Why would anyone do it? Won’t it hurt? Won’t it be uncomfortable for my neck? Doesn’t my neck need support? Stay tuned and you’ll find out 🙂 In this article I will talk about sleeping without a pillow, how and why I personally came to the conclusion that pillows bring more harm than good, and some scientific facts about why pillows are actually bad for you.
Transitioning to sleeping on the floor or other hard surfaces is a great way to start reclaiming the quality of your sleep, as well as having lots and lots of benefits for all systems of your body. But you can take it one step farther – and ditch not only your bed and mattress, but also your pillow. It will be the second best decision for your health after deciding to sleep on the floor 😉
But doesn’t our neck need support during sleep? Well, it turns out, it really doesn’t. Moreover, pillows are really, really not good for your neck.
Sleeping on the pillow is not natural, nor healthy for your neck, despite the common myth. Pillows have been around for as long as mattresses have, if not longer, so people have believed in the magical powers of pillows forever. Just like they have believed that your neck needs some kind of support when you sleep, or … – Or what? I don’t actually know.
Will it get deformed? Is your neck, created by nature to carry your head around all day, not strong enough to somehow support itself during sleep? Our culture is full of myths and superstitions when it comes to health, and the necessity of a pillow is one of those myths.
Pillows were first invented around 7000 BC in Mesopotamia, and only used by the rich. The number of pillows the person had pointed at how affluent they were, and it was in fashion among the highest society to sleep on a whole stack of pillows. Mesopotamians basically showed off their pillows just like you show off your new iPhone.
Now, have you noticed there is nothing in this early pillow history that is related to health? Pillows were not invented because they were healthy, or even necessary for comfort. That is because they aren’t. Animals do just fine sleeping without pillows, as did the ancient humans (or those of them who didn’t have much cash). Now, on a more serious note:
Well, here is how I realised it was bad for me. Even years and years after I started sleeping on the floor, I still would sometimes wake up with somewhat stiff neck, or feel like it was hard to turn my neck, or even that it was hard to actually fall asleep. It felt as though my body was doing just great on the floor, but my neck still felt tense a lot of the times.
I thought that perhaps my pillow was way too thick and eventually transitioned from a regular pillow to a folded towel under my neck. That brought relief, for awhile, until that folded towel also seemed too thick. SO I unfolded it and used a narrower version, which felt significantly better. In the end, I was resting my head on a thing double-folded towel that only slightly elevated from the floor.
I thought: why do I need it at all if my neck seems to feel better the thinner the pillow (or towel in my case). So I ditched the towel pillow altogether.
Again, like with transitioning to sleeping on the floor, the first night was not entirely comfortable. I felt as if my body was unsure of how to handle the lack of support under my neck. I tried sleeping on my side, then on my back, then on my stomach, and all those positions seemed uncomfortable, because I didn’t know what to do with my neck. It didn’t hurt.
It was just sort of uncomfortable, and I felt like I couldn’t relax. In the end, I think I ended up falling asleep with my hand under my neck, which somewhat imitated the pillow. When I woke up, I didn’t feel tense or uncomfortable, although I was expecting it and ready for it. My neck felt just fine.
The next night I fell asleep just fine. It was as if my neck muscles learnt (or re-learnt) what it is like to completely relax, let the neck extend and the head to rest. It was a very nice feeling. I felt my neck stretching, and relaxing at the same time. I noticed that the quality of my sleep jumped up again, even though it was already fairly good after years of sleeping on the floor.
What changed was that now my neck felt as good as the rest of my body! You would appreciate it if you have any sort of neck pain, tension, soreness or anything else that bothers you. I have never gotten back to sleeping with a pillow on a regular basis. I can’t even fall asleep on a pillow, because my neck won’t relax and I start feeling tension, and , in a while, pain.
So what exactly do pillows do wrong? After all, they are so cute and fluffy, aren’t they? And this is why you should get rid of them:
Using a pillow creates an unnatural position for your body.
Using a thick, soft pillow puts your body in an unnatural position where your neck is bent forward while your back is relatively straight (completely straight if you sleep on the floor.) This is not natural, thus your body, particularly neck muscles, need to put effort in maintaining that position (all the while probably wondering why you are doing this to yourself…).
Your neck muscles cannot relax in that state, so you get stiff and tense neck while and after you sleep. Neck pain in the morning anyone? Also, we all know how easily that pesky neck pain grows into a headache. Also, a bent-forward position of your neck throughout the whole night promotes wrong posture and keeps you hunched over even in your bed.
When you sleep without a pillow, your neck and back get a chance to naturally realign themselves. Your neck elongates and stretches, your neck muscles relax. It’s almost like doing yoga or stretching while you sleep. Relaxed muscles prevent pinched nerves and arteries which eliminates pain and improves blood flow to important parts of your body, including your brain.
By sleeping without a pillow, you reduce the causes for various types of pain at once – pinched nerves, lack of blood flow, tense muscles, chronic neck pain. All for the price of one ditched pillow.
The bent-forward position of your neck on the pillow also affects your chest, contracting it and negatively influencing the work of your lungs. You get reduced airflow which in its turn affects many other systems of your body. This contributes to worse quality of sleep and you wake up tired and groggy.
When you sleep without a pillow, your head is on the same level as the rest of your body, not elevated. In this position, your system doesn’t have to put as much effort into pumping blood to your brain which results in better blood flow.
Sleeping on the floor without a pillow may prevent or cure your insomnia. If you (like I) can’t fall asleep because of stiffened neck muscles, bad blood flow and general tenseness of your upper body on the pillow, try ditching it! You might very well notice that you slip into dreams much faster.
Increased quality of sleep that you get when you ditch the pillow may improve your mood, lift insomnia, help reduce depression, and make you generally happier throughout the day.
According to some, your face may develop more wrinkles if you sleep on the pillow. Not sure how true that is – maybe I will be able to tell you in twenty years – so take it with a grain of salt.
If you are just starting to sleep on the floor after sleeping on mattresses all your life, I would say continue using the pillow on the floor until you feel comfortable on the floor. That by itself is a big change and you don’t want to lump all these things your body needs to adapt to into one.
Once you are good sleeping on the floor, then start thinking of throwing the pillow away.
You can start sleeping without a pillow right away, but you may find that uncomfortable, too uncomfortable to be able to fall asleep or stay asleep for any time. If that’s the case, instead of ditching the pillow altogether, replace your pillow with a smaller, narrower pillow. Sleep on that for a few nights. Then, as you become comfortable with smaller pillow, replace it with something even narrower. It can be a folded towel or sheet that is thinner than a pillow but still provides some elevation for your neck.
Sleep on that for a while, then reduce the thickness of your towel or whatever you were using. Then reduce it again. Eventually you will notice that you can simply ditch it altogether and sleep on the flat surface with your neck not needing any support. Congratulations!
By now you will also likely notice a great improvement in your neck health and quality of sleep. I personally noticed that my neck muscles are now always relaxed, especially in the mornings.
I feel like my back and neck are twenty years younger than they actually are because there is no familiar tenseness or stiffness in them. Ditching the pillow took me a long while, far after I started sleeping on hard surfaces. But it was so, so worth it! I will never go back to sleeping on the pillow and I recommend you to do the same.
If you are already sleeping on the floor without pillow, but your neck is bothering you, or if you aren’t ready to ditch your pillow yet, but would like relief of tension and pain, check out this post about some other ways to help improve your neck health. Hope some of it helps you! Stay healthy!
Note: I am not a doctor and do not have professional knowledge of medicine/health of various systems of the body. This article is based on online research combined with personal experience of myself and other people. I do not provide medical advice or any type of guarantee. I also care about your health safety. If you know of a reason that prohibits you from sleeping on the floor, please do not do it. If your doctor told you not to sleep on hard surfaces, please do not do it. (Unless you do your own research and understand the risks for your potential condition.)