Is your bed robbing you of sleep?

A bed without the right support and comfort may cause disturbed sleep

Man woke up with a disturbed sleep

Most of us spend 7 – 8 hours a day, which is one-third of our lives, in bed. And, yet, only a few of us really pay attention to the quality and type of bed we use for sleep.

Apart from sleeping, our bed is also a source of security and comfort. No wonder, when we sleep in a hotel room, or in someone else’s house, we rarely get the same degree of rest and relaxation that we experience in our own beds.

Our beds are our personal sanctuary. It is one area which we don’t want to ever give up. This only means that we must do some simple research, spend time and money, in choosing a good bed and memory foam mattress. This is also our first step to get a good night’s sleep.

Deep sleep, or a good night’s sleep, is important to all of us. It makes us feel refreshed and function well, the next day. Good sleep and rest also depend on a phase of sleep—Stage-4 sleep. This is a period of sleep in which the body is at complete rest, the brain activity is quiet, breathing is slow and the muscles are totally relaxed.

Many years of sleep research has proven that the more time you spend in Stage-4 sleep without interruption, the more rested you feel in the morning.

One thing that interrupts Stage-4 sleep is physical discomfort. If your mattress presses against your tissues, reducing blood circulation, you will leave Stage-4 sleep frequently, tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable position. A good bed and mattress ensure that you get prolonged, deep, restorative, and restful night’s sleep. It also ensures that you wake up better rested, more alert, and rejuvenated.

What makes a bed good for sleeping?

A good bed reduces pressure, enhances support and provides proper spinal alignment. The shoulders, hips, and spinal column are correctly supported when your sleeping posture is in balance. Every man and woman has a unique body shape and, thus, uses a different sleeping posture.

Your mattress should be able to adapt to your unique physiology and comfort sensitivities. If you are using a double-bed, do remember that different degrees of firmness may be needed for you and your partner, and so it may make sense to invest in two separate mattresses. The size of the bed itself should be as big as one can afford and as big as one can fit comfortably in the bedroom, with free space to get in and get out, on either side. Very small beds can hamper good sleep.

There are two important points to consider in a mattress: Comfort and firmness. Though it is commonly believed that firmness alone is the most important aspect in choosing a bed, in reality, many people report soreness in the morning, because of the bed being too hard. Softness and cushioning are necessary to ease your pressure points.

Our bodies have curves and, hence, the mattress needs to be able to adapt to your contour. A good supportive mattress is one that is able to give support in the small of the neck, the back, and behind your knees.

A firm, hard sleeping surface is actually non-supportive. Your mattress should ideally conform to you instead of you conforming to it. On a hard, firm surface, or when the mattress does not conform to the body, the hips and shoulders are pushed up. This forces the body out of alignment. When the mattress conforms to you, it allows the body to sink into it, gently caressing and cuddling you, supporting and filling into the small parts of the body. Conformity allows for better weight distribution. This means less pressure on any particular part of your body.

Proper weight distribution necessary for sleep

When lying on your back, support is critical in the neck area, lower back and behind the knees. Most people are unable to sleep on their back, due to little or no support, in the lower back region. However, sleeping on your back is the healthiest way to sleep.

On your back, you distribute your body weight across the widest surface of your body. This minimises the pressure points, and places your spinal system along with your internal organs in proper alignment. If the mattress doesn’t fill into these areas, and does not give proper support, the spine is forced into an unnatural position.

This can cause ‘pinching’ of the disc by the vertebrae [Our spine is made up of three groups of bones called vertebrae]. In between each vertebra, there is a flexible disc made of sponge-like material, which needs good support. It should not get pinched or pressed.

Pressure relief is also very vital to one’s health and wellbeing. By sufficiently reducing pressure from your body, a good mattress will allow oxygen-rich blood to flow freely throughout our bodies. The mattress should be such that it equalises the pressure throughout your body by distributing the pressure evenly from head to toe.

A good mattress should also absorb your body weight, so that your muscles remain relaxed and not contracted throughout the night, leading to muscle aches and pains, the next day. On very firm mattresses, when you lie on the side, your upper body weight pushes down on the shoulder cuff. This leads to lack of circulation and can cause discomfort requiring constant repositioning all night long. The same is true for your hip area, with all the lower body weight concentrated in the region. This again causes discomfort.

It has been scientifically estimated that a person turns over and tosses in bed about 80 – 100 times at night, during sleep. As the body gets pressed, and circulation suffers, the brain signals the body to turn, to relieve the pressure. With a good comfortable bed, the number of tossing and turning will go down, ensuring good rest.

Make sure your pillow is comfortable and supportive as your bed. Ensure that the linen are soft and clean.

Good sleep sure depends on a host of factors. But, the first step for a restful night’s sleep begins with your choice of bed—if it’s the right bed, the better your sleep will be.

Shopping for mattress

Don’t buy one in a hurry. Visit the shop, sit on the mattress, and lie down on it in various positions—on your back, tummy, and on the side. Press and test the firmness. Check if any point in your body is getting pinched, or pressed too much. Lie on your back and put your palm under your lower back. If it moves very easily, it means that your mattress is too firm; if it does not move at all, it means that the mattress is too soft.

Try out as many mattresses as possible before buying one. When you acquire and use the right mattress, remember to rotate it from end-to-end, once a month, so that it wears uniformly—and, not just in one place.

This was published in the November 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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P V Vaidyanathan
Dr P V Vaidyanathan, MD, DCH, is a Mumbai-based paediatrician in private practice, hobbyist writer, and author of a book on childhood stress management.


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