One of the things we hear at least once a week in our practice is "my back is really sore, I think I need a new mattress". Though some of the time this may be the case, the biggest culprit for sleep related aches and pains can actually be a much more affordable fix: your pillow.
While everyone has their favorite type or shape of pillow, most of us have no idea when the last time we actually replaced our pillows was. Some people will get new pillows if they move or purchase a new bed or bedding set, but for most of us those old faithful nighttime companions are outlasting almost every other item in the room.
The health issues that can arise from holding on too long to your cushy friend can span from slightly cringe-worthy to all out gag-inducing. Pillows will collect body oils and skin flakes over time, even when covered by pillow cases and regularly washed, which can in turn lead to the build up of dust mites. When those pesky dust mites combine with the oils from perspiration and saliva (aka, sleepy drool) you can end up with a breeding ground for bacteria, mildew and even mold.
The build-up of products inside your pillows isn't only a concern for allergy sufferers, but is one of the main reasons that people get neck and back pain from sleeping. Studies have shown that the weight of an average pillow will double over a 5-year span. The increased density of the pillow greatly reduces the ability of the fibers to circulate air and cushion the weight of your head and neck. In essence, you've gone from "soft" range pillow to a "firm" one without the trip to the store.
In general, we recommend that our patients replace their pillows every 2 years and there are some easy ways to tell if it's time to make the switch.
If you own a foam or fiber-fill pillow, fold it in half and place a shoe on top. If the pillow unfolds and knocks the shoe off, it is still good. If the shoe wins, the pillow probably needs replacing.
If you have a feather pillow, fold it in half and squeeze out as much air as you can (leave the shoe out of this contest). When you release the pillow, it should unfold on its own right away. If not, its goose is cooked and the pillow needs to be replaced.
And finally, if you can't remember the last time you bought a new pillows, it's probably time to swap yours out. New pillows can be an easy fix for restless nights letting you get on with your active day.