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When Should You Replace Your Pillows?

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock

For something you use every night, pillows are surprisingly easy to forget to refresh. If you notice it feels a little lumpy at bedtime, by morning you’re probably more focused on your coffee than last night’s sleep. But when exactly should you replace your pillows? The sleep specialists we reached out to had varied opinions. Dr. Joshua Tal, a psychologist who specializes in sleep disorders, told us he has heard that anywhere between two and seven years is a good time frame for pillow life expectancy. Dr. Janet Kennedy, a clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, said you can expect a basic poly or down-alternative pillow (also known as fiber pillows) to last only six months to a year. And Dr. Michael Gelb, a TMJ and sleep specialist, told us fiber pillows usually last one to two years. All agreed that down pillows last a bit longer — “three or more” years, says Gelb — but can be difficult to clean, which can, according to Kennedy, lead to “allergies, congestion, and even snoring.”

If the varied time frames are a bit confusing, you can always try what Tal calls the “shoe test,” coined by sleep specialist Michael Breus. “What you do is you fold your pillow in half, put a shoe on the back side of the pillow, and then let go of the pillow,” says Tal. “If the pillow folds back into shape and flings the shoe off of it, you’re good. If it doesn’t, it’s kind of lost its ability to hold your head up properly.” (Just be sure to use a substantial shoe and not, say, a flip-flop.) Tal also told us about a test he uses with his patients: “I advise clients to stand up against the wall, as if you were sleeping — so a back sleeper would stand with their back to the wall, a side sleeper would stand with their side — and then rest your head on the wall and notice how far it has to go to do that; then put your pillow in between where you’re resting your head and see if you’re standing up straight. That’s the key: You should be standing up straight if you have a good pillow.” A tired-out, flat pillow just won’t do the job.

Generally speaking, though, it comes down to personal comfort. “If you cannot get comfortable in any position, it might be time to get a new pillow,” says Gelb. He notes that when a pillow is on its last legs, it will “feel lumpy, as the materials inside shift and deteriorate, and lose its loft and ability to support you properly.” It will also flatten faster, resist fluffing, and begin to stain and discolor from sweat and air pollutants. If that sounds like your pillow, read on for some Strategist-approved replacement picks that just might help you get a better night’s sleep.

The Strategist’s Most-Stood-Behind Pillows

For those looking for a side-sleeper-specific pillow, experts like this one because of its curved indentation that molds “to the precise contours of your head, neck, and shoulders, so you’re always supported as you roll from side to side,” says sleep expert Sarah Riccio. It’s filled with latex-foam noodles and polyester fibers, giving you the right amount of stiffness while remaining extremely comfortable.

Parachute Down Pillow
From $103

When Strategist writer Lauren Ro polled sleep and bed experts to find the best down pillow, this one from Parachute came up the most thanks to the “supportive yet airy quality that makes them so comfortable.”

A body pillow can be great for those looking for a pillow that provides alignment and support. Dr. Janet Kennedy, a clinical psychologist based in Manhattan who specializes in sleep disorders, recommends trying one stuffed with natural-latex pieces, like this pillow, to allow for more movement during sleep.

Those with neck pain might want to try this fiber-filled pillow with a divot at its center. Costume designer and Strategist contributor Allison Freer says the pillow “stopped my neck and shoulder pain cold — and transformed my sleeping life.”

People experiencing lots of neck pain may also benefit from this expert-recommended pillow. It’s more expensive than the Core Products option above, but it has a unique shape and a dense foam that “hits the sweet spot of being firm enough to fill the space between your head and your shoulders while maintaining the natural curve but isn’t so stiff that it forces your neck into an unnatural position,” says Strategist writer Ambar Pardilla.

According to Caitlin M. O’Shaughnessy, this pillow is “so soft it makes you wonder if you even need a pillowcase.” Unlike your typical memory-foam pillow, this one is full of shredded memory foam, which “clumps together to create solid neck support without feeling hard or uncomfortable.”

We’ve also written about this pillow, which is hypoallergenic and contains shredded foam and microfiber. “Sleeping on it feels like a warm hug for your head, cushy and soft,” said Lori Keong.

This gel-infused foam pillow was well reviewed on Amazon, with one person commenting, “I was always waking up with a headache or a stiff neck. As a stomach sleeper, I feel my new pillow is here to stay! Since I started using it, I’ve had no more head or neck pain … would definitely recommend if you like slim pillows!”

Those looking for a cooling memory-foam pillow might want to take this one for a spin.