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Pillow talk: A masterclass in getting the perfect support for a great night's sleep

Did you know that most pillows should be replaced every two years?

Image: Shutterstock/WHYFRAME

Laura de Barra regularly brings her lifestyle and home maintenance expertise to the Glenveagh Home Magazine on TheJournal.ie. This week: a masterclass in pillows… or how to finally wake up comfortable.

THE RIGHT PILLOW to you will allow you an uninterrupted sleep, support your best sleeping posture and give your head and neck the support it needs all night long. The wrong pillow will give you neck and back ache, leave you waking frequently and over all leave you less rested.

Finding a perfect pillow is pretty similar to finding the perfect mattress, which we covered a few weeks ago, it’s all about the individual as well as the budget. So, let’s begin with the basics:

Do you need to replace your pillow?

The general rule is that a pillow will need to be replaced every two years. However, this is not always the case so be sure to read the manufacturer’s recommendation to see if you are getting value for money before you buy. Here are some other factors to consider;

  • Synthetic pillows usually need to be replaced after a year and a half to two years, this is usually due to them losing firmness and shape. Most polyester pillows can actually last a lot less, it depends how they were made. Some can show distortion and lumps in the filling after just 6 months of use.
  • Memory foam pillows can last around three to five years, with some brands claiming theirs can last up to 20. This is why they are more expensive per buy, but can end up the same cost or cheaper in the long run. It’s worth spending time doing some research here as it could save you money.
  • Natural fill pillows such as feather and down pillows are recommended to be replaced after a year and a half to two years with higher end versions lasting up to five.

I’ll be honest, I was a little shocked when I first learned about the recommended times to replace your pillow, but this can be longer if you care for the pillow well during its life.

Make sure you are washing it correctly to remove dust mites, skin cells and any staining. This will help with its shape and durability – as can making sure you have a protector on under the pillowcase. The main lesson I have learned is that while cheaper pillows will need to be replaced far more frequently and sometime end up costing you more, the care of the pillow is equally important.

Source: Shutterstock/Stacey Newman

If you are unsure of how old your pillow is, these are other signs to look out for that she is past her best or not serving you as she should;

  • Waking up with a sore neck or headaches can often mean you’re not getting the right support as you sleep
  • If you are sneezing during the night or waking up quite congested this can mean that your pillow needs to be cleaning as the build up inside is affecting you or you are allergic to its contents.
  • Lumpy or limp pillows will not be supporting your head or neck correctly
  • Fold the pillow in half, if it stays folded she’s far past her best.

If you do need to replace your pillow, here is my buying guide.

What she made of?

Synthetic: These are the most affordable and can be washed at home, as well as be hypoallergenic. They are usually called polyester or microfibre fill and can mimic the weight and feel of natural fills. Microfibre pillows can be a great option as they can mimic down well for those that are allergic to natural fillings.

These are most people’s go-to option due to the ease of care and price point, but may need to be replaced sooner. They are also not as breathable as natural fillings (but are more breathable than memory foam).

Natural filling: These are more expensive as they are considered the more luxurious pillow, but will need to be professionally cleaned due to their density and make up. If you don’t mind that they need more plumping and rearranging to keep their shape, they can give a great night’s sleep as they are breathable, comfortable and long-wearing.

As I touched on earlier, some pillows can set off allergic reactions so be sure to be aware of this before you buy. Also note that sometimes it’s not the down or feathers you’re allergic to – other fillings can be mixed in cheaper pillows, so always check what mixes are present. 

Memory foam: NASA were the first to develop this heat reactive foam to improve the safety of their seat cushions. It was eventually produced for public consumption in the 80s and has been a popular choice due to the comfort and support it offers.

It works by using the heat and weight of your body to mould to its shape, which means there is less weight on certain pressure points and your neck and spine can rest in the right position.

However, some people find they retain too much heat for them to sleep comfortably and others don’t love how dense they can feel. They are often bought by people with neck and back issues as they can help greatly.

A neutral spine

Much like mattresses, it is good to be aware of your sleeping position before you buy a pillow. Many of us change positions during the night so there is no hard and fast rule here, but it may be a factor you need to consider.

The main thing you need to be aware of is the position of the spine. Your aim is to keep the spine neutral as you sleep as this is best for comfort and for your back and neck.

The below is a rough outline, but there are many websites that offer forms you can fill out to find your perfect pillow in a few clicks!

Front sleepers: A soft low pillow (sometimes no pillow at all) is suitable here so that the spine is not curving into an unnatural shape.

Side sleepers: Will need a medium to firm pillow to fill the gap between the head and mattress and give support to the neck. A good rule of thumb is to measure the distance from behind your ear to outside shoulder, and this will give you your ‘neck height’.

Back sleepers: Need a thinner, medium firm pillow to ensure a neutral spine, but will also need neck support. Memory foam can be a good option here.

Want more tips and hacks? Laura de Barra’s new debut book, Gaff Goddess: Simple Tips And Tricks To Help You Run Your Home is on shelves now, published by Transworld Ireland. Buy it here or in all good bookshops, and follow Laura on Instagram for even more cleaning and lifestyle tips. 

Memory foam or pocket spring? Your masterclass in buying a new mattress> 

About the author:

Laura de Barra

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