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Sleep is a fickle beast. It eludes some of us and others fight to stay awake for the evening news.
One thing is certain, the position that you sleep in can have lasting effects on your posture and affect the way you feel and function throughout your day. There are different types of sleepers; side sleepers, stomach sleepers, back sleepers, and some who rotate in between all three. No matter what position you sleep in though, you should strive to maintain a natural position that keeps your spine in neutral from your neck to your lower back.
If you have been reading our other blog posts you may be starting to notice a neutral spine trend. It is essential to maintain a neutral position in your spine no matter what you are doing. Whether it be sleeping, exercising, or sitting at your computer, the television, or the dinner table. A neutral spine equals good posture and that means fewer aches and pains.
There are very few benefits of sleeping without a pillow. People who sleep on their stomach sometimes complain of feeling strain on their lower back if they use a pillow. This is because it lifts their head up too high, causing their back to arch. Using a thin pillow in this situation might be a better option than not using a pillow at all. Other ways to relieve this would be to put a pillow under your ankles, a pillow under your stomach, or both.
The purpose of a pillow is to keep your head in line with the rest of your spine. Without a pillow, a side sleeper's neck would stay bent down to the side they are sleeping on because of the height of the shoulder. That isn't a neutral position at all. A pillow should keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine.
Here are some reported benefits of sleeping without a pillow:
~Healthier Hair - Some report that the material of the pillowcase can pull natural oil out of the hair, well the sheets are usually the same material as the pillowcase so I'm going to shoot this notion down. Also, there is no research to support this.
~Fewer Wrinkles - A pillow is known for scrunching up your face a bit, however, there is no research that says that pillows cause wrinkles. There are plenty of other ways to combat wrinkles and I would say in this case the risk outweighs the benefit of sleeping without a pillow.
~Decreased Acne - Again, no research to support this but keeping your sheets and pillowcases clean and free from germs is always a good idea.
You want to sleep in a position where your spine's natural curves are supported and your spine is in a neutral position. This is best achieved with more pillows, not less.
If you are a side sleeper, sleep with a pillow that provides good support for your head and fills in the space between your head and your shoulder. Should your shoulder be on the pillow? No. Another way to optimize your sleeping position if you are a side sleeper is to put a pillow in between your knees. This keeps your lumbar spine in a neutral position also.
If you sleep on your back, sleeping without a pillow will cause your neck to bend backward all night. If you are prone to sleep apnea this can be dangerous because this position can interfere with your airway. Use a pillow to support your head and neck and support the natural curve in your spine.
The pillow should support your neck so that your head is in between your shoulders. Not too far forward or too far backward. Should your shoulders be on the pillow? No. A good way to add support to this sleeping position is to put a pillow under your knees. This will take the strain off of your low back by keeping your lumbar spine in neutral.
If you sleep on your stomach and you sleep without a pillow, try using a very thin pillow instead. This will add some support for your head and neck and decrease the incidence of neck pain. Again you want to support the natural curve of your neck while you sleep and this is best achieved by using a pillow. This sleeping position can be improved by also adding a pillow under your stomach, your feet, or both. Using pillows in these places will decrease the likelihood of developing neck or back pain.
Pillows alone do not cause forward head posture however, if you sleep on your back with a pillow that is too high it will support your head in a "forward head posture" all night and that is not good for your neck.
Also if you sleep on your stomach without a pillow in a face-down position, this also promotes forward head posture due to lack of head and neck support from a proper pillow.
So it isn't the pillow that is causing the forward head posture, it's the posture that is causing it. In everything you do during your everyday life, you must evaluate the position that you are in while you are doing it. This is especially true for the things that require you to be in one position for an extended amount of time.
Attention side sleepers, those who are sleeping on your stomach, and those who are sleeping on your back, pillows are not the enemy. There are many factors that go into getting a night of healthy sleep while maintaining a neutral posture. Your mattress is one big factor. Sleeping on an unsupportive mattress with too much "give" will cause you to hurt everywhere because your neck and back are not getting support anywhere.
You can buy the most expensive pillow in the world or sleep without a pillow it won't make a bit of difference. If you are sleeping on a bad mattress your quality of sleep will be poor and you will undoubtedly have neck pain and back pain.
If you currently sleep without a pillow I encourage you to give a good pillow or two a try. Your back will thank you and you will be rewarded with a comfortable night of restful sleeping.