Is sleeping without a pillow a good idea? Sleep experts explain

Spoiler alert: it might be!

Two pillows on a purple sky background with girl with crossed arm emojis around them
(Image credit: Future)

I love my super-comfy pillow. Resting my sleepy li’l head on it and scrolling through TikTok with a hot choc is a highlight of my day. But what happens if you end up in a sitch when you’re pillowless? It can happen, and you’ve gotta be prepared.

I’m talking crashing on your friend’s floor after a night out, rolling up to an Airbnb that isn’t all that, and even just falling out with your boo and sleeping on the couch. There are lots of reasons why you may want to sleep without a pillow. You may even just want to give sleeping a go without one, just to test out any potential health benefits. That’s okay too!

I’ve spoken to experts to find out why you might want to sleep without a pillow, the pros and cons of doing so, and how it can affect your sleep and body. So, whether you’re hunkering down for a night’s sleep sans cushioning or debating doing so, you’ve got all the deets you need.

Head on down for everything you need to know…

Why sleep without a pillow?

Okay, so it turns out there are lots of reasons why someone may want to sleep without a pillow, besides necessity. “Some pillows can be too thick, pushing the head and neck forward or to the side which can lead to neck pain or headaches,” explains Dr. Kevin Lees, director of chiropractic operations at The Joint Chiropractic. “Stomach sleepers may feel any pillow is uncomfortable, putting pressure on their neck and making it more difficult to breathe.”

In fact, for stomach sleepers, it can be a pretty good idea. “The main reason to sleep without a pillow is that it could help improve sleep posture for stomach sleepers,” says Jill Zwarensteyn, certified sleep science coach at Sleep Advisor. “Not using a pillow can help maintain the natural shape of the spine and neck, preventing the head and neck from curving upward, which could otherwise lead to neck strain.” 

Pros of sleeping without a pillow

Sleep on your tum? Listen up. There are lots of good reasons for you to sleep without a pillow. Lees says: “Stomach sleepers often twist their neck to allow for easy breathing, and a pillow will also push the head and neck backward, increasing pressure on the lower neck and upper back.” Because of this, he says that sleepers may feel less neck pressure and breathe easier without a pillow.

There’s also a host of benefits for other sleepers as well. “Opting for no pillow can offer improved comfort, better breathing, reduced tension on pressure points, and decreased friction to cause facial wrinkles and acne,” adds Carlie Gasia, certified sleep science coach at Sleepopolis.

Cons of sleeping without a pillow

Unfortunately, not every kind of sleeper can benefit from going without a pillow. Both back and side sleepers need support to help keep the spine in a neutral position. “Not having any support can lead to the neck bending to the side or back at an awkward angle,” Lees tells me.

If you sleep in these positions and sleep without a pillow, you could injure yourself and have a poor night’s sleep. “You’ll be more at risk of neck pain, stiffness, and headaches without a pillow because of the unevenly distributed pressure on your neck muscles,” adds Dr. Chris Winter, a sleep health expert at Mattress Firm. “To help keep your neck and spine neutral, it’s best to use a pillow.” Got it.

How can sleeping without a pillow affect a person’s health?

Depending on how you sleep, sleeping without a pillow could improve sleep posture and, in turn, improve sleep quality. “This can result in a person waking up feeling more rested, with reduced neck pain,” explains Zwarensteyn. “If this better posture is achieved without a pillow, you should feel relief in the back and neck where a pillow was causing strain.”

Good neck support is a key sleep aid, which a pillow def provides for a lot of people. “If the neck isn’t properly supported, this may lead to neck pain, headaches, shoulder pain, or even radiation and numbness in the arms,” says Lees. “Some may find sleeping on their back without a pillow makes it difficult to breathe.” He also adds that pressure on the joints in the neck can also lead to more chronic problems over time, including inflammation and spasms. That does not sound like fun.

Comfort is also one of the most important things for a good night’s sleep, and should keep in mind when experimenting without a pillow. “Ultimately, it’s about what makes you feel most comfortable and allows you to sleep in a healthy posture,” adds Zwarensteyn.

Stomach sleepers can definitely benefit from sleeping without a pillow, as it has a host of advantages for them. For those who sleep in other positions though, it can have some major side effects. Luckily, these come from not having a pillow long-term, so if you only have to deal with one night without one, don’t stress. And if you are thinking of sleeping without one full-time, def consult with your doctor — health comes first always, bestie.


Is it okay if I sleep without a pillow?

For a couple of nights, yes it’s totally fine to sleep without a pillow. Long-term, there can be benefits for stomach sleepers, but there can also be neck pain and discomfort for those who sleep on their back or sides.

What are the benefits of sleeping without a pillow?

Stomach sleepers can enjoy a range of benefits when sleeping without a pillow, such as improved posture, less neck strain, and breathing easier. Other sleepers may also find it reduces tension on pressure points and decreases friction that causes wrinkles and lines.  

Up next: How to choose a pillow

Eve Smallman
Staff Writer

Hi there! I’m a staff writer at Real Homes. I've been a lifestyle journalist for over five years, previously working as an editor across regional magazines. Before this, I graduated from Nottingham Trent University a degree in journalism, along with an NCTJ gold diploma. I love running, decorating my rented Victorian home, and discovering new cheeses.