Pillows are a bedroom staple, everybody has at least a couple in their bedrooms and for the most part, barely give it much thought. They are just something that is ‘always there’, to rest our heads on when we go to sleep at night, and maybe for the occasional pillow fight. However, pillows are much more important than most people give them credit for; using the right type of pillow for you individual needs can be a highly crucial factor in determining the quality of your sleep. Michael Breus, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and the author of Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep. He quotes “Pillows can not only impact the quality of our sleep, but also how healthfully we rest and recharge”
Why is this so? This is because choosing the wrong kind of pillow for you may exacerbate existing physical conditions such as neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain, snoring, and sleep apnea, just to name a few common problems that people encounter. And that is just problems caused by choosing the wrong type of pillow. What about excessively old pillows? It is not uncommon for most people to develop sentimental attachments to pillows; something that almost every person can identify with in their childhood, but did you know that using pillows are well past the date that they should have been changed can be a minor health hazard.
That’s right, old pillows can be a microbiologist’s wet dream, as they are a veritable biome of microorganisms as well as dead skin cells, mildew, fungus, mold, and house dust mites (as well as their resultant feces – yuck!). Get this, according to a study conducted by Barts, a British health care provider in conjunction with the London NHS (National Health Service) Trust, up to one third of an old pillow’s waster could be made up of these ‘stuff’. That’s right; you’re sleeping on millions of dust mites, dead and alive, as well as their excrement. The researchers also discovered E.Coli, respiratory and urinary tract infection causing germs as well as “more than one million Staphylococcus hominus per milliliter–the bug that can cause severe infections in people with immune systems.” Now it should be noted that the study was conducted using used hospital pillows, so your average used home pillow might not be quite as bad, but according to a technical director “If you had to come up with a medium to cultivate bacteria, besides a Petri dish with agar (a gelatinous jelly), a pillow is pretty much as good as you can get.”
Ignorance is bliss, the saying goes, and after reading that study, you might feel a little less inclined to lay your freshly washed face down on your pillow for a good night’s rest, perhaps imagining thousands of dust mites crawling on your skin and feasting. Worry not, dust mites, unlike bed bugs, only eat dead skin cells, however their presence (and their feces!) can cause allergic reactions such as asthma or skin irritations (which are often confused for ‘bites’). Dust mites are also microscopic and impossible to see with the naked eye, so you don’t have to worry about seeing them crawling all over your pillow, although they most certainly are there. That said, here are three quick tips you can use when it comes to pillows and choosing your next pillow in general.
- Consider your individual sleeping position – Are you a back sleeper, side sleeper, or a stomach sleeper? Studies have shown that as many as 70% of people are side sleepers, making it the most common sleeping position by far. Because the different sleeping positions have different support requirements for the neck and spine, it is important to take this into consideration when choosing a pillow; a pillow’s loft (the height of a pillow when it lays flat), hardness/softness, and material (polyester, down, feathers, memory foam etc.) should all be taken in context of your personal sleeping position.
- Know your own body and its physical pains and limitations – You can and should know your own body very well. Do you suffer from neck pains? Spinal issues such as slipped or herniated discs? You may want to consider specialized pillows for these conditions such as neck pain pillows. Personally, this pillow helped me with my neck aches, which is why I’m recommending it to others. This is particularly important as we spend 6 to 8 hours a day sleeping and the wrong pillows can really limit your recovery from such ailments or even make them worse.
- Change your pillow often – How often do you change your pillow? Not often enough, most probably. Experts recommend switching your pillow out every 6 months, which is about 6 times more frequent than most people do, with an average person holding on to their pillows for 3 years.
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