Few Americans get the recommended quality or quantity of sleep every night. There are dozens of factors that play into your ability to sleep, including your current levels of stress, the noisiness and darkness of your environment, and even your diet. But two of the most important factors form the support structure that allows you to sleep in comfort: your pillow and your mattress.
Among these, which is more important for a better night’s sleep, your pillow or your mattress? And which one should you upgrade first?
Mattresses and Pillows: Different Roles and Different Functions
Mattresses and pillows are both important to the quality of your sleep at night, but they provide very different functions. Your mattress is designed to support your entire body, more or less, providing it with enough softness to feel comfortable, yet enough firmness to give you the support you need. A problem with your mattress could manifest across your entire body, making you feel achy all over or reducing your ability to find a comfortable position.
Pillows, by contrast, are specifically designed to support your head, neck, and shoulder area. Mattresses are, necessarily, flat, but your spine and neck are curved, meaning they need some additional support to rest comfortably. A good pillow will support your head and neck, reducing the strain you feel throughout the night and lowering your chances of chronic soreness or pain. Pillows are also unique because you can use multiple pillows to improve your comfort; for example, you might use a second pillow to support your lower back, or a pillow between your legs while sleeping on your side to keep your spine in proper alignment.
It’s hard to say which is more important in this dimension, since both pillows and mattresses are vital for a good night’s sleep. They’re difficult to compare, because they serve different roles.
Which Wears Out Faster: Pillows or Mattresses?
Over time, both mattresses and pillows will wear out, but they’ll wear out in different ways, and for different reasons. Mattresses, for example, should last several years, sometimes up to a decade. Depending on the type of mattress you purchased and its overall quality, you might eventually start to experience sag in the middle, a stray spring (from an ineffective innerspring mattress), or increased allergy problems due to accumulated dirt, dust, and microorganisms in the mattress.
Pillows, by contrast, wear out much faster. Depending on the type of pillow you get, it will eventually get flatter, lumpier, or more inconsistent. It may also be exposed to more bodily fluids and particles, resulting in faster deterioration. You can expect the average pillow to last a year, or maybe slightly longer, but they’ll wear out much faster than a mattress.
Accordingly, if you bought a new mattress and pillow at the same time and you start having sleeping trouble, you’ll probably want to replace your pillow first. However, a worn-out mattress may result in more long-term problems.
Pricing Considerations for Mattresses and Pillows
The flip side is that because pillows are smaller and less resource intensive, they tend to be much cheaper. Mattresses often cost several hundred to a thousand dollars or more, while replacing a pillow is usually less than $100. This means that replacing a pillow is usually a trivial matter, and one that can help you improve your sleep quality faster.
Diagnosing (and Correcting) a Sleep Problem
Before you consider replacing your mattress or your pillow, it’s important to try and diagnose your sleeping problem. These factors can all play a role in reducing your sleep quality or consistency:
- Other environmental factors. Many environmental factors play a role in your ability to get to sleep quickly (and stay asleep throughout the night). For example, if your room isn’t sufficiently dark, or if you’re constantly dealing with noise from outside, you won’t be able to sleep well even with a brand new mattress and pillow. You might also have trouble if your room is too hot or too cold, or if the air is too dry or too humid.
- Stress and anxiety. High levels of stress and/or anxiety can make it nearly impossible to get a restful night’s sleep. Your mind will race with thoughts, and your elevated levels of stress hormones will interfere with your ability to relax. Unfortunately, no mattress replacement can make you immediately less stressed; you’ll need to reduce the number of stressors in your environment and learn how to better cope with the ones left over.
- Nutrition. Your nutrition can also make it easier or harder to sleep. Eating too much before bedtime, especially junk food, can keep you up well past you intended. If you consume too much caffeine throughout the day, or if you drink caffeine close to bedtime, you may also struggle to sleep.
- Physical exercise. Physical exercise tires you out and reduces stress, making it ideal for getting better sleep at night (as long as you don’t do it close to bedtime). If you’re not exercising regularly, it could make it harder for you to fall asleep.
- Digital exposure. Evidence suggests that too much screen time, especially if that screen time is shortly before you go to bed, can be bad for your sleep hygiene. Try to avoid digital screens several hours before you go to bed; instead, read a book to entertain yourself as you get ready for sleep.
Once you’ve ruled out these factors, the culprit is almost certainly your mattress or your pillow. If you’re also experiencing stiffness and soreness in your head and/or neck, you should definitely upgrade your pillow. Otherwise, inspect your pillow and mattress for signs of wear or indications that they’re no longer providing you the support you need to sleep comfortably.
If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, it may be your pillow, your mattress, or both. One low-cost way to improve your sleep is to invest in a new pillow, rather than immediately trying a new mattress.
Browse our selection of high-quality pillows today, including our double airflow pillow, designed to keep you cool while providing the perfect amount of support. A new pillow may be just what you need to finally get the rest you deserve.