Are Pillows Really Necessary?

are pillows really necessary

Chimpanzees and their common ancestors have been sleeping without pillows for millions of years. Most people nowadays do use pillows.

Are pillows necessary?

Instinctive Sleeping


Humans are one of many species of primates – ancestors that lived in the trees of tropical forests. With the exception of humans, most primates live in tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

The earliest primates go back nearly 60 million years and primates have been sleeping without pillows for a long time!

Great apes (that’s us) are unique in that they build sleeping nests or beds. Other primates, like Chimpanzees, sleep on branches. Chimpanzees build their nests from a sturdy tree called Ugandan ironwood. This may suggest that firm is best when it comes to sleeping. Or, more likely, firm branches prevent a weak branch from breaking and leaving the chimp vulnerable to predators.

Our ancestors eventually moved out of wooded rainforests and were no longer dependent on trees for shelter and safety.

Whilst researching sleep habits among primates, I stumbled upon a very interesting article:

Instinctive sleeping and resting postures: an anthropological and zoological approach to the treatment of low back and joint pain by Michael Tetley, PT.

The article suggests that we are too far removed from our primate origin. I remember my youth spent sleeping under the stars in nothing but a sleeping bag. Now, in my forties, I’d find it hard to relax and sleep on a hard floor, let alone a forest floor, or tree branch!

What Type Of Mattress is Best for Sleeping?


When you lie down on a hard, flat floor you will immediately feel the tension in your body(try it). Once you sense your tightness, you can do something about it and let go of the areas that are holding stress and rigidity and release the stiffness.

When you get down on the floor, something has to give, and it’s not going to be the floor. That’s for sure! Think of the floor as your personal biofeedback device. Use your breathing to release tension and encourage relaxation.

So what type of mattress is best?

Choose whatever gets you a good night’s sleep, but I’m in love with my Sleepovation!

What is the Best Sleeping Position?


It is clear that sedentary ‘civilized’ people likely have a much higher incidence of musculoskeletal lesions (especially low back pain) compared with native peoples, nomads, and forest dwellers.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that low back pain and joint stiffness are markedly reduced by adopting natural sleeping postures.

One such position uses a rotated arm as a pillow when side-lying. This allows you to listen out for danger with both ears. Note, that even the Chimpanzee sleeping position is remarkably similar to this ‘best’ sleeping position.

When lying on one side you do not even need to use your arm as a pillow. When your lower shoulder is fully hunched, the neck is supported. The neck then gently deviates towards the ground and gravity shuts the mouth (preventing insects from crawling in), and slight traction and elongation are applied to the cervical spine. 

Do you still want to use a pillow? 

Don’t worry, I haven’t gotten rid of mine. However, I am seriously testing out instinctive sleeping and trying out no pillow – I’ll let you know how I get on. 

Tips for Different Sleepers:

1. Back Sleepers – try memory foam to mold to the curve of your neck
2. Side Sleepers – try a pillow between the knees and one for the neck to keep your spine aligned and neutral
3. Stomach Sleepers – avoid – stomach sleeping twists your neck and spinal cord 90 degrees!

One thought on “Are Pillows Really Necessary?”

  1. Pingback: How Do You Sleep Comfortably On The Floor? – Sleep Dude

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