In artikelen/ english

Why the Body Wants to Sleep Without a Pillow


“I will start tomorrow,” I would say every night. And then I once more rested my head on an ergonomically shaped pillow at bedtime. Morning came and then the evening. I still had my pillow. “But tomorrow I will really do it!” Eventually it took me a month of sacred resolutions before I dared to take the first step to saying good-bye to my pillow. Gosh, I had no idea it would be such a hard nut to crack.

Sleeping without a pillow? The idea did not appeal to me at all! I even thought that it would be mission impossible. Your head would be in such a weird position when sleeping on your side, instead of being aligned with your spine – the general recommendation.

But I was strongly motivated to try, due to this blog by Katy Bowman, an expert in the area of natural movement. She explained that a pillow is an attribute that limits the natural movement needs of the body, which also wants to move at night. As a result, the muscles and tissue in the neck and shoulders no longer fulfill their task. So we use the pillow to compensate what we have untrained our body to do naturally.

Slowly Adapt to Sleeping Without a Pillow

Even though I understood the benefits within a few minutes, it consequently took me lots of discipline to put it into practice. Bowman also warns that you should not quit cold turkey. It is important that the body adapts to the new sleeping position very slowly in order for the neck muscles and tissue to gradually adapt, otherwise they might be damaged.

The First Step

The first step is the hardest: saying good-bye to your old friend and replacing it with a thinner version. You then sleep on your new pillow for a few weeks and exchange it for an even thinner version. You keep downsizing. Finally a folded towel and then an unfolded towel do the job.

I immediately noticed that I did not have the will power to change the pillow size at night and that it was better to do so in the morning. You really do not want to deal with your ‘addiction’ when you are tired and ready to sleep.

Stiff Neck? Slow Down

When I woke up, I would always feel whether I was downsizing my pillow size at a healthy speed or whether I was moving too quickly. If I woke up with a slightly stiff neck – this happened once – I had downsized too quickly.

The entire process eventually took me four months. I was pillow free. I even started to experience the huge advantage: the quality of my sleep was no longer determined by the quality of my pillow. I could sleep well everywhere – without a pillow.

Learn to Listen to Your Body Again

‘Listening to your body’ means that you sometimes have to do something different than what you think is a natural need. Due to decades of endless conditioning, we do not always know and feel what natural movement is to our body and what it actually needs.

Tip: If you have young children, then let them sleep without a head pillow from the start. It saves them from having to unlearn this habit and helps them sleep naturally and peacefully.

Translation by: Cindy Ritmeester,

explore more