The Surprising History Behind How Natural Beds Made Humans Smarter

The Surprising History Behind How Natural Beds Made Humans Smarter

by Alex Santander March 07, 2019

We all understand the symbolic importance of the discovery of fire in the human origin story. But what if we told you beds might be the real heroes in the story of humanity? There’s evidence to support the theory that beds actually helped catalyze our evolution from early hominids to the smartest animals on the entire planet.

There's a reason humans need less sleep than other animals. 

All mammals need sleep to survive and function. In fact, animals like cats and dogs nap up to 14 hours a day to conserve energy. Smaller primates like lemurs often sleep up to 15 hours a day, while our closest great ape relatives in the evolutionary tree, like chimpanzees, sleep about 8 to 9 hours a day.

It may come as a surprise to you that humans actually sleep significantly less than our furry counterparts –– about 6-9 hours on average for adults. So what’s the difference? Why does the amount of sleep in which animals engage in vary so much?

Studies suggest that this isn’t simply a coincidence: since we began crafting beds for ourselves, our quality of sleep has improved drastically, enabling us to recharge our brains and bodies more efficiently than even our closest living ape relatives.

Everybody loves a nest.

From birds and rodents to bears and insects, the nesting instinct is a common behavior in the animal kingdom. Undoubtedly, you’ve noticed how dogs turn in circles before finally flopping down –– this is a great example of the primal instinct for animals to create a safe and comfortable area for themselves before shutting down for the day.

Most of our primate cousins often sleep sitting upright, either in trees or huddled in groups, because it’s much safer than sleeping on the ground where predators like jaguars or lions typically hunt. There’s a tradeoff, however: sleeping in a tree is dangerous, too. Several stages of sleep are accompanied by either paralysis of the limbs or thrashing, and dreaming too deeply could result in a fatal fall from a tree. This is perhaps why chimpanzees and other great apes eventually began fashioning beds for themselves.

So what differentiates a nest from a bed?

Apes are one of the only other primates with the innate ability to create and use tools. And at some point in the darkness of evolutionary history, both apes and our earliest common primate ancestors began to use their ingenuity and opposable thumbs to sleep better at night by creating stable nests in the jungle canopy.

The research shows that all great apes make nests at night in which they sleep, often going great lengths to select the perfect branches from specific types of trees. Once they find the right branches, they weave them together to form a safe and secure platform custom-made to their liking. These platforms allow the heavy apes to safely stretch out and relax their bodies without fear of falling, permitting them to get deeper sleep than their smaller monkey and primate cousins. For primates this was a significant improvement from sleeping upright on a branch or huddled in groups, listening for the slightest sound of an approaching predator.

A better tool for sleeping = better sleep = improved brain development.

Stage three non-REM sleep and REM sleep are the two most important phases of the sleep cycle. Scientists studying the sleeping habits of our great ape cousins and smaller primate species discovered that bed-making apes spent more time in both REM and stage three NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, allowing these big apes to reap the full cognitive benefits of a peaceful slumber, including enhanced memory consolidation and a stronger immune system.

When our evolutionary ancestors emerged from the trees and began walking on two feet, we spent more of our time on the ground and we brought our nest-making technology to the ground with us. Once these hominids became primarily ground-dwelling creatures, the quality of sleep improved yet again. Just as building platforms allowed larger apes to sleep more efficiently than smaller primates, nest building and sleeping on the ground in secure locations like caves or shelters, in combination with the mastery of fire, gave early humanoids an evolutionary advantage.

Although the progression from building natural beds in trees to ordering luxurious organic latex mattresses has taken millions of years, the bottom line remains the same: beds are crucial for getting good sleep, and good sleep is crucial for physical and cognitive well-being. Beds may have helped us evolve and develop larger brains –– and now our large brains are helping us create beds that are even more comfortable.

It makes us wonder: how will current sleep technology — and great sleep — help us evolve even further? To improve the quality of your sleep, check out our 100% certified organic mattress collections now.

Alex Santander
Alex Santander


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