Life Interiors

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Interiors: The science of getting a good night's sleep

If you find it hard to get a good night's rest, change your bedtime habits and get the latest mattress.

Eleanor Flegg

Published 23/05/2014 | 02:30

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Anna Daly and sleep consultant Lucy Wolfe launch the Sleep State of the Nation research results ahead of Arnotts Sleep Month
The Colourline range from Bensonsforbeds
The Henley Oak from Bensonsforbeds

It generally happens in bed and it's something that people don't tend to worry about unless they're not getting enough of it...

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I'm talking about sleep, of course. And, yes, adults do need between seven and nine hours a night. That's not a myth.

Good interior design can't promise you a good night's sleep but getting your sleeping environment right can help a lot.

And it's not just about having a pretty bedroom – there's been a lot of hardcore research into the science of sleep.

"The bed is for sleep and sex – that's all it should be used for," says Lucy Wolfe, sleep consultant and Ireland AM's resident expert on the topic. "Gadgets in the bedroom can keep you awake."

Wolfe is working with Arnotts as part of Sleep Month, a programme of events and promotions that runs at the Dublin store throughout May.

"All electronics create an electro-magnetic field that can interfere with sleep," she says. "So turn everything off at night – including the wi-fi – and if your bedroom is over the fuse box, try to position your bed so that it's not directly above it." If you use your mobile phone as an alarm, it's best to leave it on the other side of the room."

There's more bad news for gadget addicts. Watching TV, or playing with a phone or tablet in bed can make it harder to get to sleep.

Here's the science. Most electronic gadgets, including phones, tablets, televisions and mobile phones, produce a light composed of blue wavelengths.

Recent research by the American neurologist Dr Brainard (seriously) indicates that this blue light slows the release of melatonin, the light-sensitive hormone that promotes sleep. So exposure to blue light may help to keep us awake, partly by suppressing melatonin production.

It's also important to have a good quality mattress. "People often don't realise that they need a new mattress until they stay in a nice hotel," says Brian Gillivan of Arnotts. "A good night's sleep on a holiday can convince you that you need a replacement mattress at home."

The classic posh hotel mattress is the King Koil Posture Rest which costs €1,099 for a standard double as part of the store's Sleep Month promotion.

Other offers include the King Koil Cameo (€599) and the super-duper Harrison (€1,149) which is handmade from natural materials.

A lot of the most popular mattresses are made from memory foam, which was invented for the NASA space programme in the 1960s and developed for use in hospitals before it became available as bedding.

Its major selling point is that it moulds itself around the sleeping body, reducing pressure.

"Ireland went through a phase where everyone felt that they needed a memory foam mattress," says Robbie Aukram of Harvey Norman. The trouble was that early memory foam wasn't breathable. People bought the mattresses and found that they were too hot.

Because your body temperature cools down as you sleep, a mattress that amplifies your body heat is not going to help.

The new generation "open cell" memory foam has much better breathability than the earlier "closed cell" version. If you've experienced a mattress that made you feel like you were cooking from below, it was probably the latter.

"Mattresses that combine pocket springs and memory foam have come down a lot in price – the Ikea Hyllestad costs €350 for a standard double.

The latest buzzword in mattress technology is gel – a mixture of thermoplastic resin and mineral oil, embedded in the mattress in tiny capsules. A gel mattress is designed to keep you cool and the little pockets of gel respond to your movements as you sleep. The Thermopure mattress from Harvey Norman (€1,444 for a standard double) combines the technologies of memory foam and gel.

"You'd need to try it," says Aukram. "It wouldn't be for everyone – it feels like sleeping on wet sand."

Double mattresses from Harvey Norman range from the classically solid Odearest (€299) to the money-no-object Tailored Comfort (€2,000) which is built to your sleeping specifications. This is ideal when a large person and a small one sleep together as the mattress can be made differently on each side.

Duncan Bane, a scientist working for Kaymed, the company that makes the Odearest and the King Koil ranges, is the inventor of the Sleep Scan, a machine that scans your body and lets you know what sort of mattress would work best for you. This is the future of mattress technology. "It's the equivalent of going to the shoe shop and having your feet measured before you buy a pair of shoes," Bane explains.

He has a PhD in the biomechanics of soft tissue which means, in a nutshell, fat. "The Sleep Scan analyses how fat you are and what type of fat," he explains.

"People with big bottoms don't usually have trouble sleeping because their fat is fairly bouncy.

"People with big bellies, however, tend to flop about and need a firmer mattress so they don't get stuck."

The Sleep Scan is very popular in America and should be available in Irish stores over the next few years.

www.ikea.com; www.harveynorman.ie; www.bensonsforbeds.co.uk; www.arnotts.ie.

For more information on Sleep Month, check out www.facebook.com/arnottsdublin

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