Sleep Tips

Allergies? Maybe Your Pillow Is to Blame

Tween boy and mother playing in bedroom at home
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Not many things in life are more frustrating than a night of bad sleep. The following day can feel like a never-ending trudge of battling with heavy eyelids, a hazy brain and slow response times.

Those bad nights are often attributed to noisy bed partners or thermal discomfort, but one of the biggest, most surprising sleep disruptors is actually allergies — a pesky overnight issue that can impact us at any age and in any season.

Sleeping soundly while congested can feel next to impossible. Our bedroom environment could be making an allergy problem worse, and a big culprit in the bedroom is our bedding itself. Dust mites can accumulate on bedside rugs or carpeting, as well as in the mattress, headboard and pillows. Since we spend all night breathing atop a pillow, allergens that lurk in your pillow can create trouble.

Lucky for any allergy sufferers, keeping allergens away from your pillow is simple. To help with some tips, we’ve enlisted the help of Mattress Firm Sleep Expert® Jamie Rudat, as well as the medical expertise of allergist Dr. Mariam Hanna. Here’s how to ensure you keep allergens and your pillow from becoming bedfellows.

Can Allergies Come from Sleep?

Allergies can come from almost anything. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America notes that more than 50 million people in the U.S. experience allergies each year and that allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness. Common sources of allergies can be pollen, dust, dander (from people and pets), dry skin and mold, all of which can accumulate on your bedding, explains Rudat. This doesn’t mean your bedroom is dirty — these allergens are microscopic and are found in almost every home.

Once those allergies are triggered, leading to allergic rhinitis, AKA hay fever, an allergic reaction can release chemicals that cause sleep disruptions — stuffiness, watery eyes, congestion — as well as fatigue, impacting you night and day.

“Allergic rhinitis can not only be problematic and socially intrusive during the day when you are trying to get work done, but it can also mean a poor night's sleep and difficulty with concentration and attention the following day,” says Hanna.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology points out that most people don’t sleep well when sniffling and sneezing. To make matters worse, a poor night’s rest usually impacts us the following day.

Since our pillows cradle our heads, it’s easy to inhale allergens they harbor, meaning it’s especially important to keep that pillow as clean as possible. “Your pillow is an investment for your head, neck and sleep quality,” Rudat adds. “You want it to be a clean environment.”

Facts About the Allergens on Your Pillow

If you’re wondering about the cleanliness of your pillow, there are two great ways to gauge health. First, figure out the last time you cleaned your pillow. If it’s been longer than you can remember, it’s probably time to toss your pillow in the wash.

The other way to gauge allergens is by assessing how you feel after lying on your pillow. Nasal congestion, sneezing and eyes that are itchy and/or watering in the morning could all be signs that your pillow or other bedding is triggering an allergic reaction, says Hanna.

Rudat explains that most sleep-related allergies aren’t due to the materials of the bedding but rather the dust mites that live in fabrics. The reality is, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you have dust mites in your home — pretty much every home does. These critters feed on organic material like dead skin and can live in places where those skin cells accumulate, like on our bedding, pillows and mattresses. For many people, dust mites aren’t anything to worry about, but for those with dust mite allergies, it can cause allergic reactions. The American Lung Association lists symptoms of a dust mite allergy to include a runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing. The association notes that roughly four out of every five homes in the U.S. have dust mites in at least one bed.

Seasonal allergies can also kick in when the weather warms up and we start to open windows and doors. While spring and summer air can feel refreshing, it’s an opportunity for pollen to lodge in bedding. Even wearing clothes in bed that have been outdoors can welcome unwanted allergens into the bed, and that’s in addition to the transfer of anything that’s settled on skin and hair.

If you’re looking to sleep in a hypoallergenic environment with minimal allergens, you might want to consider upgrading the type of pillow you’re sleeping on as well as investing in a pillow protector, Rudat suggests.

Best Pillow for Allergies

The best pillows for allergies are often hypoallergenic. They’re made with materials that resist letting allergens settle into the pillow’s fill or cover. Other noteworthy features of a hypoallergenic pillow are a removable and machine-washable cover that you remove and wash at regular intervals to ensure you’re sleeping on a hygienic and clean pillow. Ideally anyone who experiences allergies sleeps on machine-washable pillows to keep up with frequent laundering. These can be cleaned at home in the washing machine to clear out any potential allergens. Here are some of the best pillows we recommend for allergies.

Purple Pillow

Rudat notes that the Purple Pillow could be great for anyone looking for a hypoallergenic option since it doesn’t have any organic materials that could attract allergens like dust mites. The pillow features the Purple Grid, a proprietary GelFlex polymer material that’s both soft and supportive. The hypoallergenic pillow also comes with two boosters so you can adjust the pillow’s fill to match the height you prefer. The removable cover can be cleaned in the washing machine, while the cushion and boosters can be hand-washed.

PureCare Cooling SoftCell Chill Pillow

Good for side, stomach and back sleepers, the PureCare Cooling SoftCell Chill Pillow has a unique reversible design. One side features a quilted down-alternative while the other is a responsive cooling-gel memory foam. The cooling cover also makes this pillow great for hot sleepers. Adding to the benefits for anyone looking to avoid pillow allergy symptoms, the cooling pillow can easily be machine washed.

Sleepy's REACTEX Pillow

For sleepers who like options, the Sleepy’s REACTEX Pillow comes in three levels of loft — low, medium and high. If you’re not sure which height is right for your sleeping style, the Sleep Experts® at Mattress Firm can set you up with a pillow fitting. Rudat says this could be one of the best pillows for allergies since its fill is a breathable down-alternative material. It also features cooling materials and a 100% cotton cover.

What Makes a Pillow Hypoallergenic?

A hypoallergenic pillow is designed to resist accumulating allergens like pollen, dust and dander. Some pillows are made with materials that easily allow particles in the air to settle in the pillow. This includes dust mites, pet dander, dead skin and pollen, all of which can trigger an allergic reaction. “A hypoallergenic pillow will help keep anything that could cause allergies from settling into the pillow,” Rudat says.

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