Sleeping Without a Pillow – Can You Ditch Your Pillow?

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If you toss and turn at night, you probably spend a lot of time fussing with your pillow. If it’s too tall or too flat, you might not get the support you need. So this begs the question: Can you sleep without a pillow?

The short answer is – it depends! Keep reading to learn more about whether you can ditch your pillow and say hello to a restful night’s sleep.

Is It Safe to Sleep Without a Pillow?

It’s totally safe to sleep without a pillow, but it’s not beneficial to all sleepers. Pillows are meant to cushion your head and shoulders and help you sleep comfortably. Some sleepers might find sleeping without a pillow more comfortable if it brings their spine into alignment.

However, sleeping without a pillow could be unsafe for some people. For example, back and side sleepers typically need a supportive pillow to keep their head elevated and aligned with their spine. Those with existing neck problems or spinal conditions like scoliosis should rest on a supportive pillow to prevent further neck pain or posture issues.  

Should You Sleep Without a Pillow?

Before we dive into all of the details, let’s examine the pros and cons of sleeping without a pillow.

Pros of Sleeping Without a Pillow

  • Can help stomach sleepers correct their spinal alignment
  • Offers some people neck pain relief
  • Can protect skin and hair

Cons of Sleeping Without a Pillow

  • Can negatively impact a person’s sleep posture
  • Can cause back pain in some people
  • Could lead to headaches

Benefits of Sleeping Without a Pillow

For some people, the benefits of sleeping without a pillow outweigh the negative effects. Here are a few ways people can improve their sleep by saying goodbye to their bed pillow.


This may seem counterintuitive, but some people can actually improve their posture by sleeping without a pillow. For example, stomach sleepers need to rest on a flat and firm surface in order to maintain the correct posture. Oftentimes, pillows crane stomach sleepers’ necks out of alignment.

A sleeper rests with good alignment on her stomach

Back sleepers with plush mattresses also might be able to throw their pillows to the side. If a bed already has a thick comfort layer or tufted pillow top, back sleepers might not need any additional support.

Neck Pain

When you continually rest in an unnatural position, you can develop aches and pains along your neck and shoulders. Because stomach sleepers need to rest their head flat on the mattress, they can often alleviate neck tension by sleeping without a pillow.

Effects On Skin and Hair

We all need some beauty rest, but sometimes pillows can adversely affect our skin and hair. Cotton pillowcases often cling to strands of hair during the night, which can cause breakage. Plus, pillows tend to absorb moisturizers and skin care products, so you may not feel their full effects.

You’ve probably woken up from a deep sleep with some pillow marks on your face. Even though these deep lines fade quickly, some studies suggest that pillows can cause permanent fine lines and wrinkles as time goes on.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution to this problem — try a silk pillowcase! Silk doesn’t pull hair like cotton does, and it doesn’t absorb skin care products. Best of all, silk pillowcases won’t leave those pesky “sleep lines” across your face when you wake up the next morning.

Drawbacks to Sleeping Without a Pillow

What works for some people won’t help others. Let’s take a moment to examine the negative effects of sleeping without a pillow.

Spinal Alignment

While stomach sleepers can get away with resting directly on their mattress, most back and side sleepers will need a pillow in order to maintain the correct spinal alignment.

If you’re a side sleeper, you’ll know you’ve reached the correct posture when your ear lines up with your shoulder. In order to get into this position, you’ll need a pillow that’s thick enough to elevate your head. Without a pillow, side sleepers will crane their necks into an unnatural position.

neutral spinal alignment - best pillows for side sleepers

Back sleepers need to keep their chins in line with their sternum in order to rest in the proper alignment. Unless you have an especially cushy mattress, you’ll need a pillow to maintain the correct posture.

If you switch sleeping positions during the night, you may want to keep a pillow nearby. You may not need one when you’re resting on your back or stomach, but if you switch to your side you’ll benefit from some additional neck support.


So what happens when your spine gets out of alignment when you sleep? It may not create any issues at first, but it could lead to neck pain over time. This, in turn, leads to chronic tension headaches that can be hard to shake with over-the-counter medicine.

How to Sleep Without a Pillow

You’ve weighed the pros and cons, and you’ve decided you want to put away your pillow for a while. Before you begin this new sleep habit, we recommend considering the following:

  • Start slowly – It can take some time for your body to adapt to a new routine, so it’s smart to take baby steps. Start by placing a folded blanket or low loft pillow under your head at first.
  • Consider your mattress – Is your mattress plush enough to support your head? Make sure your current bed can keep your neck in the proper alignment all on its own.
  • Try a body pillow – By placing a body pillow between the hips, stomach sleepers can keep their spines straight throughout the night. If you rest in this sleeping position, give this a try! It might be the solution you need.

How to Choose the Right Pillow

Finding the right pillow doesn’t have to feel like a mystery. Here are a few key things to consider:

Spinal Alignment

First and foremost, you want your pillow to help keep your spine aligned. Proper spinal alignment means that from your neck to your hips, your spine makes a straight line. The right pillow should keep your neck elevated no matter what position you sleep in.

Sleeping Position

Before you know which pillow to get, take some time to examine how you sleep at night. Make sure you find a pillow that will keep you comfortable no matter what position you rest in.

Back Sleepers

For proper sleep posture, back sleepers should have their chins aligned with their sternum. If you are a back sleeper, the right pillow’s height, or loft, depends a lot on your body type. 

A big and tall person could use a taller pillow to allow the natural curvature of the neck to gently slope into the rest of the spine. But a smaller or lightweight person could use a thinner pillow to achieve the same alignment. 

Side Sleepers

For side sleepers, a pillow should elevate the neck so that the ear lines up with the shoulder. Tall pillows that are at least 5” thick work well for side sleepers. Side sleepers should also opt for firmer, supportive pillows to keep their neck and shoulders at a 90 degree angle. 

Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers require the lowest pillows because their head should be kept as flat as possible. These people should look for pillows with soft fillings like down or down alternative. An adjustable pillow is also a good option because you can take parts of the filling out until you reach the proper spinal alignment. 


Height, also known as loft, plays a significant role in how comfortable a pillow is. Side sleepers should look for a mid or high loft pillow so that they can keep their neck in line with the rest of the spine. Take a look at our list of the best pillows for side sleepers for some options.

Good alignment for back sleepers

Back sleepers tend to do best with mid loft pillows, and stomach sleepers should find a low loft pillow.


Once you’ve figured out the basics, it’s time to consider what you want your pillow to feel like. Do you like slow-moving foam pillows, or do you prefer fluffy pillows stuffed with down feathers? No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find some options in our list of the best pillows of 2024.


Still have questions? We won’t leave you hanging! Take a look at our FAQ section below for more information.

Is it better to sleep with or without a pillow?

This depends on several factors, including your sleeping position and your mattress. Generally, stomach sleepers can rest without pillows because this will help them maintain the proper spinal alignment. However, most back and side sleepers will need a pillow in order to prevent neck pain and headaches.

How many pillows should I sleep with?

You only need one pillow under your head. If you find yourself stacking pillows on top of each other, we recommend finding a pillow with a higher loft. That way, you’re less likely to fumble with your stacked pillows as the night goes on.

What happens when you sleep with no pillow?

Stomach sleepers often find it’s much more comfortable to sleep without a pillow at night. Back and side sleepers, on the other hand, often develop neck pain when they sleep without pillows under their heads.

Elisa Regulski

Elisa is the Editor of Mattress Clarity, where she analyzes sleep products and appears in review videos. A certified sleep science coach, Elisa's sleep tips have appeared in Readers Digest, Homes and Gardens, and 21 Oak. She earned a M.A in Mass Communication from Texas State University and a B.F.A in acting from Oklahoma City University.