Our pillows help us get a good sleep. They provide a soft cushion for our neck and head and can directly affect our spine. Because most pillows can get lumpy and misshapen (or fall apart) when washed in the washing machine, the question arises regarding how long we should keep our pillows before replacing them with new ones. I've done some research on this issue and decided to share my findings with you. You may be surprised at the results.
Allergens & Other Gross Things
If you're an allergy sufferer, like me, you want to do everything you possibly can to lessen your symptoms. I previously mentioned helpful hints, such as, washing your bedding frequently in hot water to reduce allergens in my article, 10 Tips For Dealing With Spring Allergies. But is washing your pillowcases enough? You may ask, "Should I wash my pillows, too?" or wonder if you should be replacing them altogether.
Pillows collect body oils and skin flakes over time, even when covered by a pillowcase. These accumulations can attract dust mites, a common allergen. Dust mites, along with bacteria, mold and mildew, and human factors such as perspiration and drool, can make pillows become unhealthy. Experts recommend that allergy sufferers replace their pillows every 1 to 3 years, however, using a pillow cover in addition to the pillowcase can double that amount of time.
A pillow cover, sometimes referred to as a pillow encasing, looks like a basic white pillowcase with a zipper. Though it may look like a normal pillowcase, it is specifically designed to block out dust mites and other allergens. The major differences between a pillowcase and pillow cover are that pillow covers zip up tight to completely encase your pillow and are made of a fabric that prevents allergens from passing through it. Pillow covers act as a physical barrier between the inside of your pillow and allergens.
If the above allergy concerns don't apply to you, you may want to simply consider whether your pillow still provides good support. A lumpy or flattened pillow can be extremely uncomfortable, but can be easily replaced.
Clinical psychologist, Michael Breus, Ph.D. is WebMD.com's sleep expert, as well as the author of a highly recommended book, "Good Night: The Sleep Doctor's 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health." Dr. Breus says that an old pillow can cause improper neck alignment that can throw off a person's entire spine, resulting in back, neck and leg pain and causing a series of headaches. He suggests replacing good-quality pillows every 1 to 2 years and less expensive ones more often than that.
There are a few tests that I found on the "How Stuff Works" site that you can use to determine whether or not you should replace your pillow:
Test Your Pillow
If you're trying to determine whether your pillow is ready for replacement, try these tests. If you own a polyester 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. If not, its goose is cooked and the pillow needs to be replaced.
Since sleep deprivation can affect almost every area of our lives, it's important to whatever possible to get good-quality sleep on a nightly basis. One simple way to do that is to make sure that your pillows aren't the problem. Something as simple as a too plump or too flat pillow, or one that is not contoured to your head, neck and back, can seriously change sleep patterns, leading to side effects, such as: depression, heart disease, irritability, slower reactions (think about driving) and tremors.
Sleep experts recommend replacing top-quality pillows every 2 to 3 years and never using a cheap pillow for more than a few months at a time.
It is also important to note that although people get fitted for shoes and clothing, they rarely get fitted for a pillow, and they should. Purchasing a good-quality pillow that feels like a good fit will enhance good sleep and will also give you a starting point when replacing your pillows within that 2-to 3-year timeframe.
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Elena White is the founder and editor of Life The Green Way, corporate sustainability coordinator at her day job, and a "rurban" wife and mother. Learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter at @Lifethegreenway.