Sleep is the best meditation, according to the Dalai Lama, which is all very well, but if your bed is substandard, it can be difficult to get a night of uninterrupted shut eye. So how do you find the perfect bed – and why does it matter?
‘Sleep, regardless of age, is extremely important to a healthy lifestyle and should not be taken lightly,’ says Lisa Artis, spokesperson for The Sleep Council. ‘It is a basic and fundamental human requirement and has restorative functions. As you sleep, tissue grows and repairs itself and the immune system is strengthened. The brain also repairs itself – researchers believe sleep is critical to healthy brain function.
‘In fact, researchers also believe the brain performs actions vital to learning and memory during sleep. It also affects hormone levels and other important chemicals circulating in your body. Getting too little sleep disrupts all of that,’ she adds.
‘The foundation of a good night’s sleep is a comfortable, supportive bed,’ says Lisa. ‘It’s difficult to get deep, restful sleep on an old, uncomfortable bed. A bed with the correct support, comfort and space will ensure you wake less, move about less, are less disturbed by your partner and less likely to wake up feeling tired or aching. Make sure you use adequate bed clothes and pillows too. If you’re not comfortable in bed, your sleep won’t be as deep.’
So should we concentrate on getting the right frame, mattress or bedding? ‘All of them are important, they need to work together. When buying a new bed it can be false economy to change only the mattress and keep the original base, especially if you are buying a divan set. The old base could reduce the useful life of the new mattress as well as the comfort and support it can offer. It can also invalidate manufacturers’ warranties.’
THE BED BASE
She continues: ‘There are a number of bases on offer from bedsteads and divans to adjustable ones and bunk beds. Bases affect the feel of the mattress. For example, a solid top divan will give a mattress a firmer feel than a sprung edge divan. It’s important to ensure the mattress and base are suitable to be used together, especially if buying them separately. When it comes to the mattress’s sturdiness, it would be difficult to make generalisations as
it is more to do with quality of materials and manufacture. You definitely get what you pay for.’
But do you need a base at all? ‘A mattress on the floor is not something we would recommend as it is designed to work with a base and needs ventilation.’
SLATTED BASES – can be flexible or rigid. Flexible are made from laminated soft woods creating a slight spring. The space between most rigid slats is usually wider than on flexible ones but should be no more than 9cm to 10cm.
DIVAN – the most popular type of bed in the UK – basically an upholstered box with casters to help you move it or legs to create space underneath.
SPRING EDGE – the most luxurious, has either an open coil or pocket spring unit mounted on a frame.
SOLID OR PLATFORM TOP – rigid, non-sprung top panel, often made from hardwood. Firmer and tend to be cheaper than those with sprung edges.
FOAM – made from different densities and depths these are suitable for slatted bases and adjustable depths
LATEX – a premium material derived from the sap of a tree that has anti-microbial qualities and can be beneficial to allergy sufferers. It will also recover its shape immediately when you remove the pressure.
VISCO ELASTIC/MEMORY FOAM – this is intended to respond to an individual’s shape and pressure, and has pressure relieving qualities.
POLYURETHANE (PU) FOAM – synthetic, petroleum-based foam, this is widely used.
GEL – a new filling that is proving popular, the open cell structure moulds to your individual shape while ensuring the foam does not get too hot or too cold.
SIDE BY SIDE 'Always remember a ‘bed’ is a mattress and a base working together – when buying, you should not think of them in isolation.'
‘Look for a mattress that offers correct support and comfort levels,’ says Lisa. ‘It is important you make time to try out a variety of mattresses to find the one that is most comfortable for you and your partner. Size matters, so opt for the biggest size you can – and spend as much as you can afford. For added reassurance that the mattress you’re buying is safe, clean and honest, look for the National Bed Federation approved “big tick” label.
‘For a long time, it was believed that a hard bed was good for a bad back. Nowadays it’s generally accepted that this is not necessarily the case – and could in fact cause more damage. A supportive and comfortable mattress is the best option – it doesn’t matter what type of construction it is. Any reference to beds being orthopaedic – or another similar medical sounding term – does not automatically mean the bed has been professionally assessed or recommended. It is a term loosely used by manufacturers to refer to extra firm models in their range.
‘Memory foam is a great filling that responds well to individual shape and pressure. It has good pressure relieving properties and is available in a variety of qualities and densities. Beware of cheap offers though – they might not have enough density or be thick enough layer to provide the properties claimed for memory foam.
‘Spring fillings are still very popular in Britain and make for excellent mattresses. There are three types of spring interiors – open coil, continuous spring and pocket spring. Changing the spring construction, thickness of the wire, the number of coils, height of each spring and the quantity alters the tension, feel and weight distribution of each mattress.’
MATTRESS COVER – known in the trade as ticking, the cover can come in many designs but don’t be fooled by the aesthetics as for 99% of the time it will be covered in bedding! The key is the cover is able to resist wear and tear so look for better quality fabric woven or knitted in high quality viscose or cotton yarns. Cheaper mattresses are bonded or made from stitchbond fabrics.
Some mattresses come with ‘special qualities’ that include anti-allergy, anti-bacterial, water resistant, stain resistant and so on and one increasingly popular option is thermo regulation which uses evaporation technology. This helps to move perspiration away from the body and into the fabric where it evaporates quickly so you don’t wake up in a cold sweat and, therefore, have a more comfortable night’s sleep.
SPRING INTERIOR MATTRESSES
Most mattresses have spring interiors and the tension and weight distribution of each mattress can be altered depending on the spring construction, thickness of the wire, number of coils, height of each spring and the number of springs there are in the mattress.
‘Zoned’ means extra support can be provided in different places and with some mattresses, different support can be provided in different places in the same mattress. Some you can even adjust yourself.
OPEN COIL OR OPEN SPRUNG – most widely used option springs are arranged in rows and connected to one another usually with at least 325 coils per mattress. This is usually used in the budget to medium range.
CONTINUOUS SPRING – made from a single length of wire ‘knitted’ into interwoven springs linked vertically rather than horizontally. The coils are smaller so there are more of them and, as a result, the mattress tends to be more responsive. Usually mid market to premium range.
POCKET SPRING – smaller, softer springs work independently from each other so they conform and adjust to body contours. The number of springs is usually 600 to 800 but the figure can go up as high as 3,000 or even 4,000. You would usually find these in premium ranges.
COTTON - Has ability to breathe and also to absorb moisture.
WOOL - Naturally resilient creating luxurious feel.
FOAM - Different types used including latex, polyurethane and visco-elastic (memory foam).
POLYESTER - Synthetic and can have good recovery properties.
HAIR - Highly resilient with natural spring qualities.
COIR FIBRE PADS - Made from coconut fibre used next to the spring to stop you feeling it through the mattress.
From pre-shaped that hold your head and neck to all sorts of fillings from goose down, duck down, feather, fibre filled and visco-elastic, latex or polyurethene foam, pillow choice can seem overwhelming.
The Sleep Council advises:
- A good one should hold your head in correct alignment in the same relation to your head and shoulders and spine as if your were standing in the correct position.
- The thickness and number of pillows you’ll need depends on your body shape and preferred sleep position. If you sleep on your side, then you will need one thick one or
two thinner ones.
- Invest in good quality ones and change them every two or three years or if they have lost their height and become lumpy or discoloured.