Comfort - Why It Could Be Damaging Your Sleep
We all have a need for comfort: that warm feeling of contentment and security, both in a physical and a psychological sense. A basic human need, comfort is a drive so strong that it influences our behaviour even when we are asleep.
In fact, the root of all your sleeping problems may simply be from a lack of comfort. It’s not uncommon for the feeling of discomfort to be so small and subtle that it actually goes unnoticed, all the while disturbing your sleep and causing both short and long term impairment on your physical, mental and cognitive health.
Everyone has their own personal comfort profile, which means that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the most comfortable sleeping environment. Below you will find a wide range of practical solutions that you can implement today and that will help you achieve a better night's sleep.
Physical Contact Comfort
A good mattress is fundamental when it comes to good quality sleep. The wrong mattress will cause discomfort, making you spend more time tossing and turning and causing you to shift between light sleep and wakefulness. This means that you’ll be spending less time in refreshing deep and REM sleep.
Sleep School research suggests that there is a variation in people’s preferences when it comes to mattress firmness, with most people (46%) preferring a medium-firm mattress. Personal preferences over firmness can depend on many factors. For example, those who are overweight, have back pain or sleep on their front or back, will most likely benefit more from a firmer mattress. Equally, if you sleep on your side, or are a lighter individual then you may prefer a softer mattress.
Bed size is another important factor when considering your personal comfort. Both your body and room size must be taken into consideration, as it has been shown that sleeping in a bed that is too small for one’s body size increases the chance of sleeping on the side, which is an unhealthy sleeping position to adopt.
When it comes to the type of bedding, comfort is most definitely king. Cotton is the most commonly chosen fabric due to its breathability and softness, as well as due to the fact that it’s naturally hypoallergenic. Personal preferences will also define whether you opt for multiple layers of sheets and blankets or a heavier layer such as a high-tog duvet.
We all have a favourite sleeping position which we adopt based on what feels most comfortable. But not all of them are good for us. Luckily, there are certain steps you can take that will help minimise any unpleasant consequences such as neck and joint pain.
Lying on your back is considered the healthiest option as it keeps your head, neck, and spine aligned. Correct alignment is important to keep your body balanced and upright but also to protect your central nervous system. This can be further facilitated by the use of a low pillow height (between 7cm to 10cm).
Lying on your side has been shown to flatten the natural curve of the spine which can lead to lower back pain and neck strain, which can later cause a disturbance in your sleep. Memory foam mattresses are beneficial for side sleepers as they relieve pressure off the shoulders and hips. Higher pillows need to be used in order to match the elevation of your spine.
Sleeping on your front is considered the most unhealthy for your spine. When sleeping on your stomach your face turns on the side, which causes you to twist your neck. This position also places more pressure on our muscles and joints which again can lead to discomfort when you wake up. Tummy sleepers need to use softer down pillows to try and help take the pressure off the neck.
The foetal position, although is the most commonly adopted position, it places the spine out of neutral alignment and can, therefore, increase the chance of pain-related sleep disturbance.
As mentioned in the Temperature blog from our Sleep Essentials series, being too hot or too cold massively affects our comfort levels. A bedroom temperature of 16-18oC (60-65F) has been shown to be optimal for good sleep. Click here for some tips for creating the perfect temperature for your sleep.
When it comes to falling asleep, psychological comfort can be as important as physical comfort. Even if you create the most physically comfortable sleeping environment possible, unpleasant past experiences and personal biases can prevail, significantly affecting your sleep. Chronic insomniacs, for instance, are often able to drift off on the couch but the moment they enter their bedroom they feel wired and as far from sleep as possible. The reason behind this is often nothing more than the fact that their brains have associated their bedroom with unpleasant past experiences of tossing and turning in bed unable to sleep i.e. insomniacs lose their psychological comfort with their relationship with the bed.
Instead of battling these unhelpful thoughts, see if you can greet their arrival with comments such as ‘my mind is telling me that sleeplessness story again’. This will help change the way you relate to them, gradually changing your psychological relationship with your bed, allowing you to feel fully comfortable once again.
If you need help overcoming insomnia , we recommend our Sleep School for Insomnia App. It contains proven tools to help you fall asleep quicker, stay asleep and wake up feeling refreshed.