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This category will provide general information about sleep.
Here you will find detailed information and studies about almost every known sleep disorder.
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Everything You Need To Know About Sleep
Table of Contents
Sleep Matters: The Impact Of Sleep On Health And Wellbeing
People do whatever they can to stay healthy – eat right, exercise, use supplements, etc. However, many overlook another important aspect of their health – sleep and its quality.
Sleep is just as important to health as everything else. You could eat junk food more often than not and still live to your 70s. However, if you’re not getting enough decent sleep, you won’t make it for long - the Guinness World Record for sleep deprivation is 11 days. You’re unlikely to attempt breaking that record, but parents of newborns and medical students may feel like inadvertently trying.
Even if you get the bare minimum of sleep, how good is it? If you’re not sleeping optimally, how is the quality of your sleep affecting eating and body composition? Do you spend late nights in front of the computer or TV, eating what you shouldn’t be eating and unable to make healthy choices the next day, the day after, and so on?
Better Understanding of Sleep
The average adult sleeps around seven hours every night, but 33% of the population are only getting 6.5 hours or less. And women often need more sleep than men. People who carry a lot of body fat don’t sleep as much as people who have normal body fat. According to various studies people sleeping six hours or less gain twice more weight than people who sleep seven to eight hours a night.
Getting too much sleep isn’t good either. People who sleep nine and more hours have a body composition similar to that of people who sleep six hours or less.
Why Are People Getting Less Sleep
Many people believe that lack of quality sleep is the result of two things:
- excessive demands by their job
- inability to stop thinking when trying to fall asleep
The actual reason they don’t get enough sleep has nothing to do with physiological abnormalities or long hours. People don’t get enough sleep because they don’t want to – they choose to stay awake and do other things: browse the Internet, watch TV or movies or hang out.
Voluntarily delaying bedtime is something modern society has cooked up. It was only a century ago that people were getting nearly nine hours of sleep. If you eliminated artificial stimulation and extra work demands, you could get the eight hours of sleep the body needs – the brain’s natural sleep/wake cycle.
A Brief Look at The 5 Stages of Sleep
While you sleep, the body goes through five stages:
- Stage 1 and 2 are light sleep
- Stage 3 and 4 are deep sleep (in which GH secretion takes place)
- Stage 5 is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when dreaming occurs
Every 90 minutes your body goes through the entire cycle. If you don’t get the appropriate number of full sleep cycles, your body reduces GH secretion, which affects physical and mental restoration. And not only will the body produce less GH, but its overall exercise performance will also be affected. You may feel as if you’re working harder than you really are.
Your Sleep Health Is More Than a State of Mind
Sleep health is defined as total physical, social, and mental wellbeing as determined by the quality of an individual’s sleep. It’s important to get a good night’s rest if you are to enjoy good health. Likewise, it’s important to have good health if you want good sleep.
How Does Sleep Affect Your Overall Health?
Your body may be asleep, but your brain is working to commit new information to your memory, restore and repair the muscles, and reload your hormones. Upon waking up from a restful sleep your mind is more alert and focused, and you feel a lot more energized.
That’s the power good sleep can give you!
People who sleep healthily spend about a third of their time asleep. Without good rest you feel lethargic, emotionally drained, and unable to think. You increase the chance of developing serious health problems and gaining weight. Lack of good sleep can lead to problems focusing at work or school. You may even be grumpy or get upset at the smallest thing.
You must get good sleep if you are to be in a good mood, stay healthy, and have a higher quality of life. People who sleep well often feel better about things going on around them. They have a better outlook on life. They are healthier because their body can keep their hormones in check and stop them from overeating, feeling depressed, etc.
How Does Your Health Affect the Quality of Your Sleep?
By now you understand that your overall health is affected by your sleep. But did you know that your health can affect the quality of your sleep? It’s much easier for a healthy person to get healthy sleep. Unfortunately unhealthy people tend to have worse sleep which makes it harder for them to be healthier. It’s a vicious cycle!
People who have sleep apnea, insomnia, sleep movement disorders, etc. tend to have serious health problems. The cause of these disorders can be emotional or mental, and the anxiety and stress they are under only exacerbates the problem.
And then there are times when the cause is physical.
Obese people or diabetics have a much harder time breathing at night, which can lead to insomnia or sleep apnea. Some neurological disorders linked to brain abnormalities can also lead to sleep issues.
The great thing about all this is that if you can gain control over your symptoms, you can get better sleep. With better sleep it’s easier for you to handle the symptoms.
How Can Your Lifestyle Affect Your Sleep?
Today’s society has a lot of obligations to meet, but our bodies still need to get the minimum of seven hours of sleep a night to accomplish them. You can be extremely healthy but suffer from sleep health problems because of stress, anxiety, and all the good things life has to offer. When you partake in behaviors that have a negative effect on your circadian rhythm, your sleep is affected. Such behaviors include staying up late, using electronics, or watching TV.
For example, you may want to watch Netflix. The blue light of these devices makes your brain think it’s daytime, which means you stay up later than you should. Tech devices, exercise, and alcohol are other things people use to relax before going to bed. However, indulging in them too much can hinder you from getting a good rest.
Your lifestyle can have a profound effect on your sleep – be it positive or negative.
What Are the Common Sleep Disorders That People Can Suffer From?
There are two common complaints people have when they go to the doctor – pain and sleep problems. What you don’t know is that sleep problems are actually more common than you may realize. The CDC estimates that a third of Americans are not regularly getting the sleep they need to face their days.
And a sleep disorder, such as insomnia, may be the result of this poor quality of sleep. Of course, many sleep disorders might have underlying causes – depression, anxiety, stress, etc. While some people are born with sleep disorders, others are the result of poor bedtime routines (using technology at night or not sticking to a bedtime routine).
According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders there are six categories of sleep disorders:
- Circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorder
- Sleep-related breathing disorder
- Sleep-related movement disorder
What are these disorders? How do doctors diagnose them? What risks do they present if they are not treated? People who have sleep problems may wonder if they have an actual disorder. Do you fit into any of the categories listed below?
Circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorder
This disorder affects people whose circadian rhythm is out of sync. What is a healthy circadian rhythm like? You wake up with the sun rise in the morning, your body starts to slow down in the evening, and you will fall asleep at night.
The body’s circadian rhythm is not just about sleep patterns, but also about:
- hormonal levels
When the circadian rhythm is messed up, it affects the quality of life. We’re unable to fall asleep or wake up easily. We feel as if we don’t have energy and cannot concentrate.
A prime example of a circadian rhythm disorder is jet lag (which happens to people who travel from one time zone to another with a significant change in the sunlight schedule). While normal jet lag is gone within several days, living with circadian rhythm disorder feels like permanent jet lag.
How does this disorder come about? It may result from lifestyle issues such as shiftwork (a person who doesn’t get a lot of natural sunlight due to night shiftwork could have the disorder). Some people may have trouble perceiving light due to visual impairment or blindness which may cause a sleep-wake disorder.
People with the circadian rhythm disorder are usually treated with light therapy and melatonin. Light therapy is given to readjust the cycle – done by sitting in front of a carefully-crafted lightbox.
What is insomnia? It’s the basic problem of being unable to fall or stay asleep, and it’s one of the most common disorders people can have. A single night of restless sleep will cause a person to suffer from sleep deprivation the next day. What are its effects?
- lack of focus
- lack of balance
People with insomnia sleep for short periods of time on a more regular basis. The effects of sleep deprivation can last days, weeks, months, and years. They can be very disruptive to peoples’ lives and will worsen if unresolved.
Insomnia can have a negative cognitive effect on work and school performance and raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Emotionally a person may not have motivation to follow through tasks. Or they can experience severe mood changes that can cause substance abuse and even depression. Sleep deprivation can physically lead to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity.
Occasional insomnia can last days, weeks, or months, affecting one in five people. If it persists beyond six months, physicians label it as “chronic insomnia”, affecting nearly 10% of all adults.
Insomnia can also be caused by not sleeping cleanly. Lifestyle changes such as not using the technology at night and exercising earlier in the day can make a huge difference to your sleep.
However, insomnia can also be a symptom of a medical condition, such as:
- chronic health problems
- mental health disorders
- other sleep disorders
The underlying condition needs to be addressed before we see improvement in sleep. Treatment for this type of insomnia may include lifestyle changes, sleeping aids, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Hypersomnia is not the same as insomnia. People with this condition sleep far more than they should. They can sleep nine or more hours and still feel as if they didn’t get enough sleep. They may have problems waking up and feel foggy all day.
Idiopathic hypersomnia is different from other disorders in that the sleepiness persists away from any environmental nighttime disruption or circadian rhythm issue. Doctors are unsure about why it happens.
Another type of hypersomnia is narcolepsy, which breaks down into two types. The commonality between them is that a person becomes overly tired and sleepy during the day. One form of narcolepsy has symptoms of daytime sleep hallucinations, sleep paralysis, and sleep attacks. Doctors understand that this disorder has a neurological nature due to brain abnormalities, but they don’t know how to cure it yet.
It’s common for drugs such as SSRIs and Ritalin to be prescribed to narcoleptic patients to manage their symptoms. They are often used with other treatments such as light therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and changes in lifestyle.
This disorder addresses odd (abnormal behaviors) that occur between each sleep stage. They occur in transition between wake and sleep, sleep and wake, nREM and REM sleep. There are five types of parasomnia:
- Night terrors – a person all of a sudden sits up and screams – occurring between the stages of nREM and REM sleep
- Exploding head syndrome – a person hears a noise that wakes them up as they’re waking up or going to sleep
- Sleepwalking – a person may be walking around asleep. This tends to occur in the nREM sleep and usually happens in the first half of the night
- Sleep paralysis – a person is alert, but cannot move when waking up or falling asleep
- REM behavior disorder – a person will yell or thrash around violently in the REM stage of sleep.
According to sleep experts 66% of people will suffer from parasomnia of some type at some time in their lives. While some types are seen more in childhood (sleepwalking and bedwetting) and most people grow out of them by adolescence. Other types can be persistent (REM behavior disorder), or occasional (sleep paralysis and exploding head syndrome).
The difficult part of diagnosing these disorders is that most people who have them don’t realize it. It’s usually other members of the household who notice the problem.
Sleep-related breathing disorder
Any disorder in this category is the result of difficulty with breathing while sleeping - breathing pauses in sleep, and abnormal breathing. The two most common types of sleep-related breathing disorders are sleep apnea and chronic snoring.
Chronic snoring may not be a big issue for some, but it’s often a symptom of the more serious sleep apnea. This happens when a person literally stops breathing while they sleep. To start breathing again the brain wakes up for a moment even if the sufferer is asleep. The fleeting moment is just enough for a person not to get the high-quality sleep their body needs. As it can occur in every stage of sleep, it stops the body from going into the much-needed REM sleep.
The problem with these disorders is that people do not know that they’re going on. They may get the right amount of sleep every night, but still feel exhausted when they wake up. The only surefire way to know they have a problem is when someone else tells them.
These disorders must be addressed! Up to 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, and a high number of them is undiagnosed. The disorders can cause sleep deprivation, which leads to inability to concentrate during the day and cause physical issues such as heart disease and diabetes.
They can lead to life-threatening conditions such as high blood pressure, low blood oxygen, stroke, and heart attacks.
Sleep-related movement disorder
This disorder involves any odd movements that take place while sleeping or in transition from wake to sleep. What are some of the more common sleep-related movement disorders?
- Periodic limb movement disorder – continuous leg movements in the nREM sleep stage which the person is not aware of
- Restless leg syndrome – a person lying down may experience pins and needles in the legs and must move them to stop it
- Sleep bruxism – involuntary grinding of the teeth while you sleep
These disorders are a problem because they rob someone of needed sleep. When RLS flares up, it makes it hard for a person to go to sleep and stay asleep. The other disorders happen while the sufferer is asleep, but affect the quality of sleep. With sleep bruxism the teeth can become permanently damaged.
Some sleep movement disorders are rarer with 4-10% of adults suffering from them. Some groups are more at risk for suffering from them. For example, older people or pregnant women are more likely to suffer from RLS.
The problem with these disorders is that people don’t realize that they have them, and their symptoms are often mistaken for other issues. A person who suffers from sleep bruxism may have pain in the jaw and morning headaches.
There are many treatments:
- psychotherapy (as stress can worsen some sleep disorders)
- behavioral changes (no alcohol or caffeine)
- weighted blankets
- dental devices
What Risks Do Sleep Disorders Pose?
The government believes that up to 30% of adults in the U.S. have a sleep disorder that affects mortality and disability.
It’s usually psychiatric problems that correlate with insomnia. There is a strong link between mental illness and sleep problems, and the majority of psychiatric disorders have hypersomnia or insomnia as a symptom.
According to researchers being unaware and having unhealthy beliefs about sleep increases the chance of nightmares and suicide. One such belief is that sleep disturbances are a permanent issue that can’t be beaten. You may be wondering what sleep disorder is the most dangerous. That depends on your definition of risk.
For people who have the rare REM behavior disorder this is dangerous. However, sleep apnea is extremely common and can cause early death or impaired cognitive function.
Severe apnea greatly varies according to a person’s weight and one year may be worse than the next. Dying while sleeping – often determined to be a heart attack and listed as such on the death certificate – is one of the most intense consequences of apnea. If you suffer from chronic diseases tied to breathing disorders in sleep, you increase your chances of dying.
Restriction of oxygen makes the body susceptible to a range of health issues. The latest study discovered that all-cause mortality rose in men between 40 and 70 years of age with breathing disorders in sleep.
Both short and long sleeping have ties with mortality, but the links are complex and intricate – a lot is not known about these correlations and sleep.
A study on the blood of insomniacs found that constant short sleep leads to high C-reactive protein levels – an identifying marker for cardiovascular diseases. Short sleep can lead to excessive adipose tissue and increase the risk of obesity. It reduces cognitive function, which reduces your reaction times and increases the likelihood of making bad decisions.
Reduced reactivity of the brain and thinking abilities are regarded as the biggest risk due to poor sleep. The danger is not in something happening at night, but during the day. If you’re sleepy and driving, it could be lethal. When you’re working, you could injure yourself or may not be as productive.
Though not really a danger, daytime sleepiness and sleep disorders can reduce your overall quality of life. While subjective, it’s still an issue. How can you enjoy life if you are constantly sleepy?
You may think that it’s difficult to diagnose a sleep-related condition. However, there is an array of tools health professionals and patients can use to determine if they have a sleep disorder.
Your own suspicion can help you recognize that you have a problem. If you have problems falling asleep, staying asleep, or you’re overly tired the next day, it could be an issue. More so if you know that you are getting the recommended seven to eight hours a night.
A family member can let you know if there is a problem too. Spouses and partners who sleep in the same bed as you will notice issues during your sleep. If the problem is in a child, it’s often the parents who notice common childhood sleep disorders.
Speak to your doctor about the problems you are experiencing. S/he will suggest a sleep diary for several weeks and ask you what your sleep schedule is like. If s/he notices anything odd, s/he may suggest you going to a sleep clinic.
Sleep technicians and researchers at the clinic will carry out an array of tests such as the polysomnogram. This involves you staying at the clinic overnight and the doctors monitoring your breathing, heart rate, brain waves, etc. They may conduct the Multiple Sleep Latency Test which gauges how quickly you get to sleep and determines whether you have hypersomnia, narcolepsy, or any movement and breathing disorders.
How Can You Naturally Improve Your Sleep Quality?
Believe it or not, better sleep is not that hard to get. You have to make some changes, but you also have natural sleeping aids and products that can help you.
The first step to improving your sleep health is to improve your sleep hygiene. Think of sleep hygiene like dental hygiene. You need to maintain a regular sleep schedule (weekends too), shut your electronics off for the night, only use the bedroom for sleep and sex (do not put work-related items in the bedroom), and set up a bedtime routine.
There are all kinds of behavioral hacks that make it easy for you to fall asleep and give you the restful sleep your body needs. You can regulate your body temperature by sleeping naked with the socks on. Or you can take a warm shower an hour before you go to bed. Keep a sleep diary or monitor your sleep cycles on a smartwatch. Set the alarm for when you’re likely to be in the light stage of sleep.
There are sleep health products that you can use to improve your sleep health, such as CBD oils and teas that encourage sleep.
Tips for Healthy Sleep
A habit of healthy sleep will make a significant impact on your quality of life. If you want to go through your day feeling upbeat and well rested, create a good sleep hygiene routine and stick to it. What are some things you can do that will go a long way to improving your quality of life?
- Stick to a fixed sleep schedule every day (and at weekends). This helps to keep the body clock regulated and ensures that you will fall asleep faster and remain asleep all night.
- Find a relaxing bedtime activity. Choose one that doesn’t involve bright lights, stress, excitement, and causing anxiety. All these things can hinder you from falling into deep restful sleep.
- If you have problems falling asleep at night, do not take naps in the day. While power naps can be useful to get you through the day, they can hinder you from getting a good night’s rest.
- Start a daily exercise routine. While it’s best to do vigorous exercise, light exercising is just as good. Exercise whenever you can, but not if it impacts your ability to get good sleep.
- Arrange your bedroom. The best sleeping environment is is cool (between 60 and 67 degrees), dark, and quiet (a partner’s snoring can also be problematic). Use eye shades, blackout curtains, fans, white noise machines, humidifiers, earplugs, and other things to help you get the perfect sleeping atmosphere.
- Have a comfortable pillow and mattress that will support you. If you’ve been using the same mattress for more than 10 years, it may be time to change it. Choose pillows that look attractive and make you want to come in and sleep. Keep the room free from allergens and clutter (in case you get up in the middle of the night).
- Wake up to sunlight in the morning and don’t expose yourself to bright light in the evening and night hours.
- Don’t drink, smoke, or consume a heavy meal at night. Caffeine, cigarettes, and alcohol can have a negative effect on your sleeping pattern. Eating a spicy or big meal can give you discomfort. Instead of eating a large meal two to three hours before you go to bed, eat earlier in the day and have a healthy snack an hour before bed if you happen to be hungry.
- Slow down for the night. Your body will need some time to get into sleep mode. Take an hour before bed to do something calming, such as reading. A laptop or other electronic devices can make it difficult for many people to go to sleep. The blue light emanating from the screens keeps the brain active. If you have problems sleeping, don’t use any electronics before bed or when you get up in the middle of the night.
- If you’re unable to sleep, take yourself out of the bedroom and find another place in the house to relax and get tired again. Do not have televisions, computers, or work related items in the bedroom. The bed should be used only for sleep and sex. If there is an activity that causes you stress about going to sleep, eliminate it from the bedtime routine.
- If you’re unable to sleep even after implementing these lifestyle changes and other things, talk to your doctor or see a sleep professional. You can also use a sleep diary to keep track of how you sleep, as it will help you gauge what sleep problems you might have and your sleep habits.
The Correlation of Sleep and Body Composition
According to a study and a nationwide representative sample of around 10,000 adults the U.S. obesity crisis may be the result of a corresponding decrease in sleeping. The study found that people between 32 and 49 years of age who did not sleep more than seven hours a night were significantly more often obese. On top of that, staying awake past midnight also increased one’s chances of obesity.
It suggests that there is a dose-response relationship – later bedtime equates to less sleep, which equates to a gain in body fat. A person’s wakeup time had no significant relevance on their obesity.
Another study involved over 9,000 children from birth and found that children who slept less at 30 months of age had a higher risk of being obese by the time they were seven.
It’s not known if poor quality of sleep is the result or cause of extra body fat (or a culmination of both). Some researchers theorize that sleep deprivation hinders hormones that control appetite, which leads to accumulation and storage of body fat. Others feel that it’s the physical discomfort of obesity itself (such as sleep apnea) that makes people sleep less. After all, sleep apnea has been known to hinder us from getting a good rest.
There are all kinds of possibilities for lack of sleep affecting body fat. For example, a decrease in the growth and thyroid-stimulating hormones and an increase in cortisol during the evening hours may be a cause. Constantly restricting sleep can cause a rise in the sympathetic nerve activity and slow down insulin response. It all leads to borderline effects (listed below) that lead and contribute to obesity
- reduced glucose tolerance
- reduced leptin
- increase in sympathovagal balance
- increase in nocturnal and evening cortisol levels
- lack of thyroid stimulating hormone
When you look at it from a more practical standpoint, the less time you sleep, the more time you have to eat. And it’s common to get hungry while we watch junk food commercials at night.
You may be wondering about appetite hormones. A study looked at 12 healthy young men of normal weight having two consecutive nights of four hours of sleep and no naps, and found a drop in the production of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin which signals hunger and cravings for processed foods such as bread, bakery, and sweets. Researchers believe that an upset of appetite hormones is why sleep deprivation causes people to gain weight.
Less sleep means more bodyweight, but that’s not the only consequence of sleep deprivation on the human body. When people don’t get at least 7.5 hours of sleep every night, it increases their chances of:
- glucose intolerance
- insulin resistance
- heart attacks
- type 2 diabetes
- sudden cardiac death
A study of eleven 20-something-year-old men required them to get four hours of sleep for six consecutive nights. By the last day they had the insulin sensitivity of a prediabetic man in his 70s. This is very telling even from the small sample.
Lack of sleep hinders one’s daily life too – affecting memory, cognition, and mood. Try going 24 hours without sleep. It’s about the same as drinking and performing with 0.10% of alcohol in the blood. With that even walking to the grocery store to find healthy food or going to the gym will be difficult.
How Sleep Affects the Hormones
The brain has a built-in clock called suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) and it’s in charge of the circadian rhythm. Since it sits above the optic nerve that crosses the hypothalamus, any exposure to darkness or light can affect the rhythms. There are many hormones that have a regular “daytime” cycle including:
- adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH)
- the growth hormone (GH)
- luteinizing hormone (LH)
When you go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up around the same time every morning, it kicks the SCN into gear, and allows you to sleep deeply regularly as you have created a pattern that your body understands.
There’s a wall between the outer world and conscious mind when you’re trying to go to sleep. While closing your eyes makes going to sleep easier, you could still fall asleep without doing so. How? It’s because melatonin is released into the bloodstream in the hours before you go to sleep due to the cyclical changes of light and darkness.
Can Your Children’s Health Affect Their Sleep Health?
As a parent you're likely to watch your children’s exercise and diet. You give them the support they need to get good grades and make friends. You’ve created a home that allows them to develop, thrive, and be the people you always hoped they would become. Sleep is just as important to your children’s health as all other things.
Children are no different from adults. Their immune system is compromised if they’re not getting the proper amount of sleep. If they’re not getting enough rest, they can get sick and miss out on school. If they do go to school, they may lack concentration to stay focused on their studies.
Sleep deprivation can lead to an increase in impulsivity and irritability, which will affect their relationships with others and lead to poor decisions.
Like you, your children need to sleep - the better they sleep, the better they feel. And the happier they are, the happier you are! Of course, their sleeping needs are not the same as those of adults – they need more sleep than we do. The best thing you can do is set up a healthy sleep schedule for you and them, and show them that you’re practicing what you preach. This ensures that both you and your children will get the much-needed sleep to face the next day with optimism.
Other Things You May Not Have Known About Sleep
- Sleep debt builds up, which means that the more nights you go without enough sleep, the higher the chances of suffering from the negative effects. However, several consecutive days of good rest will reverse the problem. According to experts every hour of sleep debt will need to be repaid in time.
- Obstructive sleep apnea is the result of a collapse of the soft tissue in the airway. It’s seen more in people who are extremely overweight or obese. Sufferers may stop breathing for short periods of time, which also affects the quality of their sleep. And it’s not yet known if having OSA surgery can improve this problem.
- When you’re stressed out, the body releases excessive amounts of cortisol, which also affects the quality of your sleep. However, using certain supplements such as valerian root and phosphatidylserine can help control the body’s cortisol levels and improve your overall quality of sleep. You can also control cortisol levels by eating the right amounts of protein and carbohydrates after you exercise.
- Several tricyclic antidepressants can affect the body’s ability to get into REM sleep – bolstering the evidence that mood and sleep do go hand in hand.
- Sleep can improve your memory recall and formation.
- You can lower your blood pressure with a mere nap or good night’s rest.
What You Need to Remember
The majority of researchers agree that the duration of sleep can affect your weight, which is why it’s important to develop a healthy sleeping routine in hand with healthy nutrition and exercise.
Society may be busy, but there is no reason to subject yourself to less sleep. You choose what you spend your time on – working, school, surfing the Internet, family, etc. – the roughly 16 hours you are awake. However, it’s still imperative to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night. When you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re choosing that instead of health.
If you are concerned about how much sleep you’re getting and the quality of it, determine if you’re getting a reasonable amount of sleep. This is why many sleep experts suggest a sleep diary.
- Do you get between seven and eight hours of sleep every night?
- If you don’t, what’s keeping you from doing so?
- Do you take medications?
- Do you have bad sleeping habits?
It’s important to get to the heart of the issue so that you can get the benefits from sleep.
It’s important that you reprioritize sleep, making it an important part of your overall healthy lifestyle. What are some factors to take into consideration when developing a better sleeping pattern?
- Be consistent – stick to a consistent bed and wake up time. If you stay up late at weekends when you normally go to bed early, you’ll have a tough time getting back into the routine during the week.
- Avoid too much light – make your room is as dark as possible when going to bed. It tells the body that it’s time to wind down.
- Limit noise – have very little noise in the room or a white noise generator (perhaps a fan).
- Cooler temps – aim for 66 to 72 degrees.
- Relax – create a bedtime routine that doesn’t involve stressful things such as computer use, television, movies, etc.
- Don’t take stimulants – avoid stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine late in the day.
- Don’t consume A heavy meal – avoid eating a big meal a couple of hours before bed, as your stomach needs time to digest the food.
- Exercise earlier – while it may seem that exercising at night can help to relax you, it does the opposite. Exercise earlier in the day, so your body can relax.
How Your Pillow Affects Your Sleep and Health
A number of factors are at play for us to get good sleep at night. Along with our mattresses, pillows may play an important role in our quality of sleep. With the wrong pillow on the bed we can experience more strain than necessary in the shoulders and neck and end up in a vicious cycle of insomnia and fatigue.
You need to find a pillow that’s right for you, but how do you do that? Well, there are many considerations to keep in mind. For example, the many materials available these days which include:
Elsewhere we believe that loft (or thickness) has a huge role to play in pillows. Here’s more on loft and the other considerations for choosing the right pillow.
What comfort and support will you get from a pillow? This depends on the thickness and height - the loft. Generally speaking, pillows come in three categories;
- High loft - pillows above five inches thick
- Medium loft - Between three and five inches thick
- Low loft - pillows below three inches thick.
When a pillow has too much or too little loft, it is likely to be uncomfortable. Yet it all comes down to personal preference - what works for one person may not work at all for another. In order to choose the right loft we recommend considering the following:
The type of mattress
Pillows with low loft are normally recommended for people with latex or memory foam mattresses. This is because they sink deeply under the weight of a person. When a mattress doesn’t sink, like with innersprings, more loft is required in order to achieve the same level of comfort and support. While on this note, it’s important to remember that the firmness of a mattress may also play a role in determining the right loft.
Also consider your body type when choosing the right pillow loft. A pillow with a higher loft is better for those with a large or heavy head because it allows for support and comfort. Extra space between the sleeper’s head and the pillow is often generated by those with wide shoulders and this also lends itself to extra loft.
It is recommended that anybody over 230 pounds choose a low or medium loft because they compress the mattress further than those between 130 and 230 pounds, whom a medium loft will suit. Anybody under 130 pounds will struggle to compress the mattress at all and this is where higher lofts come in handy.
The position of the pillow
While some people sleep with their head on the corner or edge of the pillow, others want their head right in the middle. For those in the latter category a low or medium-loft pillow will suffice. Higher lofts are suitable for those who sleep with pillows partially underneath their heads (extra support also comes with a neck roll pillow).
There are three ways we can sleep:
- On the stomach - With little space between the mattress and the head, many people who sleep on the stomach choose to forgo a pillow. However, if you prefer extra cushioning, an ideal pillow for sleepers on the stomach should be flat (low to medium loft).
- On the back - Similarly, a balance of thickness and firmness comes from medium-loft pillows for sleepers on the back.
- On the side - However, it’s a different story with sleepers on the side because the gap between the mattress and their head is much wider. Therefore medium or even high lofts are recommended for pillows for sleepers on the side.
The material of the pillow
There are several materials in pillows these days, and we’ve listed the most popular options below.
Some people will know it as viscoelastic polyurethane foam, most of us know this material as memory foam. Memory foam pillows conform to the body and cradle the shoulders, neck, and head in order to offer a luxurious sleeping experience. Contoured memory foam pillows are perfect for those experiencing neck and shoulder pain, because they conform to the body and offer support perfectly. They’re typically available in all three lofts.
As well as blocks of memory foam, the market also has pillows with shredded memory foam. Why choose shredded foam? One of the biggest benefits is the fact that you can adjust the loft. It is also a more breathable option, and ideal for sleepers on the stomach.
This material comes from a rubber tree sap and is therefore a natural substance. Much like memory foam, latex pillows will relieve the pressure points, offer support, and come in several degrees of firmness. Most latex pillows are normally available with medium and high loft.
As the name suggests, feather pillows are almost entirely made of coarse outer feathers of geese or ducks. There’s normally less than 10% down in feather pillows and some are free from down. Either way, the most loft you’ll get from feathers is normally medium.
Rather than using real down, down alternative pillows take advantage of polyester fibers. Although completely different in nature, they act in much the same way. Therefore sleepers feel comfortable, get softness and support, and the pillow remains lightweight.
People often get confused by the term ‘down’ and think that it contains feathers, but this isn’t the case. Down comes from goose or duck plumage. Although some down pillows will be filled with feathers too, they cannot exceed the 75:25 ratio, or it won’t be considered a ‘down’ pillow.
As the outer shell around buckwheat kernels, these pillows generally contain up to ten pounds of buckwheat hull for our comfort and firm support.
Water pillows are filled with water just like water beds. If you need more or less loft and support, just add/remove water to the pillow’s inner pouch.
When terms like this are used with pillows, it normally means that they have no petrochemical components, no synthetic parts, and are made entirely from natural organic materials. Some will contain organic wool, others organic or natural cotton, and a handful even silk. If the latex is 100% organic or natural, it also falls into this category.
Health Conditions and Pillows
What if you suffer from allergies or another health concerns? In this case your choice of pillow could be important. Not only could it determine your comfort in the evening, but also how much energy you have the next day. Here’s some advice for a number of different health concerns.
As you may know, acid reflux isn’t exactly a pleasant nighttime experience. Like snoring, it’s a problem that comes with many remedies, but the one that people either forget or fail to try is a change of their pillows. Your head should be elevated to decrease the symptoms of acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and this is where a wedge pillow can help. With a pillow for acid reflux sufferers you may just be able to walk away from the medications and even surgery. Despite the positives there is a potential problem with this solution in that you may not stay upright all night and wedge pillows aren’t always comfortable.
Some people have obstructive sleep apnea which means that they need to sleep on their stomach or side. In this case neck and head support is pivotal. The more you sleep on your back, the worse the episodes tend to get. For sleep apnea pillows memory foam often comes out as the winner for two reasons:
- Its flexible nature allows for CPAP machines
- The contouring is ideal for support.
Whether your chronic pain is from a specific health problem or a result of a busy lifestyle, support and pressure relief are the most important factors for you. Look for wedge, cervical, orthopedic, or contour pillows. If the pain is in the shoulders, back, legs, neck, or knees, you need a conforming/contouring pillow, and these are found in latex, buckwheat, and memory foam.
You might think that overheating in bed isn’t treatable, but many pillows these days have wonderful cooling technologies. For example, manufacturers might infuse the pillow with gel, use natural and organic materials, cooling fabrics, or a design that helps airflow and temperature regulation.
Snoring is a problem that affects sleeping partners sometimes more than the snoring individuals. Fortunately, even if you’ve tried mouthpieces, nose plasters, and special machines, there could still be an easy solution for you. As you’ve probably guessed, it comes in the shape of an antisnore pillow and we recommend experimenting with different elevations.
Just like sleep apnea, this is a problem that affects sleepers on the back more. If possible, sleep on your side. Elevate the head slightly without going too high and causing neck pain. In terms of materials, memory foam should provide pressure relief and proper head support to reduce snoring.
Fortunately more and more manufacturers are developing hypoallergenic pillows which are a much-needed relief for those with allergies. With special treatment and prewashing in the manufacturing process you don’t have to worry about allergens, bacteria, mold, or dust mites. When choosing a pillow in this vategory, look for one that’s easily washed and offers organic/natural materials.
Not a health problem, but certainly a change in health that affects sleep. Luckily there are some amazing pregnancy pillows either shaped like a ‘C’ or a ‘U’. As full-body pillows they keep expectant mothers comfortable without putting pressure on the stomach.
Finally, we want to provide advice for those who are looking for the most comfortable pillow while watching TV, reading, or generally relaxing. You’ll find ‘husband’ or reading pillows on the market, and they will prop you up comfortably with a high back and two arms. As you lie in bed and relax, you shouldn’t get fidgety or feel the need to keep changing position.
How Your Mattress Affects Your Sleep and Health
Every single one of us is unique in what we do during the day, but we all have something in common: once the sun has gone down, we love a good sleep. During sleep we re-energize for the next day. When we sleep poorly, it can affect the entire following day: we have no energy and are less productive at work. There are several ways in which a good mattress will improve your health (and life).
Features and benefits
The quality of life
We only need to look at the quality of life. With a good night of sleep behind you the following improves:
For instance, there are two reasons why snoring causes problems in a relationship: the noise is frustrating, and lack of sleep causes lack of energy and productivity the next day. Whether caused by your nasal passage or a condition like sleep apnea, it disrupts more than just your sleep. With a good mattress you may just be able to prevent the problem (and a breakdown of your relationship).
Unfortunately sleep deprivation is a huge problem all around the world and impacts every corner of our lives. As well as our circadian rhythm, it can cause weight gain by messing with the metabolism. With the one simple change of a high-quality mattress there’s an opportunity to change everything. We’ll get the right sleep, the risk of binge eating and snacking will decrease, mood will improve, and we can take on the day with energy and enthusiasm.
When assessing the quality of your sleep, the first port of call should be your mattress. Not only is good sleep important for your nights, it’s important for your days too. With the right mattress and levels of support and comfort you really can improve the quality of your life.
Chronic back pain
Does your bed creak as you climb in at night? If so, this suggests a weakening frame, a problem that can cause a dull ache in the lower back. As the coils struggle to support our weight, we’re pulled out of natural alignment and the back (and neck) experiences stress.
Thanks to various pieces of research and studies a link has been drawn between chronic back pain and fatigue/poor sleep. Even while forgetting the lack of support for a moment, there’s a risk of the creaking sound waking us up every single time we move, and this is a problem on its own. We feel uncomfortable, toss and turn, the bed creaks, and we’re stuck in a vicious cycle that ends with the sunrise and severe tiredness. A new mattress/bed without the creaking and with support resolves this issue.
The older a mattress gets, the more likely it is to contain dust mites. Eating away at the body oil, dead skin cells, and dust particles, they contribute to your allergies and make everything worse. Not only are dust mites the primary cause of asthma, they can also cause skin allergies and other problems.
Do you have an allergy to dust mites? Common symptoms include:
- Dry skin
- nasal congestion
- runny nose.
If you have asthma or sensitive skin, be careful with your mattress and bedding (we spend a considerable amount of time in bed!). Allergen-free mattresses are essential especially for children, the elderly, or others whose immunological system is weaker. If you want to avoid allergies completely, we recommend a new eco-friendly, germ resistant mattress. Clean it frequently and consider investing in a mattress protector to block the dust or a waterproof mattress protector to ensure that small spills won’t ruin your mattress.
Relief from aches and pains
Although it sounds obvious, the next benefit will be the relief we get from aches and pains. Did you know that upwards resistance and downwards gravity are always fighting against each other as we lie for long periods of time? Unfortunately this leads to aches in the hips and joints, and soreness across the whole body. With the right mattress we get the right support and are even cradled to distribute weight and prevent specific body parts from experiencing stress.
Anxiety and stress
As the quality of sleep improves, we get more positive in general. When we sleep (or fail to sleep) on an old worn mattress, we’ll build up stress. Over time this drains the body of energy and poses the risk of tension and anxiety. We’re learning more and more how long-term stress leads to psychological problems such as depression. We have an opportunity to limit this risk with the right mattress.
While on the topic of mattresses, which is best? With so many materials it might be hard to choose, especially if you are buying a mattress online (check out our list of the best mattresses on Amazon). Unfortunately we won’t select one winner here. Why? Because it’s a subjective experience. The ‘right’ mattress depends on the following factors:
- Body shape
- body type
- what you find comfortable
- sleeping positions.
What you find comfortable might be a nightmare for somebody else. With this in mind we will break down the different materials so that you can approach the question with a little more knowledge.
In recent years memory foam has been the preferred option for mattresses and has a number of benefits. Feeling almost like a hug, it contours to the body, relieves the pressure points, and returns to normal in the morning. However, there is one drawback - it sleeps hot. If you buy a memory foam mattress, we recommend looking for one that offers open cell technology, gel infusion, or another cooling mechanism. With this air passes through and you’ll be less likely to wake up sweating.
As the third major material, latex has recently gained popularity because of three factors; durability, cooling features, and comfort. It’s also a ‘green’ solution and this is on the minds of shoppers more and more. However, not all latex is natural. You will come across two types of latex:
- Natural - This type of latex is expensive, but friendly to the environment and taken from the Hevea-Brasilenis tree.
- Synthetic - produced by mixing natural tree sap and synthetic polymers which saves money, but is harsher to the environment.
Ultimately latex mattresses are durable, good for the environment when natural, and help those who sleep hot. On the other hand they can be expensive.
These days innerspring mattresses are less common, however, those over the age of 25 will probably remember sleeping on one at some point. Does this mean that coil mattresses are outdated? Absolutely not. Not only do they provide edge support, but they also offer durability and cooling. The market now includes hybrid products combining coils with other materials such as foam or latex.
As the name suggests, hybrid mattresses combine materials with the aim of improving sleep. As well as the advantages of multiple materials, you should experience fewer drawbacks from specific materials. Examples include:
- Foam hybrids - a number of different foam materials together, no springs at all. The idea is to boost comfort, improve cooling, and offer a luxurious experience.
- Pillow top - With extra comfort and even more pressure point relief, pillow top and coil are a fantastic option for firmness.
- True hybrid - This phrase is normally used for the combination of memory/latex foam and coil. You get the contouring sensation from the foam alongside cooling, durability, and the bounce from the innerspring.
Water and air beds
Air beds are ideal for camping trips and similar experiences. Even when staying at a friend’s house overnight, you blow it up in a couple of minutes and enjoy a better surface compared to a small sofa or the floor. Although it should never be used on a daily basis, it’s certainly a useful alternative for certain occasions.
On the other hand, some people do use water beds every night. Rather than coils or springs, these mattresses use water for support. As the water distributes the weight evenly, it relieves the pressure points and this has proven successful for those with back pain or even arthritis.
This isn’t a material, but it’s a category of mattress you might find during your research. As mentioned, more and more people are looking for mattresses that are friendly to the environment and organic in nature. Previously manufacturers were forced into providing flame retardants with their mattresses because of the number of smokers in the country. Now it’s all about eco-friendly solutions and organic mattresses free from chemicals.
With every mattress you’ll see an organic rating on a scale of 0-100%. As you start climbing towards 100, the product will be more expensive because it will contain more eco-friendly materials. Natural latex, plant-based memory foam, and bamboo mattresses are three good examples. To some extent this also includes coil mattresses with organic pillow tops.
As soon as memory foam exploded onto the market manufacturers started furiously experimenting with other foams. Since one of the biggest issues with memory foam is heat retention, there was a focus on polyurethane and latex in order to resolve this problem. In addition to playing around with the foam manufacturers tried different manufacturing processes, shapes, and more. Ultimately they wanted to keep the contouring nature of memory foam while boosting durability, airflow, and bounce. So far three popular alternatives have arisen:
- Latex rubber - friendly to the environment and long lasting.
- Polyurethane - works as a base for plenty of hybrid products.
- Convoluted foam - designed to encourage air circulation, sometimes called ‘egg crate foam’.
Mattress by type
As well as different materials, mattresses come in very different styles. Here are some of the main examples.
If you have space and regularly entertain guests, a sofabed might be required. You can utilize your space as a sofa or a bed and save money because you don’t have to buy two pieces of furniture. While some fold down within seconds, others use a sturdy base as the mattress (trundle) pulls out. When choosing a design, consider your space, the room, and longevity.
As long as you make a sensible decision, there’s no reason why your sofabed couldn’t last years. Depending on your needs, there are all sorts of styles, frames, and colors.
When it comes to futons, we need to remember our budget, their function, and more. Just as with the sofabeds, you have plenty of options. While some people want to add functionality to a room, others will have guests staying every so often. With a dual purpose it’s important to think about style as well as function. Rather than having your guests wake up with aches and pains, you can choose a futon mattress that encourages a deep and restful sleep.
When buying bunk beds, you’ll face different considerations from a mattress that sits directly on the floor or fits in a standard bed frame - size, firmness, thickness. Considering that bunk beds tend to have a thinner frame, you might need a thin mattress which still provides support (and does not bend). Some manufacturers now provide numerous options of firmness to fit the bunk bed style, while corresponding to the individual’s sleeping positions.
Rather than overcomplicating the situation, remember who will use the bunk bed and what that person needs the most.
Bed in a box
As perhaps the most affordable option, the bed in a box is convenient. Normally ordered online, you can remove some of the classic challenges faced by physical stores and have them delivered to your door. Most of the risk is also removed because they come with sleep trials and extensive warranties.
If you look in the right places, you will find brands that make the bed to order and this is another advantage of this type. Rather than sitting in a dusty dirty warehouse for long periods, you can be confident that you’ll get something new. Bed-in-a-box products are growing in popularity and we expect this trend to continue due to their affordability and convenience.
As another option for guest rooms and temporary solutions folding mattresses are relatively affordable and come in different designs. Some are bifolds, others are trifolds, and the latter is ideal for those with very little storage space. Some products can even be taken to different locations in a car.
All things considered, folding mattresses tend to be between four and six inches thick. Most use polyfoam, but a handful will also have a memory foam layer for comfort. Considering that you can pick up a folding mattress for under $175, it’s an affordable option, but not necessarily a long-term one.
Finally, those with highly specific needs will be able to get a customized mattress and bed. Whether it’s a result of a health condition or body shape/weight, a customized mattress will allow us to sleep comfortably without making sacrifices. For couples with individual needs it’s even possible to get a half/half mattress with each side offering something different.
While some companies provide mattresses with fixed firmness, others prefer to tailor their approach to customers. Normally you can play around with responsiveness, weight capacity, firmness, and more. Without an additional layer or topper some brands even allow mattresses to be adjusted or flipped once installed. Over the years we’re likely to change sides, so having a mattress that grows with us has tremendous value. We might get a severe injury, gain/lose weight, get pregnant, and will always age. Either way these adjustable mattresses will always provide the right amount of comfort and support.
Your sleeping position and mattress
There are three main ways to sleep; on the side, back, and stomach. How we most habitually sleep will often underpin our choice of mattress because we need the right firmness for our chosen positions. Let’s dig into this a little more.
Sleeping on the stomach
This is a common choice, and also the unhealthiest one. If you really can’t sleep any other way, or always end up on your stomach anyway, support should be your priority. Go for a firm mattress. Plush soft bedding will curve the spine and lead to pain and discomfort.
One good mattress for stomach sleepers would be a foam-based one that offers a firm feel. Alternatively choose latex, innerspring, or hybrid. To keep the spine straight we recommend going for a thinner pillow or even no pillow at all.
Sleeping on the side
As one of the most common options, sleeping on the side is ideal for the back and spine. It also eliminates snoring and overheating. However, the biggest problem comes with the shoulders and hips, especially on firmer mattresses. If you sleep on your side every night, we recommend considering a softer mattress. As it contours to the body, the hips and shoulders won’t be under strain and you’ll get healthy sleep.
Sleeping on the back
Although perhaps the healthiest position, it is thought that only 15 out of 100 people sleep on their backs. When we choose a mattress too soft, it hugs a little too much and this can lead to poor alignment and pain. We advise a medium or medium-firm mattress.
In terms of materials, your biggest concern should be the cooling properties regardless of whether you go with latex, foam, or innerspring. It’s hard to choose the ‘best’ mattress for all back sleepers, so think about what YOU need.
Some people don’t sleep in one position every single night. They switch, or even continually move over the course of the night. If this is the case, you need bedding and a mattress that offers versatility. If you can find a medium-firm or ‘universal’ feel, this will combine comfort and support for most sleeping positions. Some brands create products that aid the repositioning process so that you don’t always wake up while moving.
Your mattress for specific needs
We’re all unique, and that’s what makes life so wonderful. But how do our unique characteristics affect our choices of a mattress?
If you’re a light sleeper, you probably wake up to every slight sound or movement. Fortunately your choice of bed will play a role in how this affects your life. Even if you share the bed with a restless child or constantly moving adult, there are solutions. For example, some mattress will have motion isolation, which means that the movements of your sleeping partner won’t reach your side of the bed.
Other brands go with edge support, which means that there’s more usable space for both partners. Rather than feeling cramped up against one another in the middle of the bed, there’s more secure space even on the outer side of the mattress. If you want to investigate all your options, know that some people who sleep lightly also choose floor mattresses or thinner options.
As the final consideration, firmness plays a huge role in comfort and support in bed. A firmer product will work well for people who sleep on their stomachs, backs, or are heavier. With the right support this will prevent the spine from arching and keep the pelvis from sinking too much. To add comfort and a cozy feeling, think about a comfort layer or pillow top.
On the other hand it’s important not to get too carried away by the element of support. As we’ve alluded to throughout this guide, finding a bed that lasts the test of time is all about mastering the balance between comfort and support. If you sleep on a mattress that feels too firm, you’ll soon feel as if you’re sleeping on the floor. You’ll lose sleep, experience pain, and start to dread bedtime.
Just because a mattress feels soft it doesn’t mean that you won’t get the support you need (they also come with pressure point relief and cooling). Especially sleepers on the side should be looking to this corner of the market, and memory foam is popular too. Of course, it isn’t just your mattress that decides the firmness you’ll experience. A platform bed will make the mattress feel firmer than a more flexible base.
Wouldn’t it be great to adjust your bed to how you need it? Well, this is now an option thanks to the invention of lighter materials. Especially for those who snore or experience back pain, the ability to adjust their bed for comfort and support works well. Adjustable beds were traditionally reserved for older individuals. Over time we’ve realized that they bring benefits to us all.
Whether you’re watching TV, reading, napping, or just relaxing, you can adjust the bed accordingly. With the zero-gravity body position, for example, we get pain relief and natural alignment. Why isn’t everybody using these adjustable beds? The biggest objection is their appearance. Frequent adjusting also wears the mechanisms and this causes an issue with durability. If you can overcome these problems, it still has great value for neck and lumbar pain and stiffness.
Sleep often goes forgotten in relationships. Yet it’s a huge part of them - we could share a bed with this person for the rest of our lives. Common issues to consider when choosing a bed/mattress include:
- Unique preferences - Everybody is unique. So what if two partners have completely different preferences? You have two options. One is to compromise on firmness and try to meet in the middle. While this works for some, it leads to two uncomfortable sleepers in other cases. With this in mind the second option is to choose a mattress with split firmness. Each half of these products has different firmness, so both partners stay comfortable through the night.
- Motion isolation - One partner’s constant movement can affect the other, but there are now solutions to this problem. With motion isolation this movement is restricted to one side of the bed as much as possible.
Another way to choose a mattress that accommodates your needs is to find a solution to sleeping hot. Many years ago cooling wasn’t a part of the mattress industry. Now it’s everywhere. If you sleep hot or live in a warm climate, pay attention to the heat retention properties of certain materials and the cooling features that the manufacturers include in their products.
Traditional foam will typically sleep the hottest; this is why hybrids were invented and foams were blended with latex, coils, and other designs. Even with mattresses from only foam it’s possible to get cooling with gel layers and open cell technology.
If you sleep hot, we highly recommend avoiding the cheaper end of the market. Consider materials like aerated bamboo, open cell memory foam, or a hybrid product.
Those who are looking for a mattress for heavy people will need to consider choosing a firmer and thicker mattress, edge support, and cooling features. Some will tell you not to drift below 12 inches of thickness, but we believe that 9-10 inches will work just as well if it’s an advanced foam construction. As long as you avoid poorer-quality products that will sag under weight, you should be fine.
The best option for support, cooling, contouring, and pressure point relief will be an innerspring/foam hybrid or high-quality foam. A king or queen mattress will be perfect.
We sleep on our mattresses, but we should also remember their other purposes. If you see a product that suggests being ‘ideal for sex’, this generally means that it has the following qualities:
- low noise
- edge support.
Though memory foam is good for many things, it struggles in this area due to lack of bounce and responsiveness. This being said, some of the more modern custom foams resolve this issue. All things considered, we recommend choosing a coil or latex bed.
Unfortunately there are common ailments that affect our sleeping habits. By carefully selecting your bedding you might be able to make dealing with your condition a little easier. Let’s look at some common medical conditions.
Restless leg syndrome
We all know that the restless leg syndrome is frustrating, but scientists have also proven that the quality of our rest plays a huge role in our experience with the condition. As well as medical help, choose a mattress that cradles the body while relieving pressure points. With hybrids, memory foam, and latex you could also look for motion isolation so that you don’t disturb your partner with constant movement.
Otherwise consider what makes YOU comfortable. An aligned back should reduce pressure and hopefully lead to improvement of the restless leg syndrome.
With a condition like osteoporosis pressure points are a nuisance, and the effect of this on sleep can be mentally and physically draining. As time goes on and more specialists conduct research and studies, it seems that exercise plays a key role. Light exercise can work wonders to protect the struggling bones and develop the muscles. But in order to get to the point of being ready to exercise you need to sleep well, and this comes with the right choice of mattress.
If possible, choose a material and filling that molds to your body. This way the spine will be aligned, you'll get the support you need, and the pressure points will be relieved. In the past many osteoporosis sufferers found comfort and relief in zoning features. With each part of your body having a different weight these beds provide the right support in the right areas.
As you probably know, tossing and turning during the night can lead to lots of pain. By using a mattress with cooling features this might be something you can control because you’re less likely to get uncomfortable. Memory foam mattresses are perfect for pressure relief, but tend to overheat. Instead of older designs look for the newer models that consider cooling with gel infusions and other clever features. This way you’ll stay comfortable, supported, and cool.
Menopause and Hot flushes
Though it may not be a surprise, we recommend mattresses with cooling technologies. All materials should be breathable as this will prevent moisture and heat retention. Heat will distribute, and you will quickly dry even if you do happen to wake up sweaty.
Coil systems are perhaps the best because of their temperature regulation and airflow. Elsewhere, air passes through latex as a temperature-neutral material. There will be some readers who love memory foam and don’t want to part with this luxurious material. Thankfully manufacturers have considered the overheating problem and now use phase change technology, cooling gels, and moisture-wicking fabrics.
Asthma and allergies
While we might think we’re safe in our homes, especially the bedroom and bedding can contain:
- Chemical irritants
- dust mites
It’s possible to experience an asthma attack or allergic reaction while we’re trying to sleep. Sadly the worst thing you can do is stick with the traditional innerspring mattress designs since they harbor lots of dust. And unwanted chemicals can sit in the old-style memory foam mattresses. What’s the solution? Manufacturers have reduced the likelihood of triggers with special features.
While researching, we recommend looking for the CertiPUR-US or similar certifications. They are seals of approval that a mattress uses eco-friendly organic materials, is safe for use, and more. Three examples of treated mattresses have recently risen into prominence:
- All-natural latex
- Pocketed coils
- Infused foams (with graphite, green tea, copper, and other antimicrobial additives).
Considering that there are so many unique causes of insomnia, a conversation with your doctor is important; s/he can assess your symptoms and then provide tailored advice. If you think your mattress could be a contributing factor, the restlessness you experience can be reduced with pressure point relief. When the pressure points are removed from the picture, you encourage good circulation in the body and drifting off to sleep should be easier.
Alternatively it might be temperature that prevents you from sleeping. In this case your bedding should promote temperature regulation so that you don’t overheat and get uncomfortable.
Sleep apnea has always been a problem. The difference is that more people are now speaking to medical professionals and seeking relief than ever before. As well as snoring, symptoms include extreme fatigue, so it’s a health problem that has severe consequences when not dealt with properly. For some the condition leads to a stroke, high blood pressure, or even a heart attack. If you have sleep apnea, pay careful attention to what your doctor suggests.
You may be able to encourage proper rest and reduce symptoms with the right mattress. If you sleep on your side or stomach, it’s possible to get a mattress that accommodates this (i.e. one that keeps the spine aligned while keeping clear airways). With an adjustable base you may also play around with different sleeping positions.
There’s no doubt that snoring frustrates everybody involved, and can even lead to deterioration of relationships. It also has the potential to cause serious health problems. To prevent snoring one method you might have heard about is to keep the head elevated, but this causes problems for the neck and spine. Alternatively look at the fantastic technology utilized by companies like Sleep Number - they created a bed with a button to control the height. With an adjustable bed you can find the height that suits you (and helps to keep you on talking terms with your partner!).
As a chronic autoimmune disease fibromyalgia comes with all sorts of side effects including insomnia, fatigue, and excessive tiredness. Extreme cases can even lead to the restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea. Normally your doctor will recommend a three-pronged approach to deal with the condition;
- Proper bedding and sleeping surface
As we’ve seen with back pain, the pressure points are the key to it all. With your mattress or hospital bed you need support alongside contouring and cushioning for relief that feels good night after night.
Pain in the hips
Just as we saw with back pain, discomfort in the hips can result from strenuous exercise or could be a sign of an underlying issue. Especially notable in sleepers on the side, one cause is a mattress that’s too firm. If you experience pain in the hips, our first suggestion is a traditional coil bed. Otherwise look for the increased contouring that comes with foam products and hybrids.
Pain in the neck
Don’t worry, pain in the neck isn’t necessarily something to cause concern. If it happens frequently over weeks or months, this is the time to reach out for help. A doctor may recommend an assessment of your mattress and bedding. For example, stiffness in the neck is often due to an old saggy mattress. However, the most common cause of problems is the pillow.
Although it shouldn’t be surprising at this point, the priority needs to be a supportive sleeping surface. When the neck and spine lack support, you’ll continue waking up with neck problems. Pain in the neck can also be caused by thick pillows for sleepers on the stomach. Therefore your first step should be to sleep with a thin pillow (or without a pillow!).
There’re two main types. A breakdown of cartilage causes bone friction and is known as osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease. The sufferer experiences fluid and swelling in the joint and this makes it hard to get comfortable. Once you also consider the possible pain and stiffness, we recommend a high-end foam or coil mattress (with a medium to firm feel) for sleepers on the back. Sleepers on the side should go for the hug effect with plush bedding.
A huge problem across the world, getting into bed after a long day of back pain can feel incredible…as long as you have the right bedding. Whether a result of overworking or a side effect of a condition such as scoliosis, arthritis, or kyphosis, the answer isn’t always extra firmness. It’s not a strict rule that a soft mattress is less supportive and a firm mattress is more supportive. Look for a specially designed mattress for back pain to relieve pressure points. And correct spinal alignment and comfort will be bonuses.
Though it would be nice to have a budget of hundreds of dollars, we appreciate that this isn’t the case for everyone. Fortunately even the best mattress brands have budget mattresses and bedding, and the term ‘budget’ doesn’t have to mean compromises in quality or experience. Cheap memory foam mattresses and boxed mattresses, for example, offer tremendous value for money.
If you have a higher budget, there will be some ‘luxurious’ options available to you. With quality of material or design at the forefront of all thinking you’ll have the very best products at your disposal every single night. Even if you’re looking for a luxurious mattress over $1,000, it doesn’t mean that you’re forced into one type of bed either. There are luxurious options from latex, memory foam, hybrids, and more.
As well as budget mattresses under $500 and under $1,000 there’s a third group because you might be buying a mattress or a rollaway bed for a guest room. You don’t need to spend lots of money since these beds aren’t required on a nightly basis, but you do want to offer a pleasant experience to anyone who stays. With this in mind look at the streamlined brands. With an entry-level option from a good company you’ll get the best mattress for the money and everything you need for this purpose.
Mattress recommendations by sleeper age
Our children have different needs from us, and this is the premise behind our next section. What does each age group require to get a good night’s sleep?
At the earliest stage of life babies generally sleep in cots/cribs and safety is a key concern. When the surface of a crib mattress is too soft, there’s a risk of the tragic sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). There are four main areas to consider:
- Type - coil or foam are the most suitable options.
- Quality - look for the CertiPUR-US or organic certification.
- Firmness - firm is better than soft (something that was disputed for a long time).
- Size - we recommend the standard size of 28x52 inches.
Our children graduate from cribs and go into their first beds. While some go with a twin mattress, the risk here is needing an upgrade soon after. Others go with a twin XL (designed for taller children) or a full bed. They can stay in a full size bed well into their teens. If you travel a lot, you might also consider an air bed for your toddler.
At this age the mattresses for kids should encourage healthy development. This means support and correct spinal alignment. As time goes on, talk to your children and experiment with different levels of firmness to get an idea of what works.
In the later teenage years spinal development remains an important consideration because we want to prevent issues such as scoliosis and kyphosis. Although these concerns don’t make themselves clear initially, they develop into adulthood and cause all sorts of problems. Since the body needs room, ensure that teens have room in their beds. Teenagers also need more sleeping time, so the mattress and bedding need to be comfortable.
Allergies can develop during these years, so this is the time to look into hypoallergenic options or even latex.
Elderly people (seniors)
We’ve spoken extensively about mattresses for adults, but our needs may change again as we reach old age. If you’re over 55, you’re more likely to experience joint pain and/or backache. While this can come from sciatica or arthritis, it can also come after poor sleep and an ill-fitting bed.
Many older people who we speak to like the innerspring designs because they’ve been used to them for many years. Whether you’re reading this for yourself or with an old person in mind, we recommend going for a mattress of high quality. If possible, look for an orthopedic mattress with added comfort layers.
How Your Mattress Topper Affects Your Sleep
As well as a good mattress, pillow, and duvet, you might be wondering whether you need a mattress topper. Mattress toppers can provide more comfort when a mattress is failing. While some just lay on top of a mattress, others tuck under fitted sheets and stay in place. These days toppers come in all different materials and price points, including latex, memory foam, convoluted foam, wool, and feather.
Whenever you need extra cushioning, simply put the topper in place. As well as comfort, some toppers will add support and firmness, so choosing the right product is important. With the right mattress topper finishing the bed off nicely you’ll have a product for cooling, alleviating pain, and helping with pressure.
Pad vs Topper
If you’ve done research in this area, you may have seen the word ‘pad’ used with regards to mattresses in addition to ‘topper’. The two words are sometimes used interchangeably, but have very important differences. Perhaps the biggest difference comes with the size. Compared to toppers, even the best mattress pads are extremely thin and therefore won’t contribute much cushioning.
The purpose of pads is to warm you up in winter or keep you cool when the sun is blazing all day. Essentially they’re a cover for the mattress without offering much additional comfort (this isn’t their primary function). As you’ve probably guessed then, toppers are more focused on adding cushioning and comfort to a bed. Maybe you suffer from back pain, but don’t have the money to buy a whole new mattress. A high-quality mattress topper will help.
If you want to avoid confusion and ending up with the wrong product, especially when ordering online, always read the product description to understand the measurements. Also read customers’ reviews to get an idea of how a specific pad or topper performs.
Mattress Topper Materials
Some materials are more popular than others for mattress toppers, and we’ve listed the main five below.
Sheep’s wool is completely natural, resists odor and heat retention, and can even keep moisture at bay. Today wool is used in a plethora of products (including woolen mattress toppers) and can be found throughout the home…as long as you’re willing to pay the higher price tag generally associated with the material. Sadly, some find poor responsiveness a problem.
Sometimes you’ll see manufacturers call their toppers ‘featherbeds’. This means that they’re made of feather and down from geese and ducks. As a lightweight and soft material down feels incredible to the touch, but struggles with bunching; the more you move, the more annoying the evening becomes because you lose cushioning in some areas. As another potential disadvantage of choosing a feather mattress topper, it tends to be expensive.
While it might share some properties with foam, it’s very different and it’s not hard to tell the difference almost immediately. How will you recognize this material? It has oval indentations right across the foam. As a more affordable option, egg crate can feel great for a while, but it doesn’t always offer the right support, and this is the one thing that has held the material back over the years.
Firstly, these products are generally made from latex rubber and this means that applying pressure will cause compression and responsiveness. Compared to memory foam, latex bounces back into shape much faster and this means that it holds onto life for longer. With a latex topper you shouldn’t ever feel ‘stuck’ and the responsiveness also lends itself to sex for couples. Overheating also shouldn’t be a problem.
Despite the benefits latex isn’t perfect, and many prefer the contouring of memory foam. With most memory foam products the pressure point relief is far more effective. Latex is also more expensive and heavier to move.
With this material being so popular these days it’s likely that you’ve tried memory foam at least once (even if you were just staying at a friend’s house overnight). It shapes itself to the user’s body, provides support and comfort, and is considered a luxurious experience. If we can get technical for a moment, memory foam is actually a viscoelastic foam. As it responds to the applied weight we each get an experience tailored to us. With a memory foam mattress topper this means support and spinal alignment. Motion isolation is also a feature.
Just like latex, memory foam has its drawbacks. The main three are;
- Some people sink too far into the material. They feel as though they’re being swallowed, and this can get uncomfortable.
- Moving across a mattress (especially during sex) is difficult because of its lack of responsiveness.
- If you don’t have a bamboo cover or another cooling feature, memory foam will likely retain heat, and this can ruin the experience.
Considerations of Mattress Toppers
Heating and Cooling
Firstly, it’s possible to make any bed warmer with a heated mattress pad and this might be something you’ll need during winter or even throughout the year in colder climates. Although these products generally offer heating features, some can offer cooling too. With the topper under the sheets the heat stays in the bed and you won’t have the horrible experience of climbing into a cold bed at night.
On the other hand, some cooling mattress pads will be infused with cooling gel. Common in memory foam toppers, it’s still viscoelastic foam, but it has been mixed with either beads or swirls of gel. So far the scientific opinion on the efficacy of such technology has been mixed. Yet all it takes is one look at customer reviews and you’ll see that most swear by the cooling gel for a more comfortable night in warmer climates.
As an essential ingredient for all bedding concerns, another consideration for mattress toppers is your sleeping position.
Sleepers on the back- While sleeping on the back, the spine is naturally aligned. Though good for alleviating pressure, support can sometimes cause problems, and this is where density comes in. When a topper is too soft, the hips and back sink too far down. With a bit more firmness in the product you’ll have the right amount of support. Be careful not to go too far the other way though, because an extrafirm mattress topper will cause a gap between the bed and the lower back.
If you have average weight, go for a topper of medium firmness. People carrying extra weight will need a firmer topper and those below the average weight should go for a softer option.
Sleepers on the side - When we sleep on our side, the spine goes into an unnatural curve, and this can put extra pressure on the shoulders, neck, and hips. To remove this pressure and straighten the spine a good mattress topper for side sleepers will sink below these pressure points. Again, weight is important here and people who weigh less than 130 pounds should be looking for a softer mattress topper. On the other hand, anybody above this weight will need a firmer surface so that they don’t sink too deeply.
Sleepers on the stomach - First and foremost, doctors recommend against sleeping on the stomach. Especially when carrying extra weight in this area, it can cause issues for the spine, lead to pressure and pain, and ultimately cause ‘sinkage’ in the pelvis and hips. If you can’t sleep in any other way, go for a firm topper to prevent this sinkage while keeping an aligned spine. Regardless of weight, the topper should also have low density and be naturally thin.