Is it healthier to sleep without a pillow?

Why we can't sleep without pillows

We love to fall into the soft pillow after a stressful day. It supports the head and enables comfortable and relaxing sleep.

You can probably no longer imagine sleeping without the soft helpers.

But are they really necessary - or even harmful to health? In this article I have summarized the most important information.

Let's start with this point:

Why we humans need pillows

A pillow supports us during sleep and enables the body to relax better. Most likely, our ancestors laid their heads on bushes or other supports during the night.

Even some species of monkeys use tufts of grass and sticks to support their heads. It is therefore likely that we humans reach for pillows for anatomical reasons.

Pillows are more comfortable - but are they also healthier?

There are numerous studies in science on modern sleeping habits - but it is still not completely clear whether we humans indeed need a pillow.

Soft pillows are undoubtedly more comfortable, but some experts question the health benefits:

  • A healthy, well-trained body doesn't need the support at all - at least when you sleep on your back.
  • Then a very thin pillow can make sense (in Japan, for example, the head rests are made of a harder material than ours and are very flat).

However, some experts have a different opinion on this:

  • Very few people have a really straight posture due to the modern way of life and therefore need to be supported while they sleep.
  • Many have now got used to sleeping on their side or on their stomach - a supportive pillow is a must to keep the spine straight.

Pillow proponents also argue that the average modern person has strayed far from the lifestyle of our ancestors.

Civilization diseases, a lack of training and simply getting used to the soft pillows - these are all reasons why most of us need a suitable pillow for healthy sleep.

A point that many critics also agree with.

What does that mean for you personally?

If the sleep researchers disagree, the only thing that helps is usually individual trial and error.

  • Regardless of the health benefits you are likely to sleep better with a soft pillow than without - after all, you've been used to it since childhood.
  • In case you don't sleep on your back, then you will need a side sleeper pillow anyway to support your head and relieve the spine during the night.

Take the test

Lie on your back on the floor and rest for a few minutes. You will probably feel some uncomfortable tension and strain in the neck area.

  • These signs may indicate that your body needs extra support (such as an orthopedic neck pillow) to relax. If you don't have any problems with that, then congratulations:
  • You are one of the few people with a straight, trained back. Most likely, your muscles support the body and keep it from tension.

By the way: Lying flat on your back is a great exercise for better posture. It relieves tension and enables you to get to know your own body better through observation.

Tip: Here you will find the best pillows in comparison - regardless of whether you sleep on your back or on your side.

Are you often tense after waking up?

Often the wrong mattress and the wrong pillow are to blame. They do not support your body during sleep and it leads to tension and restless sleep.

  • Another pillow is often enough - e.g. with a different height or for a different sleeping position (e.g. neck rolls).
  • Some sleep aids such as Tempur pillows also use special materials such as memory foam that supports the spine.

But you may also need to dig deeper into your pockets and find a mattress that suits your needs. Gel toppers are an inexpensive alternative, with which you can change the lying properties of your mattress for little money.

Since when has mankind been using pillows

Science assumes that the first pillow was used around 9000 years ago in Mesopotamia (today's Iraq) (source).

  • However, the pillows were only intended for the richest members of society - ordinary people could not afford this luxury at that time.
  • It was similar with the ancient Egyptians - however, the pillows in antiquity had almost nothing in common with our modern, soft down pillows.
  • The antique "pillows" looked like hard headrests, over which at best a little wool was stretched. The Chinese also had headrests made of wood and other materials such as porcelain.

If you get neck tension just thinking about it, then you are not alone.

It is all the more astonishing that modern down pillows are quite a new invention. Only in the Middle Ages and modern times did the soft pillows gradually gain acceptance among the entire population.

Compared to the hard wooden headrests, today's down pillows certainly have significant advantages, right?

Summary: That's why we don't sleep without pillows

I hope this little history course on the subject of pillows has shown you one thing: there is no such thing as the perfect pillow.

Our ancestors slept on grass or branches, the ancient Egyptians on hard headrests and the Japanese today mostly sleep on thin, hard head cushions.

Which pillow is best for you personally depends not only on your habits, but also on your physical needs.

It is therefore best to invest a little time before buying the next pillow in order to find the right variant.

Your back will thank you with relaxed, healthy sleep.

Pillows in the test