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The history and science of pillows.

Pillows are an important part of our sleep. Most people use between 1-2 pillows. Some use as many as 5. However, pillows are often taken for granted. When flipping the pillow over to the cool side, have you ever actually stopped to think about how pillows came to be?

The History

The first reported use of pillows was by those who lived in early Mesopotamia, an ancient region in the eastern Mediterranean civilization, around 7000 BC. These pillows, however, were just blocks of stone, which were used to elevate the head from the ground and keep bed bugs and insects away from people’s mouth, nose, and ears. These were used only by the royal and wealthy.

A Stone Pillow

Soft pillows, however, weren’t used until the Middle Ages, because they were viewed as a sign of weakness. The ancient Chinese created pillows using wood, stone, bamboo, and even porcelain, bronze and jade. While they could create soft pillows, they believed they stole energy from the body and were not as effective for keeping the demons away as their jade equivalent.

The Science

We’ve come a long way since stone and jade pillows, thankfully, but the history of the pillow suggests that elevating one’s head during sleep has several health benefits. Apart from their comfort, pillows elevate parts of the body to permit optimal blood flow and circulation, which is necessary as sleep is the time when the body repairs itself.

The right pillow can affect the quality of sleep that you get, your health, and ultimately your well-being. A pillow helps keep your neck and spine in comfortable alignment as you sleep. Yet, pillows that don’t fit the sleeper, for example, too thin or too thick, can leave you with neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain, or headaches. 

Pillow choices must be highly individualized, based on preferred sleeping position, height, weight, allergies, temperature preference, personal health conditions, and so on. After you’ve discovered your optimum pillow height, how can you know which kind of pillow is best suited for your sleeping habits?

Here’s how you can decide what pillow you should use based on your sleeping position:

  • If you sleep on your back, your pillow should be firm enough to support the natural curve of your spine, without too much height to bend your back unnaturally.
  • If you sleep on your side, your pillow should help your spine maintain a natural horizontal line, so a thick pillow is recommended.
  • If you sleep on your stomach, the flatter the pillow the better, so avoid pillows that are too soft or using two pillows, because they might mess with your spinal alignment.
  • If you’re a mixed sleeper, a synthetic pillow that adapts to your position throughout the night is suggested.

So now you know what kind of pillow you’re going to use, but what about its outermost fabric. A breathable pillow cover will help keep you stay cool. Your face comes in direct contact with the pillow fabric cover, so you’ll need something soft and cozy. Your best option here is cotton, but polyester and flannel are also popular alternatives.

Eventually, it’s highly individualized, so make sure you try the pillow out before committing. Ultimately, it’s the comfort that matters. 

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