advertisement



Q & A Library


Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Q
Do You Need a Pillow for Sound Sleep?

Do you think it would be beneficial to sleep without a pillow? Did our ancestors experience better rest without pillows? Can you discuss the pros and cons of using a pillow?

A
Answer (Published 9/19/2013)

Defined in the broadest sense - as an object that raises and supports the head during sleep - human beings have been using pillows for centuries. The earliest pillows on the historical record appear to be blocks of stone used in ancient Mesopotamia, 9,000 years ago. The early Egyptians are also said to have rested their heads on stone in order to prevent bugs from crawling into their ears, mouths and noses. The ancient Chinese used ceramic, stone or wood pillows, and I've read that Japanese geishas slept with their heads on stone pillows to keep their hair neat. Greeks and Romans used pillows made of cloth and stuffed with feathers, reeds, or straw, which sound much more comfortable than stone, wood or ceramics. In the middle ages, King Henry VIII is said to have banned the use of pillows by anyone except pregnant women (and perhaps himself); in those days most men are said to have viewed pillow use as a sign of weakness.

Related Weil Products
Weil Vitamin Advisor Sleep Assessment - Restful, restorative sleep is fundamental to health and happiness. Learn how to address your unique sleep needs - take the Weil Vitamin Advisor Sleep Assessment and get your complimentary recommendation today.

While most of the early pillows sound quite uncomfortable, they do suggest that historically, humans have sought to elevate their heads for sleeping comfort. Today, pillows are considered so important that some hotels offer a choice of different types, and according to a National Sleep Foundation poll, 64 percent of respondents used one to two pillows, while 27 percent used at least three.

I discussed your question with Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., a sleep specialist at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. He views the use of pillows as largely a personal comfort issue, and says that he knows people who say they sleep best without a pillow and others who stack a number of them up to manage gastroesophageal reflux disorder. He recommends choosing pillows that don't trap heat, "since body temperature needs to drop for us to sleep well, and we want pillows made of materials that do not outgas questionable chemicals."

You can now find pillows designed for your individual sleeping style:

  • Thinner pillows if you sleep on your back; the object here is to prevent your head from being thrown too far forward by a thick one.
  • Firm, thick pillows if you sleep on your side; the pillow should fill the distance between your ear and shoulder.
  • A thin, flat pillow if you sleep on your stomach; although you may not need a pillow to support your head, you might want to put one under your stomach to prevent lower back pain.

You can also find cervical pillows to support your neck, "cool" pillows to help combat hot flashes, and even anti-snore pillows, all with questionable benefits.

Bottom line: whether or not you sleep with a pillow (or two or more) is strictly a matter of personal preference. I know of no sleep or health benefits associated with omitting them from the bedroom.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle, LLC on DrWeil.com (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being
in just eight weeks!
Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!
 

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe
Wellness Guide

Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet Food Pyramid
Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you
and their corresponding answers
from Dr. Weil.

 
Copyright © 2014 Weil Lifestyle, LLC
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here