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Dr. Hugh Smythe, former director of Canada’s largest Rheumatic Disease Unit at the Wellesley Hospital in Toronto, had a research interest in unusual pain syndromes and in mechanical problems of the neck in particular. 


He collected and studied headrests which had evolved throughout the world over the course of human history. Ancient civilisations had discovered the need for neck support but their materials are too hard for modern comfort. Meanwhile, modern pillows are soft and though they appear to give support, they fail to do so.


Dr. Smythe challenged his patients to assist him to develop a better neck support pillow. In 1979 Robert Clark, a successful business executive, director of the Arthritis Society of Canada, and a long-time friend, accepted that challenge and helped produce the first conceptual design of what is now the Shape of Sleep.


The Designers //

  ​Robert F. Clark & Dr. Hugh Smythe

A better design for healthier sleep posture 

The Shape //

Support of the neck during the night is the foundation of effective therapy for neck problems. 



Historic neck support designs

The Shape of Sleep is an infinitely more gentle approach to the same principles of neck support. It is designed to relieve destructive pressures arising in the neck during sleep; to achieve the preferred health goal of prevention.

The Shape of Sleep is unique in its development as a collaboration between physician and patient and as a fusion of medical and historical observation.


Through human history, people would sit on soft pillows during the day but set them aside at night in favour of neck support pillows. Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Japanese, Polynesians and Africans all used neck supports made from a variety of relatively unyielding materials, including: wood, ceramics, leather, alabaster and ivory. The bolster used widely in Europe is mechanically similar.

Preventive care for healthy individuals and therapy for those suffering from neck pain.

The standard North American pillow supports the skull but too often leaves the length of the neck unsupported. The neck sags as in figure 1(a). This creates pressures which lead to discomfort and later degeneration of the spinal structures. When the neck is supported, as in figure 1(b), these pressures are eliminated, and the weight of the head can provide a gentle traction effect through the neck.

Design Considerations and Solutions //

The shape evolved as refinements were suggested by volunteer testers - some had neck problems, many were without. Here are the major design features that were developed through this process:


  • Foam density provides a balance between softness for comfort and firmness for support

  • The undercut edge accommodates various sizes of sleepers and sleep positions. It offers space of side-sleepers to place their shoulder for additional neck support. For back-sleepers the edge collapses to offer a more desirable shape.

  • Pressure on the ear is avoided by providing a subtle downward slope to the body of the pillow.

  • The side-to-side curve of the neck support ridge accommodates for the reality that all sleepers shift position during the night. As you turn, the pillow will tend to “stay with you”, keeping support under the neck where it is needed.

  • The cover is shaped for fit the core and integral to the design. It is quilted and includes an additional thin layer of padding. It is designed to wick away perspiration and is easily removable for washing. 


Refined through patient and physician collaboration

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