Getting a good night’s sleep

The effects of not getting a good night’s sleep are numerous. The Australian Centre for Education in Sleep ( said modifications in behaviour and emotions were quick to surface. Among many other symptoms, this could include aggression, irritability, moodiness, lack of concentration, diminished problem-solving ability, clumsier motor co-ordination, a weaker immune system and difficulty to retain learning. And that’s before you start the working day.

Feeling groggy or unsatisfied after a restless night is only natural. It’s estimated that those with sleep apnoea have their deep Rapid Eye Movement (REM or deep sleep) sleep disrupted on average an unhealthy 160 times a night. These disruptions may range from twisting and turning to getting up to take a toilet break. Healthy sleepers, in comparison, are disrupted only 60 times a night.

Another issue is overheating. For example, it is said our body’s core temperature must drop to 32C before we are ready to fall asleep. So when your body temperature rises with extra blankets and doonas in the cooler months, there is a tendency to wake up in the middle of the night. That’s where temperature-neutralising foam (within mattresses) comes in, as the bed loses heat within 4.5 seconds.

In 2011, Deloitte Access Economics estimated that 1.5 million Australians, or 8.9 per cent of the population suffered from a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnoea (abnormal pauses in breathing when sleeping), restless legs syndrome or primary insomnia. Its 2011 report for the Sleep Health Foundation, Re-awakening Australia, estimated the economic cost of sleep disorders in 2010 resulted in an annual $818 million health care cost and another $3.1 billion in lost productivity. This included $129 million for motor vehicle accidents and $517 million for workplace accidents.

When you spend a third of your life lying down, it makes sense to invest time and your hard-earned cash in a quality mattress. And while it’s out of sight, out of mind for most, it pays to remember that your humble bed will receive more use than the expensive couch that takes pride of place in your living room. Yet about 95 per cent of customers take the wrong approach when buying a mattress. That’s the view of Sleepy’s store manager Gary Shtiner, who said many people choose a mattress based on price rather than their specific needs.

It’s fair to say mattress technology has come a long way since the Sealy Posturepedic revolution of the late-1970s. There’s memory foam that helps moderate body temperature and relieve muscular pressure for athletes, and most fabrics are now non-allergenic. But those innovations are the exception rather than the rule. Shtiner said many of the mattresses on the Australian market were still using 40-year-old spring technology that did little to provide quality sleep over the lifetime of the mattress. And many cheaper imported mattresses can contain petroleum-based foam and arsenic-based fire retardant, among other issues.

“(By not paying attention to what we are paying for), we are literally putting ourselves and our families at risk,” Shtiner said. “We eat well, we exercise and try to do the right thing by our bodies and then most of us go home to sleep on a mattress that doesn’t suits us. It’s the worst possible thing because sleep is your health.” Most mattresses should have a life of seven to 10 years, but less if it is subjected to continual stresses, such as if a heavy person is the user, or if kids frequently jump on the bed.

Shtiner said his company used research to provide its customers with better rest. Its range of mattresses, which are tested and approved over a nine-to-12-month period by the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia, use a spring system with five-zone support to assist in correct spinal alignment. As the CAA explains: “A bed that is too firm will elevate the hips and shoulders, causing the spine to sag in the lower back region. Similarly, a bed that is too soft will cause the spine to sag at the hips, resulting in both localised pressure on the spine that can lead to disrupted sleep and longer-term health problems,” the CAA asserts. “The CAA-endorsed beds include a range of features that provide correct spinal alignment for healthy, invigorating sleep. The graduated zoning cradles the hip and shoulder regions to maintain proper spinal alignment. The body contouring zones not only gives increased support where needed, but also provides a more comfortable, restful sleep.”

It’s a common complaint that the mattress marketplace is anything but clear in terms of comparing apples with apples. Choice magazine alleged in its March edition that “manufacturers work with retailers to make buying a mattress confusing, even anti-competitive, by using practices designed to take bargaining power away from shoppers while fattening profit margins”. It said mattress manufacturers will sell retailers the same model mattress but with a look exclusive to each retailer. “There might be some minor differences, such as the fibres used in the padding, but otherwise the technology inside will be identical. And shoppers won’t be able to draw comparisons between products because they’ll be sold under different names.”

Bearing in mind that the body can take up to two months to adjust to a new mattress, customers should be given a trial period in which they can test the mattress over an extended period. Choice also noted that sales and discounts were commonplace throughout the year as mattresses often had large mark-ups. Salespeople in many retail outlets were also driven by commission payments. It summarised its review: “We found that a $1000 mattress can be as comfortable over its lifetime as one priced at $3000. Beds are incredibly subjective. What one person might consider comfortable, another might find punishing. Many will find inner-spring mattresses and latex/foam mattresses equally comfortable. We suggest trying different types of mattresses in a store to compare for yourself.”

Choice’s advice for those considering buying an inner-spring mattress was to look up a manufacturer’s range online beforehand, visit a few stores and ask for quotes. “Take off your shoes, spend time lying on them, get comfortable. And then, once you’ve found the model for you, negotiate an aggressive discount.”

Once you have chosen the most suitable surface on which to lie, mattress protectors are another way of safekeeping your investment. It’s estimated that the average person perspires about 250ml a night, which has the potential to stain mattresses, linen and pillows. Furthermore, this can lead to bacteria and mould, causing health issues such as asthma or eczema. Factor in also that humans shed and regrow skin every 27 days and skin cells are the primary food source for dust mites, and it’s clear why sleep hygiene is paramount.

Sleep hygiene is best defined as habits or routines that can help us or stop us from sleeping. Establishing a regular routine is paramount, particularly with kids. It’s a great idea to reward them for complying with bedtime rules. Start by creating a relaxed environment for bedtime, such as ensuring the temperature, light and noise factor set the tone for winding down. recommends that TV, computer games and mobile phones be strictly limited before bedtime, and that exercising, eating hot and spicy foods and drinking coffee are completed long before this period. It also suggests that you use a sleep diary to check how many hours you are sleeping.

Once your routines are established, it won’t be long until you’ll be resting easier – and hopefully on a mattress that suits you. 

Words: Ross McGravie

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