Getting enough good quality sleep is essential for our physical and mental wellbeing. And, just like with our mattresses, the pillows we sleep on play an important role in allowing us to get the rest we need.

When it comes to finding the right pillow for you, factors like your sleeping position, body temperature, and whether or not you snore, all play a role.

With this in mind, we’ve explored the link between pillow quality, sleep, and health.

5 ways your pillow can affect your sleep and health

5 ways your pillow can affect your sleep and health

Experts recommend replacing your pillows every one to two years to make sure they remain supportive, clean, and free of allergens. It’s equally important to take care of the condition of your pillows to improve their life span.

A pillow that’s more than five or six years old is unlikely to provide the support you need, and could also contain high levels of dust mites. This may lead to various issues, such as…

1. Strain and discomfort

If you often wake up with neck or back pain, it could be a sign that your pillow isn’t the right shape, size, or level of firmness or thickness for your sleep preferences.

When your neck and head aren’t supported properly, it can create tension in your neck muscles. Pillows with too much material in, or that are too soft, can hold your neck in an awkward position and cause pain.

2. Insomnia

Feeling uncomfortable in bed can make it difficult to fall (and stay) asleep. Over time, this can lead to insomnia.

Aside from causing daytime fatigue and reducing concentration and productivity, research has shown that insomnia can lead to various health conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

For more information, you might like to have a read of our article; What is insomnia and how can you improve it?

3. Triggered allergies

While most of us are diligent in cleaning our bed linen regularly, we can often neglect the pillows and mattresses themselves. However, the sweat, saliva, and dead skin cells that we naturally shed while sleeping create the ideal environment for dust mites and mould.

For example, this study, which examined 10 pillows used in family homes for between 18 months and 20 years, found mould on all of them.

The NHS labels dust mites as one of the biggest causes of allergies. Symptoms can include everything from watery eyes, a runny nose, and congestion, to sinus pressure, and a scratchy throat.

Dust mites and mould can also trigger asthma and eczema, and long-term exposure can lead to sinus infections – causing symptoms like chest pain, difficulty breathing, and severe asthma attacks.

4. Weakened immune system

Getting enough high-quality sleep is essential for health because it allows the body to carry out functions like cell regeneration, tissue repair, and growth.

If your pillow quality is getting in the way of you getting a good night’s sleep, this can weaken your immune system and leave you more prone to developing colds and other kinds of illnesses.

5. Acne

If you’ve experienced a few acne breakouts recently, it could be caused by a build-up of dirt on your pillow. Acne mechanica is a type of acne caused by friction or certain materials touching your face.

Dermatologist Dr David Bank explains that not changing and cleaning your pillow and pillowcase regularly can lead to a build-up of oil and dirt from the environment (as well as your skin and hair) – and this can be transferred back to your skin and increase the risk of acne.

For more help and advice, our article, Adult acne – what it is, why it happens, and ways to cope, is worth a read.

7 tips to help you choose the right pillow

7 tips to help you choose the right pillow

When it comes to finding the right pillow, factors like pillow filling, weight, and fabric are all things to consider. We’ll cover these below.

1. Pillow filling

There are various different pillow filling options – including cotton, wool, down (the layer of fine feathers found on birds underneath the tougher exterior feathers), latex, and memory foam.

Because it’ll determine the softness, firmness, and hypoallergenic properties of your pillow, the most suitable filling for you will depend on your personal needs and preferences.

You might want to check out this in-depth analysis of different pillow fillings from 21 Oak for further guidance.

If you suffer from allergies, this guide to buying pillows and duvets from Allergy Best Buys offers advice on everything from differentiating between ‘hypoallergenic’ and ‘anti-allergy’ products, to help avoiding a build-up of dust mites.

2. Pillow filling weight

Down and synthetic pillows are typically more lightweight choices, while memory foam and latex tend to be heavier.

The weight of your pillow is mainly down to personal choice. For example, lightweight pillows tend to be better if you like to reshape and move your pillow around. Equally, if you struggle with neck pain, you might prefer a heavier fill, like memory foam.

3. Pillow size and shape

The thickness or thinness of your pillow should leave you feeling comfortable and allow you to sleep with your head, neck, and shoulders aligned with your spine.

For most people, a standard-size pillow is sufficient. However, these days you can also buy pillows in specific shapes. These provide extra support and stability for your head and neck in different sleeping positions.

4. Pillow fabric

Using pillow covers underneath pillow cases can help to extend the life of your pillow, by working to protect against stains and sweat.

Natural, breathable fabrics are best when it comes to pillow covers, and decorative pillows should be removed from the bed before sleeping to help them stay fresh.

5. Pillow chemistry

Synthetic materials such as memory foam and polyester are made through chemical processes, and many pillows are given antimicrobial treatments (a process that kills or prevents the growth of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi).

Understanding the chemistry of pillow making, and considering your own allergies and sensitivities, can help you select the right pillow for you.

You can read more about how different pillow materials are made, including which are the most sustainable, in this guide from West London Living.

6. Sleeping position

Your sleeping position is very important when it comes to selecting the right pillow. While many of us switch positions throughout the night, there are a few general guidelines that are worth considering.

For example, side sleepers typically need firmer and thicker pillows, whereas front sleepers need a softer and thinner pillow to help avoid back and neck pain. And back sleepers tend to be most comfortable with thinner pillows that help to keep the spine in alignment.

7. The link between your mattress and pillow

Your pillow and mattress work together to help you get a good night’s sleep, so it’s no surprise that it’s best if they complement each other.

For example, if you sleep on a firm mattress, then a softer pillow may pair better to make sure that it can adapt to the pressure of the weight of your head. Equally, if you have a softer mattress, a firmer pillow is likely to work better to help keep your head and neck aligned.

For more information, you might find our article, How to choose the right mattress for you, interesting.

Final thoughts…

Prioritising good quality sleep is one of the most important things that we can do for our health and wellbeing.

While it can be tempting to buy cheaper knock-off bedding or stick with what you’ve had for years, investing in a high-quality pillow specifically tailored to your needs can make a wealth of difference to how you feel.

For more tips on the best ways to improve your sleep, you might also be interested in our article; How to choose the right mattress for you. Or, for more general sleep tips, head over to the sleep and fatigue section of our website

Have you got a new pillow recently? How does your pillow affect your sleep? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.