12 Signs You’ve Got a Bad Pillow

Last Updated on June 17, 2024

by Marc Werner, Founder - GhostBed

The fastest way to get a poor night of sleep? Snoozing on the wrong pillow. Using a pillow that’s old, damaged or simply not right for you can cause pain, restlessness and a myriad of other issues.

If you suspect your pillow may be giving you trouble, keep reading for a list of bad pillow symptoms.

Woman sitting up with back and neck pain after sleeping on a bad pillow.

How Do You Know Your Pillow is Bad?

There are several signs your pillow may need to be replaced, either because it’s worn out or because it’s the wrong pillow for your sleep style. Here are a few things to look out for:

1. Your Pillow Has Changed Shape

If your pillow is misshapen, lumpy or flatter than it used to be, that’s a sign it’s not giving you the support you need.

2. Your Pillow Has Visible Stains, Discoloration or Odors

Besides the aesthetic disadvantage, a stained, smelly pillow can be indicative of allergens, oils or other contaminants that you don’t want to be sleeping on.

3. You Wake Up Sneezing, Coughing or Struggling to Breathe

There are many reasons you may be experiencing allergy-like symptoms, and your first trip should always be to the doctor. But if your doc encourages you to swap out your bedding, don’t forget your pillow.

4. You Frequently Have a Sore Neck or Shoulders

Again, there are many causes for body soreness, and you should always chat with a healthcare provider. But if you’re waking up in the morning with an achy neck or shoulders, your pillow may be to blame.

5. You’re Tossing and Turning at Night

Find yourself shifting around at all hours? It may be because you’re uncomfortable. The right pillow will support your head and neck, while the wrong one never allows you to settle.

Many lying in bed with a headache.

6. You’re Waking Up With Headaches

If your doctor has cleared you of all other causes, it’s possible your headaches can be attributed to your pillow. Sleeping without your head and neck properly supported can cause physical tension and pain.

7. Your Pillow Has Visible Wear and Tear

A pillow that looks a little beat up is more than just unattractive. It can be indicative of damage that affects how the pillow functions.

8. Your Pillow Has Stopped Bouncing Back

If you own a memory foam pillow, it should spring back when you press on it. If it stays compressed and is no longer responsive (or it takes longer than it used to to respond), it’s time for a new one.

9. Your Pillow is Noisier Than It Used to Be

Pillow making odd sounds when you lie on it? It may be due to clumped-up filling or an otherwise deteriorating interior.

10. Your Pillow is Getting Old

If you’ve had your pillow for more than half a decade, it’s likely time for you to get a new one.

11. Your Pillow Flattens Out Quickly

Does your pillow lose its volume every time you lie on it? If so, you’re not getting the best support for your head and neck.

12. Your Pillow is Uncomfortable

Let’s not forget the obvious! If your pillow is uncomfortable, it may be damaged or simply not the right pillow for you. Either way, it’s time for a new one.

Woman propped up in bed, awake in the middle of the night.

Can a Bad Pillow Affect Your Health?

The short answer is yes–a bad pillow can affect your health (and mess with your sleep)!

What can a bad pillow cause? If you’re using a worn-down, damaged pillow (or the wrong one for your sleep style), your neck and spine won’t get the support they need. In fact, they may be forced into misalignment.

This means you wake up with a stiff, painful neck after an uncomfortable night of sleep. Similarly, tension caused by sleeping on the wrong pillow can cause headaches and muscle strain.

A bad pillow also means you’re not getting the best quality sleep you can, which is a pretty big deal. After all, one of the foundations of good health is excellent sleep.

The wrong pillow can also contribute to snoring and sleep apnea by not supporting your head and neck in a way that allows proper breathing. Plus, it can lead to poor circulation, which means you wake up with tingly or numb extremities.

Finally, a bad pillow–especially one that’s accumulated years of debris and oils–can trigger allergies and irritate your skin.

How the Right Pillow Can Improve Your Health and Sleep

While the wrong pillow can wreak a lot of havoc, the right one can be a major boon to your health. It can keep your spine properly aligned, promoting good posture and less strain on your body. You may also experience less pain and fewer tension headaches with the right pillow.

A good pillow also improves your sleep quality so your body gets the rest it needs to thrive. Over time, this can reduce your stress and fatigue.

Tired of snoring and sneezing? A high-quality, well-maintained pillow will support your airways, helping you breathe, and it won’t have accumulated allergens (like pet dander and dust) that affect your respiratory health.

Finally, a good pillow supports healthy blood flow, which may mean no more waking up with a numb or tingling arm in the middle of the night.

Taken together, these benefits can lead to some serious health perks. Sleeping well in a well-supported position can reduce the risk of chronic pain and disease.

Woman sitting on a GhostBed, holding a GhostPillow in her arms.

The Best Pillow for Your Sleeping Style

Here at GhostBed, we know it’s only the right pillow if it’s the right pillow for you. That’s why we spend so much time helping you discover the best bedding for your sleep style.

If you’re a side sleeper, you’ll likely do best with a dense pillow that can fill the gap between your head, neck and shoulders, like our customer-favorite GhostPillow - Gel Memory Foam. As one Customer, Deborah R, says “The cooling factor combined with its well-balanced support for head and neck makes this pillow a winner.”

To learn more about which pillow to choose, check out our guide on the best pillow for side sleepers.

If you sleep on your back, you’ll want to choose a pillow that keeps your spine in alignment and prevents neck strain. Most folks love our adjustable memory foam pillow for that reason–you can customize it to your unique body to get the perfect fit.

If you’re a stomach sleeper, you’ll likely feel best with a thin pillow that keeps your head level with the rest of your body, like our faux down pillow. (Learn more about it in our guide for stomach sleepers).

If you’re ready to ditch your bad pillow and start getting better sleep, we’re here to help. Browse our full line of GhostPillows or chat with one of our Sleep Experts to learn more.

Marc Werner - Founder, GhostBed

Marc Werner

Founder - GhostBed

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Marc has spent the last two decades designing & manufacturing mattresses and other sleep products, drawing on a lifetime of experience working with the material sciences. With several patents to his name, he works closely with the GhostBed team to create products with the perfect balance of comfort & support. Learn More

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