For something you use every night, pillows are surprisingly easy to forget to refresh. If 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 pillow picks that might just help you get a better night’s sleep.
The Strategist’s Most-Stood-Behind Pillows
This fiber-filled pillow was included in our list of the best pillows on Amazon according to reviewers. One wrote, “Very happy with my pillows. I have gone through several pillows looking for something that isn’t hard but isn’t down stuffing, either. I have had them for several months now, and they are still as comfortable as the day I got them.”
This was another reviewer favorite — one commenter said, “I’m suspicious of these pillows because they seem too perfect for this world” — for their softness and easy fluffability (not to mention the low price tag).
When former Strategist deputy editor Jason Chen tested pillows for side sleepers, this was his favorite. “Unlike other pillows that mistake plushness or fluffiness for support, the WEF didn’t sink as soon as I rested my head,” he said. “Instead, it had a firm, satisfying spring — it’s a different sensation but one I took to right away.”
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.”
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.
“Natural down is more expensive than fiber, but it lasts much longer,” says Gelb. “For the right pillow, the investment is worth it, as you will sleep better and keep it longer.” We’ve tried this one and can attest to its fluff — unlike other down pillows we’ve slept on, this one held its shape and didn’t fall flat after a night’s sleep.
This one was a favorite of Amazon reviewers, especially as a slightly less expensive option for a down pillow. “I bought this because it was the cheapest 100 percent–down pillow I could find with a reasonable fill. The pillow is phenomenal,” wrote one shopper. “If you’re looking for a down pillow that matches or is superior to any other regardless of price, then you will be happy with this purchase.”
If you’re looking for a down pillow that will keep you cool, this is a good choice. “Finally, I have found a pillow that really meets the standard of ‘cool,’” wrote one reviewer. “I purchased and returned four other pillows claiming to be cooling. These well-priced ones are the first to meet my needs.”
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