Sleep Talk | Gotta Sleep Blog

The Origin and Evolution Of Pillows

Author: Shihab Howlader

 

When it comes to a good night’s sleep, your pillow is just as important as the quality of the mattress you sleep on. Pillows seem simple, but they’ve evolved considerably throughout the centuries that humans have been using them. Pillows have come a long way from the simple stone slab all the way up to specially made orthopedic pillows. Here is a simple timeline that showcases the journey of pillows, starting in Mesopotamia.

The First Pillows

The first evidence of pillows was found in Mesopotamia. Stone slabs dating back to 7,000 B.C.E served as supports for a person’s neck as they slept. Although they were not comfortable, they served their purpose. Not only did they support necks, they also kept insects and other pests from entering a person’s ears or mouth while they slept. A gross thought that we don’t need to worry about any more.

The Egyptians had much the same idea, though their pillows were more ornate and could be made of stone, wood, ceramic, marble or even ivory. Obviously, pillows were more of a luxury due to the materials used to make them, even the stone slabs in Mesopotamia were expensive.

The ancient Chinese also had pillows, though these were decorated with pictures of people, animals and plants. They also had pillows made of metal like bronze, and of bamboo. The Chinese believed that the materials of a pillow could bestow certain benefits upon the user.

Classical and Medieval Pillows

The Greeks were the first to adopt soft pillows. They filled cloth sacks with soft materials such as straw or reeds. The very wealthy often used feathers in their pillows, a trend that would continue for centuries. Romans did not improve on pillows much, as there was little room for improvement over the Greek design, which have many similarities with modern pillows.

Pillows went out of style after the fall of the western Roman empire. Most people slept without them. The wealthy still used soft embroidered pillows, but they were not common among the general population. Henry VIII went so far as to prohibit the use of pillows for anyone but pregnant women.

That soon ended with the renaissance, as the enlightened thinkers needed somewhere soft to rest their heads.  Pillows came back into fashion, thought the stuffing needed to be changed frequently due to vermin. This limited them to people who had the money to continually replace the stuffing.

Industrial and Post Industrial Pillows

The industrial revolution was a big deal for the pillow, as it meant that they could be mass produced in factories. Throughout most of history, pillows were not common place, but rather a luxury, however, during the industrial revolution they became much more widely available. It was normal to have a pillow on your bed, and even a few on your couches or chairs.

After the industrial revolution, first world countries enjoy the very best pillows. They are made with cotton or synthetic materials and stuffed with cotton, down, polyester, Latex, foam, or a number of other stuffing alternatives.

Pillows have come a long way since their humble origin as stone slabs in Mesopotamia. The Greeks made them soft, and the Industrial revolution made them widely available. Today, there is a pillow for every head, no matter the needs of the individual.