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Last Updated on March 29, 2024

How Far has Pillow Technology Come

a profile image of TSA author Alex

Written By Alex Petrović

Certified Sleep Consultant

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Advancements in technology have affected every industry in some way. And while most people default to computers and cars, the bedding industry has changed quite a bit. So, let's take a look at how pillow technology has evolved over the years!

When discussing the history of pillows, we can see that they've changed quite a bit. While their original purpose was to just protect you from all the bugs crawling around, modern pillows are a lot more sophisticated. And seeing how the first pillow is dated back to 7000 B.C. that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

So, today we're going to take a closer look and see exactly how pillows have changed alongside technology. From the new materials that were used to the sci-fi constructions that have started coming out, we'll cover it all. And by the end, you'll have a good grasp of just how far pillow technology has come!

New pillow materials

If asked about pillow fillings, most people would probably default to memory foam or feather pillows. After all, they're incredibly popular and in the case of the latter, they're how pillows have been depicted in movies for quite some time. And, if you have Asian roots, you might think of buckwheat pillows, as they're pretty popular in that part of the world.

However, when you think about it, it's amazing how sophisticated pillow materials have become! While plucking the feather and down of a goose might seem pretty simple, for example, we've perfected the process over the years.

New-pillow-materials-woman-hugging-pillow

In this case, scientists wanted to do away with down's only big weakness – its susceptibility to water. So, people found a way to make them hydrophobic! And scientists are still experimenting and patenting methods in this domain to this day!

Plus, it's worth pointing out how much one's options grew. You now have latex pillows, wool pillows, microfibre pillows, and so on. But to many, the most futuristic is always going to be the memory foam pillow. As an odd comfortable foam is probably more exciting than a wool pillow.

How memory foam pillows came to be

Since memory foam is admittedly the most obvious case of technology upgrading the pillow industry, we wanted to give it special attention. For one, you might know that it was actually created for NASA! So, when you're sleeping on a memory foam pillow, you're quite literally sleeping like an astronaut.

However, you might not be aware of how fascinating this story is. The man who would be chosen to create the first Tempur memory foam was Charles Yost. And right before this discovery, he had worked to develop a recovery system for the Apollo command module.

And the original end goal of memory foam pillows was to provide shock absorption for Nasa pilots. So, when we say that memory foam pillows are good for back and neck pain, we mean it! After all, their original goal had much more than just sleep quality in mind!

How pillows started specialising based on your needs

Another very important development is how pillows have become more specialised over time. You might think that a pillow's only goals were to keep you comfortable and occasionally be used as a weapon in pillow fights. However, modern pillows are a lot more precise. In fact, for almost any issue that can pop up during the night, there's a pillow specifically made to fix it.

And while we'll start off with some tamer examples, you'll see that they can get quite crazy. But first off, let's talk about all the different pillow shapes that you can now find.

Pillows in all shapes and sizes

While the standard rectangular pillow is still rather popular, it's not even close to being the only player in the game anymore. For one, pillows have started adopting a more ergonomic design, often sporting curves for your head and neck. However, that isn't the only improvement.

For example, if you're pregnant, like to hug something while asleep, or just want full body support, you can now have that. With V-pillows, U-pillows, C-pillows, and a wide variety of other alphabetically-shaped models offering just the right shape for your needs.

And the same goes for pillow sizes! You now have small and compact travel pillows alongside massive behemoths that more closely resemble a bean bag than a pillow. And none of this is random, as each pillow is specially made to offer a certain type of person the restful sleep they want.

Adjustable pillows

If having a thousand different pillow choices wasn't enough, new technologies also allowed brands to create adjustable pillows! And as you'll see later on when we get into specific examples, virtually any aspect of a new pillow can be customised.

Do you want a soft pillow? No problem! You changed your mind? It's now a firm pillow. Oh, the loft is too high for your neck? Luckily there are adjustable height options as well. Not to mention that most pillows, especially memory foam or latex, also adjust to your head as you sleep. So, when we say that the entire pillow is adjustable, we mean it.

How pillows have mastered temperature regulation (and more)

One of the more interesting and innovative ways pillows have evolved is how they handled temperature regulation. After all, no one likes to wake up covered in sweat! However, creating the perfect cooling pillow is a lot easier said than done. And so, we've seen quite a few ways in which different brands have tackled this issue. Here are a few of the more interesting ones!

The Panda Hybrid Pillow

We're going to start things off with Panda's Hybrid Pillow since it does quite a few interesting things. And this is because memory foam pillows generally run into the issue of absorbing heat and thus raising your body temperature. However, this can be quite a difficult issue to solve, as you'll see on any of the cooling pillow FAQs. So, what did Panda do?

First off, they tinkered with the memory foam itself. By infusing bamboo graphite, they made the foam less dense and therefore more breathable. And this is a practice you'll often see with breathable fabrics, especially the pillow cover. That being said, the CharcoCell Foam™ still holds onto what made memory foam pillows so great – their adaptability.

So, in practice, you end up with a pillow that can adapt to your head and neck that's also more breathable than regular foam. However, that alone probably wouldn't make it stand out too much from other cooling pillows. So, Panda added O2 Micro-pods™.

This new technology is a premium, soft mesh that goes around the pillow and helps to streamline the hot air flow from your body and away from your face. And for good measure, they also threw in a bamboo cover to make sure that none of that meticulously crafted breathability is lost to polyester.

Simba Hybrid Pillow

When it comes to the Simba Hybrid Pillow, it can feel like you need a physics degree just to understand how it functions. And that's not a feeling you'd get from an average pillow. This is because the Simba Hybrid Pillow uses something called phase-change materials. And they patented it under the name of Simba Stratos technology.

In layman's terms, this means that the pillow will always try to maintain an ideal temperature. So, if you're have gets too hot, it will soak up all the excess heat and either disperse it into the room or absorb it. However, if your face is cold, it can use some of that absorbed heat and warm you up a bit.

And if that alone wasn't enough for you to fall asleep without issue, the pillow still has more to give. In a move that seems like it came out of a sci-fi movie, the Simba Hybrid Pillow is filled with soft little nanocubes. And this is significant for two main reasons.

For one, they can more easily adapt to your sleeping positions as they have room to move around. Secondly, you can adjust the height and/or firmness of the pillow by taking some of the cubes out or putting more in.

SmartGRID pillows

In the past, we've covered SmartGRID and how they created next-level mattresses. However, The Smart Company has also utilised this technology for pillows, at least in India. And the way they went about it is rather fascinating.

The main selling point of SmartGRID is that it utilises a grid system made from a flexible and soft polymer that can adapt to your movements in real-time. In short, the grid walls can buckle in order to let your neck slightly sink in while the “outer walls” can remain firm and support your head.

Plus, this grid system is in essence comprised of hundreds of little air tunnels that all allow for greater breathability. So, as you can see, no two pillow manufacturers seem to have the same answer when it comes to temperature regulation.

Pillows infused with technology

So far, we've covered a few pillows that required modern technology in order to become a lot better than anything that came before them. However, when you hear “pillow technology”, you probably want to see some actual technology. Worry not, that's what this next section is all about!

We'll be going over a few new features and design choices that have made even the pillow a staple of a smart house. And, at the end, we'll also be making a few predictions about what else you could expect in the future. Let's begin!

Pillows-infused-with-technology-woman-with-pillow

Pillows that track your sleep

One of the more interesting takes on smart pillows is the inclusion of all kinds of sensors. Their main purpose is to accurately track your sleep patterns, head movements, and even temperature as you're having a comfortable night's sleep. But why?

Well, the answer is pretty simple – to collect data! Many sleep disorders can be difficult to catch, especially if you live alone or have a partner who's a heavy sleeper. For example, we'd gauge that most people first find out that they snore when they go to a sleepover and get teased the following morning.

However, with highly-sensitive sensors right below your head, catching anything out of the ordinary is a lot easier. Plus, these pillows can even help diagnose certain conditions that deal with neck movement. And, as we'll see later on, these sensors also lend themselves to many other pillow technologies.

Pillows with their own heating

We've seen all manners of people trying to stay warm at night – from heating pads to heating bed sheets. However, who could have imagined that even pillows would join the fun? And to be clear, this isn't the same as breathability like in the previous examples.

If we look at the Tesla Smart Pillow, it claims to be able to reach temperatures of up to 57 degrees Celsius, thanks to carbon fibre heating. And if you take a look at it, there's no doubt that it looks like it came from the future. So, if the right pillow for you has the ability to keep you extremely toast, this is ideal!
However, there are also very few other pillows where you have to worry about getting burned. So, it might not be ideal for everyone. Then again, this pillow in particular has other options to offer as well. But let's not spoil everything!

Pillows that come with speakers

If getting a good night's sleep for you is impossible without some music, white noise, or a podcast, this should come as good news. Seen both with the Tesla as well as some other smart pillows, there are now models that feature fully-functioning speakers in the pillow's core.

And they're typically designed in a way where the speaker itself is rather quiet. That way, only the person lying down on top can actually hear anything. In other words, your sleeping partner can get some shuteye as well.

Pillows that stop you from snoring

To say that snoring is inconvenient would be an understatement. After all, unlike with excess body heat, everyone in the room gets to suffer right alongside the snorer. However, with the right steps, stopping snoring is far from impossible. And with this new pillow technology, it's also rather easy.

The way it works is that it uses audio censors in order to detect when a person is snoring. Then, it uses pressure sensors to determine in which position your head is currently in. And finally, it uses little airbags in order to gently reposition your head so that your airways are no longer obstructed. After all, with front, side and back sleepers, your head can get in some odd positions during the night. But with this type of pillow technology, you don't really have to do anything in order to fix it.

Pillows that can safely wake you up

It seems like more and more people have trouble waking up at the sound of an alarm. After all, you grow numb to the sound after a while and your perfectly plump pillows make sleep seem a lot more enticing. However, there are now pillows that can gently rock you awake!

Not only does this create a much more stress-free morning but it also doesn't wake anyone else up. On top of that, for people who can't hear, this is quite a welcomed innovation! It can also quite literally save your life, as some of these pillows can be hooked up to notify you when there's an alarm going off.

Pillows that can keep you healthy

We've already talked about how pillows these days can be adjusted to a large degree. However, this usually either means that the pillow naturally adjusts to you or that you can take out some of the filling. However, modern pillows come with actual apps that you can use in order to fine-tune everything.

We'll be specifically talking about the pillow from FreqZone but we wouldn't be surprised if there were more pillows like this on the market. In short, this pillow comes with an app through which you can control the pillow to some extent. For example, you can increase or decrease the pillow's height so that it perfectly matches up with your neck.

However, that is not all! For example, you can put the pillow into deep sleep mode, which will make it rise and fall at set intervals – almost like it's breathing. And there's even a traction mode that's supposedly very good for your neck and back.

What will the pillows of the future look like?

By this point, you hopefully see just how far pillow technology has come! However, now it's time for the fun part – speculation. So, how could pillows become even better than they already are? Here are our predictions:

Firstly, we will get all of the benefits mentioned in one package! Since the technology is already there, we suspect pillow manufacturers will find a way to make the individual components even smaller. And then you can have a pillow that does it all!

What-will-the-pillows-of-the-future-look-like-girl-holding-pillow

Secondly, pillows that tap into the rest of your house. As discussed when talking about the future of beds, we think that uniforming your entire smart house is bound to happen. And since we already have pillows with rather advanced sensors, there are a few ways this could play out. For example, a pillow can send a signal to the curtains when it senses you're waking up. And then the curtains will open up and allow for the sunlight to wake you up.

Lastly, everything is going to become even more compact. As it stands, we already have travel and air pillows that are easy enough to carry around. However, we suspect that some sort of self-sealing pillows are bound to be in the works. Just imagine being able to fit a memory foam pillow in your backpack!

Conclusion

Overall, pillows have come a long way. Initially starting out as just well-shaped rocks, we now have phase-change materials, bamboo graphite infusions, literal electronics, and apps that track it all down. So, how far has pillow technology come? We'd say it has come pretty far.

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About the author

Alex Petrović
Sleep Consultant
A CPD certified Sleep Consultant with more than 2000 hours of research into all the different ways we can get a great night's sleep. As a former insomniac, I know how difficult life can be without a nightly recovery and I love that I get to share everything I've learned with you all. So hopefully we can all sleep soundly!
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