What Happens When You Sleep Without a Pillow?

Posted by Emma Carlton - Buying and Merchandising Manager on 28th Jun 2023

What Happens When You Sleep Without a Pillow?

For most of us a pillow is a must. Helping to ensure good spinal alignment, a decent pillow is essential for a great night of restorative sleep. So what’s all this talk about sleeping without one? Are people going completely crazy? Well… maybe not. There is, in fact, some suggestion that regular sleep without a pillow benefits some people in some ways, including potentially reducing neck pain.

But before you chuck that faithful pile of pillows for good let’s investigate a little further. Why do we sleep with pillows? Is sleeping without a pillow bad for your back and for your health? Or does sleeping without a pillow help posture? And are there other potential benefits of sleeping pillow-free? We’ve put our well-rested heads together and come up with the ultimate guide to sleeping with, and without, a pillow.

Is It Better to Sleep Without a Pillow? Ask The Ancients…

Human beings have been using pillows for over 9000 years, with the earliest examples dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. They weren’t always the lovely squishy down-filled beauts that we sink into on a nightly basis though. Nope. Ye olde pillows of yore were made of cold, hard stone, used primarily to keep the head off the floor and away from insects that could crawl into mouths and ears. And while the Egyptians also liked the idea of stone pillows, ancient Chinese dynasties were a little more creative, using everything from bamboo to ceramic to jade to carve equally uncomfortable sounding headrests. Not because ancient Chinese cultures didn’t know how to make soft pillows - they believed that soft surfaces would sap energy from the body while you slept (1).

No such worries for the Greeks and Romans, who were creating almost-cosy precursors to the pillows we know and love today. Sacks filled with straw or feathers were then used in many homes right through to the Middle Ages. By this time using a pillow was seen as a sign of weakness amongst men (chronic neck ache is, after all, oh-so-manly) and so pillows were, for many years, used mainly by pregnant women.

And though pillows did have something of a resurgence after the Middle Ages, it wasn’t until the industrial revolution, when textiles were more easily mass produced and decorative cushions became the thing that we started resting our heads again.

Is Sleeping Without a Pillow Bad? Pillow Facts to Help You Decide

A female asleep on an all-white bed without a pillow with a yellow flowering plant in a yellow pot in the background

So the question is, who was right? Were the ancients on to something with their proto-pillows? Or can we conclude that since we survived perfectly well from the Middle Ages through to the late 1700s without a place to rest our heads that pillows are a total ruse?

Pillows provide vital support

Pillow technology has come on leaps and bounds since those early versions, though some may still feel a little like they’re made of stone. Today’s best pillows are made to relieve the stress that can be put on your body as it stays in one position over long periods of sleep. They support the head and reduce pressure on the neck.

The right pillow is essential

Those niggling neck problems could be caused by using the wrong pillow for your body and your sleeping posture (2).That’s why it’s vital to do a bit more research into pillows before you buy. For example, while back sleepers usually require a pillow with medium loft, most side sleepers are better with more height.

You probably need to change your pillow more often than you realise

When did you last change your pillow? Go on, we won’t judge… Chances are you’re well overdue an upgrade, since you should be buying new every year or two (3) and even more regularly if your current favourite has flattened out, is stained or damaged or if you’re experiencing unexplained neck issues or allergies that get worse overnight.

Does Sleeping Without a Pillow Help Posture? Sleeping Without a Pillow Benefits Explained

Sleeping without a pillow has become something of a sleep trend in recent years. But why?

Sleeping without a pillow could benefit your neck and back

If you have neck and back problems is it bad to sleep without a pillow? Not necessarily. In some situations, a pillow may do the opposite job to that for which it’s intended, putting additional strain on the neck. This is especially common in stomach sleepers for whom a pillow can cause major discomfort. Additionally, using too many pillows, however you sleep, can give you a real crick in the neck (1).

Going pillow-free may be better for your skin

Some think that sleeping without a pillow could improve your skin and even delay the onset of wrinkles. There’s no scientific proof that this is the case but the reasoning makes some sense, after all how often have you woken with ugly pillow lines criss-crossing your cheeks? In addition, a pillow could theoretically put your face in closer contact with bacteria, causing blemishes. That said, sleeping on your back or washing pillowcases more regularly could help with both of these concerns.

Sleeping without a pillow might improve your hair

Some pillow-free sleepers do so in order to keep their hair sleek and shiny, claiming that pillows create friction and absorb important oils, making hair less than healthy. There’s no proof but it’s thought that cotton pillows can exacerbate morning frizz, hence the increasing popularity of silk pillowcases.

Want to Sleep Without a Pillow? Follow This Advice

Is it good to sleep without a pillow? With no firm research to tell us one way or the other it’s hard to know just how real the benefits are. However, if you’re determined to give pillow-free sleeping a go here are some top tips to help you along the way:

  • Support your whole body: make sure you’re supported top-to-toe by using pillows to support other parts of your body if needed. While front sleepers can do very well without a head pillow they’ll often require padding under their pelvis to achieve neutral spinal alignment
  • Reduce head support gradually: don’t go whole hog on day one. If you’re used to sleeping with a pillow get rid of it gradually by opting for a thinner version or by using a blanket which you can unfold gradually week-by-week
  • Pick the perfect mattress: be sure that you get the support you need by choosing the ideal mattress firmness for your body and the way you sleep. For example, if you’re a front sleeper you may require firmer comfort than a back or side sleeper
  • Consult your GP: if you’re having problems with your back or neck don’t rush to chuck that pillow. Aches and pains could be an indication of something other than the wrong bed set-up so be sure to consult your doctor, who can suggest exercises and lifestyle changes that could help alleviate chronic pain

Pillows, Mattresses and Much More at Bensons for Beds

Whether you sleep with or without a pillow, good support is essential for great sleep and good health. At every Bensons for Beds store you’ll find a friendly team able to guide you through setting up your bed, your way®, from bed frame to mattress to duvets and pillows, using expert knowledge and top notch technology, including our innovative SleepPro system.

Whether it’s a new pillow or a whole new bedroom, drop into your local Bensons for Beds showroom or give us a call on 0808 144 6160 to get started.


  1. https://hankeringforhistory.com/pillows-throughout-the-ages-guest-post/
  2. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14038190600780239
  3. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedding-information/how-often-should-you-replace-your-pillows
  4. Is your pillow hurting your health? - Harvard Health
authors profile
Emma Carlton
Buying and Merchandising Manager
Emma has worked at Bensons for Beds for 10 years and is a fundamental part of the Bensons’ team, her wealth of breadth and knowledge is invaluable. Emma’s drive, determination, and tenacity ensures we provide our customers with the market leading products to suit our customer individual needs, at great value prices.
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