Oh pillows, those lovely head comforters that we all snuggle up to at night. Yes, we have our preferences whether it be fluffy feathers or marshmallow foams but in the grand scheme of things what else is in your pillow doesn't seem that important.
We are so focused on falling asleep that we rarely give a second thought to what we may be cuddling up to. I am not referring to the feathers and foams, but the other stuff... the not so dreamy things.
The truth is a little bit ugly and sufficiently terrifying. Don't worry we have a solution for you at the end.
"It's a zoo inside your pillow, I'm sure," says Ashley Woodcock, a professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester in England who has good reason to know. In a study (1), he and his colleagues broke open 10 bed pillows ranging in age from 18 months to 20 years and analyzed what was lurking inside. They detected more than a million spores and up to 16 species of fungi, including bread and shower molds, in each cushion. To his surprise, synthetic, "hypoallergenic" pillows consistently harbored more abundant and more diverse fungi than down pillows.
Several ingredients make pillows a rich habitat. We don't want to admit it most of us drool on our pillows when we sleep. In addition they absorb body oil, hair, and dead skin cells. Not only can this lead to acne, and make the pillow smell, but it also creates a welcoming environment for dust mites. Dust mites eat fungi, and fungi sop up nitrogen-rich dust-mite dung. Both organisms live on the shed skin flakes, secretions, and bacteria provided by humans. Add in 20 gallons of sweat soaked up by bedding per person per year, warm the whole brew to a comfortable 37 degrees Celsius at 100 percent humidity each night, and, Woodcock says, "it's an ideal culture medium for all sorts of microorganisms." The most concerning and abundant organism Woodcock found in pillows was Aspergillus fumigatus, an asthma-aggravating bacterium that can prove deadly to people with depressed immune systems, such as leukemia and transplant patients. There are respiratory specialists looking into this.
In another study by Sleepbetter.org (2) they examined pillows and mattress pads of 50 college students. They discovered that the average pillow had more than 350,000 potentially live bacterial colonies. Most of these colonies were harmless however they did find some live bacteria colonies in some pillows that are known to be highly toxic and even fatal. They also discovered more than 100,000 potentially live yeast and mould colonies on the surface similar to the Woodcock study.
According to a national pillow check up that took place in Ireland by Airmid health group (3). 100% of test pillows were contaminated with bacteria, 50% with mould and 33% with dust mite allergen.
What's the Solution?
Use a breathable, moisture-repellent medical grade pillow-cover, such as Pillow Pals. Pillow covers are not the same as pillowcases. These are covers you place over the pillow that protect the pillow from perspiration, stains, dust and allergens. Get into the good habit of washing or spot cleaning your Pillow Pal every time you wash your sheets. Pillow Pals also come with a travel bag so you can take yours on all your adventures to protect yourself from what may be lurking in foreign pillows.
Fluff your pillow regularly. This incorporates fresh air into the pillow and helps maintain its shape.