillows made from specific materials, such as memory foam or gel, can help regulate temperature. Some pillows are designed to dissipate heat and wick away moisture, ensuring that you remain cool and comfortable throughout the night.
  5. Protection and Hygiene: Pillows act as a barrier between our heads and the mattress. They absorb sweat, oils, and other bodily fluids, keeping the mattress cleaner. Plus, with the added protection of pillow covers or cases, they’re easy to wash and maintain.
  6. Emotional Comfort: For many, a favorite pillow is more than just a sleeping aid. It can serve as a source of emotional comfort, an item that brings a sense of home or security. This might explain why many people bring their pillows on trips or long journeys.
  7. Therapeutic Uses: Some pillows are designed for specific therapeutic purposes, such as alleviating sleep apnea, reducing snoring, or helping with acid reflux. There are also pillows that provide post-surgery support or aid in conditions like pregnancy.

Sleeping with pillows isn’t just a modern convention. It’s a practice rooted in our physiological and psychological needs, ensuring that our sleep is not only comfortable but also beneficial for our overall well-being. Whether you prefer a fluffy down pillow or a firm orthopedic one, it’s clear that this simple object plays a significant role in our nightly rest.

Universal pillow etiquettes

While there isn’t a universally accepted standard for pillow etiquettes, there are common practices and considerations that many cultures and individuals follow when it comes to pillows. These etiquettes can vary based on region, culture, and personal preference, but here are some general guidelines that might be considered “universal”:

  1. Cleanliness: Always ensure your pillows are clean, especially if you’re hosting guests. Pillow covers should be washed regularly and pillows themselves should be replaced or cleaned as needed.
  2. Pillow Allocation: When setting a bed for guests, provide at least two pillows per person – one firm and one soft – to cater to different preferences.
  3. Stacking and Arrangement: When making a bed, larger or firmer pillows usually go to the back, with smaller or softer ones in the front.
  4. Decorative Pillows: Decorative pillows should be removed from the bed before sleeping. If you’re a guest, find a convenient spot to place them, like a chair or a designated spot on the floor.
  5. No Feet on Pillows: It’s generally considered disrespectful to put your feet on someone else’s pillow, as it’s a place where people rest their heads.
  6. Sharing Pillows: If sharing a bed with someone, always ask if they have a specific pillow they prefer. Some people can be particular about their pillows due to comfort or allergies.
  7. Travel Pillows: If you’re traveling and bring your own pillow, ensure it’s kept clean and doesn’t inconvenience others. Avoid placing it on dirty surfaces.
  8. Pillow Fights: While fun for some, not everyone appreciates a surprise pillow fight. Always ensure the other party is interested and be cautious not to hurt anyone.
  9. Respecting Cultural Differences: In some cultures, specific pillows might be used for ceremonial or religious purposes. Always be respectful and avoid using or touching these pillows without permission.
  10. Replacement: Pillows lose their support and can accumulate dust mites, allergens, and dead skin cells over time. It’s a good practice to replace them every 1-2 years or whenever they no longer provide the necessary support.
  11. Allergies: If you’re hosting guests, it’s courteous to ask if they have allergies. Hypoallergenic pillows or pillow covers can be provided in such cases.
  12. No Eating or Drinking: Avoid eating or drinking while lying on pillows to prevent spills and stains.
  13. Pet Etiquette: If you allow pets on your bed, be sure to inform guests or if you’re a guest, ask if it’s okay to have pets on the bed. Some people may be allergic or uncomfortable with this.
  14. Scented Pillows: Some people enjoy scented pillows for relaxation or therapeutic reasons. However, if hosting guests, be aware that strong scents can be off-putting or cause allergic reactions for some.

Remember, the primary goal of these etiquettes is to ensure comfort and respect for everyone. Adjust and adapt based on the specific circumstances and the preferences of those involved.


Why did humans start using pillows for sleep?

Historically, humans began using pillows as a means to elevate the head, keeping dirt and insects away while they slept. Over time, as civilizations evolved, pillows became symbols of status and were crafted with more luxurious materials. Beyond the historical context, the ergonomic benefits of aligning the spine and supporting the neck became more evident and contributed to the widespread use of pillows.

How do pillows benefit our posture during sleep?

Pillows play a crucial role in supporting the natural curve of the cervical spine. Without adequate support, one may experience strain or misalignment. This is especially important for side sleepers, as a pillow helps keep the head at a neutral position, aligning the neck with the spine. For back sleepers, a pillow ensures that the head is not tilted too far backward or forward.

Can sleeping without a pillow be beneficial?

While many people find comfort and support in using a pillow, there are instances where sleeping without one might be recommended. For instance, some stomach sleepers find it more comfortable to sleep without a pillow or use a very thin one to prevent neck strain. Additionally, certain therapeutic or chiropractic methods may suggest forgoing a pillow to achieve a specific spinal position or to address certain postural issues. However, it’s essential to consult with a health professional to determine what’s best for individual needs.


Pillows are not just a product of modern convenience but have roots in ancient human practices. Their primary role is to support the head and neck, ensuring proper spinal alignment during sleep. This support minimizes the risk of experiencing musculoskeletal pain and promotes better sleep quality. While the use of a pillow is beneficial for many, individual needs and preferences play a significant role in determining the best sleeping setup. Whether one chooses to sleep with or without a pillow, the main goal remains consistent: achieving a comfortable, restorative night’s sleep.

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