Livestrong: How bad is it really to never change your pillow?

UC sleep medicine expert says old pillows can cause achy muscles and poor sleep

A comfortable pillow is an important ingredient in getting a good night's sleep. But what may come as a surprise is how often you're supposed to invest in a new one. According to the Sleep Foundation, you should replace your pillow every one to two years for optimal rest.

In an article on the topic published by Livestrong.com, Ann Romaker, MD, of the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the UC College of Medicine, was cited as a source on how often a pillow should be replaced and the impact a good pillow plays in quality sleep. 

Ann Romaker, MD, of the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine

Ann Romaker, MD, of the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine/Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand

"Pillows lose their loft over time, especially if you don't wash them regularly," says Romaker. "As they flatten, they offer less neck support, which can lead to neck, shoulder and upper back pain."

If you're uncomfortable, you might toss and turn at night instead of falling into a deep, restorative sleep.

Sleeping on a flat pillow can also hinder breathing. According to Romaker, 85% of people are born with a deviated nasal septum, where the membrane dividing the nasal cavity is off-center to some degree. This can cause congestion, particularly when lying down.

"For most people with a deviated septum, elevating your head helps with nasal drainage," she says. "If your pillow is quite flat, your nose might clog up more."

Being stuffed up means you have to work harder to inhale and exhale. "When you're congested and struggling to breathe, you wake up more frequently during the night," Romaker says. "In the worst-case scenario, it can even cause snoring."

One trick that can help: "Rotate which pillow you use, and flip it over so you're not sleeping on the same side every night," Romaker says. "It will stay fluffier for longer and give you better support."

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