7 Ways the Wrong Pillow Can Negatively Affect Your Health: Acne, Allergies, Headaches

July 16, 2020 Updated: July 16, 2020

After a long day at work, the thought of laying your weary head down on the pillow is irresistible. But have you thought about just how important your pillow is for a good night’s sleep and how it might be affecting your health?

Today, we’ll look at seven different ways that a poorly chosen pillow could have a negative impact on different parts of your body and your overall well-being.

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1. Neck Pain

It’s important to remember that the natural position of your neck is in a straight line with your spine. As physical therapist Matthew O’Rourke explained to Harvard Health, “If your neck is bent in any way for an extended period of time, you’ll get uncomfortable.”

Pillows that are too soft or too firm could result in your neck getting overly stretched or torqued. This can even lead to pain that will prevent you from fully resting. Whatever position you prefer to sleep in, try to choose a pillow that allows your neck to stay straight and comfortable.

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O’Rourke warns: “If you’re on your stomach with your head to the side, you’re sleeping in a full rotation position, and that can become painful.”

2. Back Pain

Although you might imagine that a pillow only has to do with your neck and head, these are inextricably linked to your spine and your back. Here, too, the specific kind of pillow that will work best for you is one that allows your spine to maintain its natural curvature.

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Physical therapist Matthew O’Rourke explains that “everyone’s recipe will be a little different,” but advises trying to “get the spine in a relatively straight position.” For example, back sleepers should have pillows that provide enough support for the neck. Stomach sleepers, meanwhile, shouldn’t have a large pillow that causes their neck to ramp upward. Something relatively flat will work best for them.

3. Headaches

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the head and neck issues described above can also be connected with headaches. When you think that the upper half of your body might be out of alignment due to the wrong pillow, it makes sense that your head could hurt, too.

For those who suffer from migraine headaches, this can be particularly problematic, as the nerves in the upper neck can trigger painful and long-lasting attacks.

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4. Allergic Reactions

With your nose and mouth in such close proximity with your pillow, it’s obvious that an unhygienic pillow could lead to respiratory problems. According to the Sleep Doctor, “Pillows collect dead skin cells, mildew, mold, fungus, and dust mites (as well as their feces). Over time, as much as half the weight of a pillow can be attributed to these unwelcome organisms, which can trigger allergies.”

Because your pillow is a receptacle for all these things, it’s important to replace it fairly often—every year or year and a half or so. It’s also a good idea to look for a hypoallergenic pillow, filled with natural materials like down, wool, or cotton, which are hypoallergenic. Synthetic pillows can also be hypoallergenic, but regardless of your choice, any pillow will become more allergenic over time.

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5. The Wrong Pillow Equals Lost Sleep

Ultimately, having the wrong pillow will cause discomfort, pain, and difficulty breathing. All of this compromises your sleep quality and your energy levels and clarity the next day.

In addition to the factors already discussed, something else to consider is that the firmness of your pillow should be compatible with your mattress. For someone with a firm mattress, this will probably mean a softer, thinner pillow, since the level of your body will be higher to start with. On the other hand, if your mattress is softer and you sink in, then a firm pillow will help keep you in a straight line.

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6. Skin Problems

Just as a dirty pillowcase or dusty pillow can cause allergies, allowing a buildup of skin oils, dead skin, dandruff, and hair follicles on your pillow can cause serious problems for your skin.

“When your pillowcase isn’t laundered or changed regularly, a buildup of dirt and oil from the environment as well as your skin and hair touching the pillow is transferred back to your skin,” dermatologist Dr. David E. Bank told the HuffPost, adding “This can clog pores and cause blemishes.”

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7. Snoring and Sleep Apnea

For people who struggle with breathing throughout the night, having the right pillow can be crucial for a good night’s sleep. There are two general approaches: 1) Pillows that encourage snorers to sleep on their sides, thus preventing the tongue from blocking their airway; 2) Wedge pillows, which elevate the whole upper body to keep the airways open.

Regardless of which kind of pillow you choose, make sure it’s the right one for you. Thinking about this little thing could make a huge difference in the way you sleep and the way you live.

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