A visit to a department store with an open mind might just give you more to think about than you bargain for.
On the second floor to your right, the savvy salesperson in the Electronics and Games Department has probably already made an impression on you. His/her profoundly intricate knowledge of gadgets, plasmas, complicated remotes, and high speed some- thing or others leaves you gobsmacked. Every ram, byte, rom, USB, hardware, and plug will be discussed in infinite possibilities, colours, tones, notes, allegros, nuances, games, desires, and most probably end up in exorbitant charges to your already abused credit card.
She shares her wisdom in relation to colours, textures, and maybe the importance of finding a mattress that feels nice, cozy and comfortable when we lie on it... but what about the “science”? What about the importance of sleeping in an anatomical neutral position? Or how to prevent dust mite and fungi spore infestation? What about Micro-clima and Eco labels? Is she trained to provide an independent assessment? Is she aware of the more than 150 substances used to make mattresses that are toxic and harmful to us? It is not her fault... the science of mattresses is very new despite the fact that we spend one third of our lives on them.
Sleep can be partially denied as a vital and essential physiological process required to keep all animals (including us) alive. Lack of sleep can cause death but only after a very painful transit through depression and outbursts of insanity. This definition is only a partial one because it should include the fact that healthy sleep is as important as clean air or good nutrition.
Many mattress salespeople can enlighten us on “technology” such as the recent trends in colour and comfort, but most are ignorant of and are unable to demonstrate the “science” of choosing the right sleep platform.
Here is the science behind choosing the right mattress. Following Prof Allan Hedge from the Department of Ergonomics of the Cornell University a mattress needs to be:
1. Designed to conform to the spine’s natural curves and keep the spine in alignment when the person is lying down.
2. Designed to distribute pressure evenly across the body helping circulation, decreasing body movement and enhancing sleep quality.
3. Designed to minimise the transfer of movement from one sleeping partner to another.
This means that a mattress must allow shoulders and hips to recede in order to maintain a relatively parallel line between the spine and the mattress when the person is lying in the side position. See the following illustration:
Furthermore, a good mattress should create a suitable micro-climate to ensure that the person is not interrupted in his/her sleep by heat or cold during the night. At the same time, the materials used in the manufacturing of the mattress determine humidity levels in the micro-climate under normal sleeping conditions.
In relation to mattress hygiene, there is a lesson to be learnt. The more a mattress can be cleaned and/or washed, the higher the chances are that the mattress will not transform itself into a contributor to illnesses like asthma or eczema. The ideal solution to this enormous health challenge has not yet been found, but scientific studies point out that a reduction in allergens and micro-organisms in our sleep environment can only be of benefit. The Sydney Children's Hospitals Network found that washing of bedding at usual washing temperatures removes more than 95% of allergens but does not kill dust mites. Temperatures above 60 degrees are required to kill dust mites.
Lastly, the fact that the majority of mattresses we find on the market, for example, are made using substances that have not been toxicologically tested. A good sign of sound toxicological testing is the Oeko-tex label. This Institution is the leading testing organisation in the World in relation to textile safety for human consumption.
So, let’s summarise:
1. A good mattress should be ergonomically correct. This means the natural curves of your spine should be maintained in any position.
2. You should not feel the movements of your partner.
3. The pressure on the supported areas of your body should be minimal.
4. Your mattress, together with your quilt should create a balanced micro-climate to moderate temperature.
5. Your mattress, pillows, and quilt should have been tested by a recognized Eco-Label Institution like Oeko-tex.
6. You should be able to wash the covers, quilts and pillows for hygiene purposes.
Remember, all the scientfic requirements can be achieved without having to sleep on a cold and tasteless operating theatre table. There are companies out there who specialise in creating great looking beds while still following high health standards.