Can’t have a restful sleep because of a pounding headache? Ever wondered if it’s because you bought the wrong pillow? Before you brush it off, take some aspirin and continue your day. Let’s detect the sneaky source of headaches. If your pillow is lumpy, misshapen, or doesn’t properly support your head, it could cause issues. Hence, it’s worth considering if your pillow might need a replacement. Read on to find out how your pillow triggers headaches and what you can do about it.

How Your Pillow Can Contribute to Headaches

A pillow that doesn’t properly support your neck and shoulder muscles can cause headaches. Here are a few reasons why your pillow may be responsible for your bad sleep quality:

Old or Misshapen Pillows

If your pillow is more than a couple of years old or has become lumpy over time, it’s likely not providing adequate support. Therefore, replace old pillows regularly to ensure proper spinal alignment and prevent tension headaches.

Wrong Type of Pillow

The pillow type that’s right for you depends on your sleeping position and personal preferences. Side sleepers typically need a thicker pillow to fill the space between the ear and the mattress. Back and stomach sleepers often prefer a thinner pillow. Using a pillow that’s too thick or thin for your needs can strain your neck muscles and cause headaches.

Poor Pillow Support

Pillows that don’t maintain their shape can’t properly support your head, leading to headaches. Feather, down, and fiberfill pillows tend to flatten and clump over time. So, opt for a pillow made of memory foam, latex, or buckwheat hulls, which conform to your head and neck and spring back to shape.

Allergens in the Pillow

If you have allergies, the fill material or casing of your pillow could trigger a reaction that leads to headaches. That’s why you need hypoallergenic, dust mite-resistant pillows and encasings to avoid exposure to potential allergens while you sleep.

By choosing a pillow that’s specifically suited to your needs and sleeping positions, you may improve your sleep quality.

When Is Your Pillow a Problem?

If frequent headaches cramp your style, your pillow could be the problem. These are signs that it’s time for a pillow change:

Your Pillow is Lumpy or Flat

A pillow that’s lost its shape won’t properly support your neck and head. This can strain your neck and trigger tension headaches. How can you avoid this? Replace your pillow every 1-2 years to ensure proper support.

You Wake Up with a Stiff Neck

Waking with a kink in your neck is a clue your pillow isn’t keeping your spine aligned. Your neck should remain in a natural curve while sleeping. If your pillow causes your head to tilt up or down, you need to replace it.

You Sleep on Your Stomach

Stomach sleeping requires a very thin pillow or no pillow to prevent neck strain. If you sleep face down on a thick pillow, your neck gets into an unnatural position for hours, often leading to headaches.

Your Allergies Seem Worse

An old pillow can be a hotbed for dust mites and mold, which trigger allergies and sinus symptoms like headaches. If your allergies and headaches improve after replacing your pillow, you have your answer.

You Wake Frequently During the Night

An improper pillow that doesn’t support your head and neck makes sleeping soundly through the night difficult. Hence, frequent waking, tossing, and turning is a sign that your pillow needs replacing. Changing it could help you sleep comfortably and wake headache-free.

Making sure you have the proper pillow for your sleep position and replacing it regularly are easy ways to prevent unwanted headaches.

Features of Pillows That Can Cause Headaches


A pillow that is too soft or too firm for your sleeping position and preferences strains on your neck. Side sleepers typically need a thicker pillow to align the head, neck, and spine.

Back sleepers usually prefer a medium thickness. Also, stomach sleepers need the thinnest, softest pillow. If your pillow props your head too high or not high enough, it creates tension and pressure points that trigger headaches.

Fill Material

The material inside your pillow also matters. Feathers, down, and fiberfill can be potential headache triggers for some. Feathers may poke through the pillowcase or not provide enough support. While very soft, down may not have enough loft for side sleeping. Fiberfill can become lumpy over time. Look for fill materials like latex, buckwheat, or memory foam, which provide responsive support and help relieve pressure points.


If you have allergies to dust mites, mold, or other environmental allergens, your pillow can expose you to headaches. Pillows often harbor high levels of allergens over time. An allergy-proof, hypoallergenic pillow protector or switching to a synthetic fill pillow may reduce headache frequency.

Choosing the Best Pillow Material and Firmness for Headache Prevention

Staying healthy goes beyond eating healthy foods or eating more fruits and veggies. It extends to more specific things like your pillow. When choosing a pillow for headache prevention, the material and firmness are two of the most critical factors. And that’s because the wrong pillow exacerbates headaches or neck pain.

Pillow Fill Material

The fill material inside your pillow makes a big difference in its firmness and support. Feather or down pillows are very soft but provide little help. They flatten out quickly and may cause headaches. Opt for a fill that retains its shape better, such as:

Memory Foam

Memory foam contours to your head and neck. It provides firm yet comfortable support for most sleepers. However, memory foam tends to sleep warmer, so watch out for that.


Buckwheat pillows contain hulls that shift to support your head and neck. They are firm yet adjustable. However, the rustling sound takes getting used to.


Latex is very durable and springy. It provides medium-firm and responsive support. Latex pillows also sleep cooler than memory foam. For headache prevention, a latex or memory foam pillow is a great choice.

Finding the Right Firmness

Generally, a medium-firm to firm pillow is best for headache and neck pain relief. A pillow that is too soft won’t provide adequate support. Your head and neck should remain aligned and supported whether you sleep on your back, side, or stomach.

If your pillow loses shape quickly or you wake with a sore neck, it’s probably time for a firmer replacement. You may need to try a few different pillows with various fills and firmness levels to find “the one” that suits you best.

Tips for Proper Pillow Care and Replacement to Avoid Headaches

If you frequently wake up with severe headaches, your pillow can be the culprit. The wrong pillow strains your neck and cause tension that leads to head pain. Here are some tips to ensure your pillow isn’t the source of your morning migraines.

Choose the Right Pillow For Your Sleep Position

The pillow should align your head, neck, and spine while sleeping. If you sleep on your back, choose a medium-firm pillow that supports the natural curve of your neck. For side sleepers, a thicker pillow is best to fill the space between your head and the mattress. Stomach sleepers need soft pillows that are almost flat. So your head and neck don’t bend unnaturally to the side.

A lady sleeping

Replace Old or Lumpy Pillows

Pillows lose support over time and with use. If your pillow is over two years old or has become flat, lumpy, or misshapen, it’s time for a replacement. Old pillows can’t properly support your head and neck, which strains them during sleep and leads to tension headaches.

Wash Pillows Regularly to Keep Them Fresh

Dirty, dusty pillows may trigger headaches in some people. Wash your pillows every 3 to 6 months to keep them fresh and remove allergens like dust mites, pet dander, and mold. For pillows that can’t be machine washed, vacuum them regularly and consider using protective covers.

Give Your Pillows a Break

If you frequently wake up with headaches, try sleeping without a pillow for a few nights. Letting your head and neck rest in a neutral alignment can help relieve pressure and tension. This may be an easy fix until you find pillows that properly support you during sleep. Simple pillow care and replacement schedule changes can significantly impact your morning headaches.

Rounding Up

So, can pillows cause headaches? The short answer is yes- just like CBD can cause dry mouth. You may be surprised to learn that pillows cause sleep apnea or chronic headaches you’ve been having. But it’s true – an improper pillow leads to neck strain, tension, and pain, resulting in headaches.

The good news is that the solution is simple now that you know why. It’s time to ditch that lumpy, worn-out pillow you’ve had for years and invest in one that gives proper head and neck support.

Your pillow should keep your spine aligned and cushioned while you sleep. Your headaches should disappear once you find a pillow that works for you.

Sweet dreams and pain-free mornings! Making such a small change significantly impacts how you feel during the day. So get yourself a new pillow, and get that restorative sleep.

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