Sinking into bed every night should feel so good that you practically have a mind-body orgasm. Buying a new mattress and pillow on the right schedule is a huge part of creating this kind of sleep haven. But it can be far too easy to put off these purchases until your mattress and pillow are basically crumbling into heaps of foam and filling. (Unless buying a new mattress and pillow sparks joy for you, in which case you’re probably really on top of this.)
There are several reasons why it’s not great to sleep on an ancient mattress or use a pillow that is giving up the ghost. This is how often experts recommend you replace your mattress and pillow—and why.
Why you don’t want to sleep on a super-old mattress or pillow
First of all, using a worn-out mattress or pillow might inflame health conditions like allergies and asthma, Neomi Shah, M.D., associate professor of sleep medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells SELF.
This is because your mattress and pillow can harbor allergens like dust mites, which are microscopic creatures that feed off of your dead skin, according to the Mayo Clinic. Dust mites can kick off the physiological processes behind allergy and asthma symptoms, and if these critters die in your mattress or pillow, they can build up over the course of years. This is especially true if you’re not using allergen-proof pillow and mattress covers.
Then there’s the way that having a super old mattress and pillow can screw with your neck and back, causing you pain when you wake up, Mona Zall, D.O., an interventional spine orthopedist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, tells SELF. Some people even develop pain from this that rouses them at night, Dr. Shah says. This can disturb your sleep, as can tossing and turning because your mattress or pillow isn’t doing its job.
When to replace your mattress and pillow
In a perfect world, your mattress and pillow would text you a heads up when it’s time to put them to pasture, preferably with a 50 percent off coupon for your next ones. Sadly, that’s not going to happen, so you have to keep more general guidelines in mind.
Overall, the National Sleep Foundation says that mattresses are good for about eight years. However, it might be smart to get a new one sooner than that if you’re over 40 because your body may need more support as you sleep, the organization says.
As for your pillows, the National Sleep Foundation says it’s often best to get new ones every two years.
There is something to be said for generally sticking to these guidelines, which might mean you’re buying a new mattress or pillow when the old one still feels pretty good. Doing this can help you avoid the negative health effects that can creep up when your mattress and pillow are too old. If you start to experience these health consequences, it might take time for you to realize your mattress or pillow is the cause, which could add up to unnecessary stress, sleep disturbances, and pain.
With that said, everyone is different. It’s not like your mattress and pillow will go bad on a specific date. They’re not cheese, and we should all be thankful for that. If you bought a stellar mattress nine years ago and aren’t dealing with any negative effects, well, cool. Mattresses especially can get really expensive, so we’re not telling you to buy a new one needlessly if there really is no reason to make that purchase. But keeping those guidelines in mind is always a good idea.
What’s even more important, though, is paying attention to physical signs that you might need a new mattress or pillow no matter where you are in that timeline.
Signs to watch out for
If you find that you’re experiencing the following issues, it’s probably time to consider buying a new mattress or pillow ASAP.
1. You feel stiff when you wake up.
This is one of the biggest tip-offs that it’s time to change your mattress or pillow, Dr. Zall says. Back and neck pain can strike at any point in your day for a multitude of reasons, but waking up sore in these spots is usually an indicator that you didn’t have enough support in your sleep, Dr. Zall says. There’s also the possibility that your pillow or mattress is too firm. (A lacking pillow may be the more likely culprit behind neck pain, whereas back pain is probably more closely connected with your mattress.)
2. Your mattress is sagging.
The National Sleep Foundation says that worn or sagging spots on your mattress signal a lack of the support you need in order to sleep comfortably and not experience related pain during the day. “You may even feel like you get stuck in your bed and that it’s harder than it should be to change positions,” Dr. Zall says.
3. You move when your bedmate moves.
If you sleep with someone else and end up rolling around whenever they shift in bed, this is another sign that your mattress isn’t offering enough support, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Unless, of course, you have a water bed, in which case you’re exempt from this one.
4. You can see your body’s outline when you get out of bed.
While this looks pretty cool, it’s a sign that your bed may have gotten way too soft to offer you the proper level of support, Dr. Shah says. Once you’re out of bed, your mattress should return to its original shape, she explains. (Again, there’s an exception here: If your bed is made of a material like memory foam, that slow fade of your body’s imprint is more normal.)
5. Your pillow is lumpy and saggy.
If you’re constantly fluffing and smoothing your pillow into submission, it’s time to toss it. Using a pillow with these issues can result in insufficient neck support that leads to pain.
6. You sleep so much better away from home.
Sure, hotel beds are supposed to feel like actual heaven on earth. But if you notice that you sleep like a baby away from home and toss all night in your own bed, that might be because your mattress or pillow isn’t living up to its full potential.
Overall, the right time to buy a new mattress and pillow depends on different factors. Keeping a timeline in mind is great, but experts say that you shouldn’t ignore the signals your body might be sending you about your mattress and pillow. Given that it’s cheaper to swap out pillows than it is to buy a new mattress, you might want to start there if things don’t feel right, Dr. Shah says. And before actually coughing up the money for a new mattress before that timeline is up, it may make sense to talk to your doctor if you’re at all unsure that your current one is giving you problems. A good physician will want to help you get the restful sleep you need.