Sleep & Mattresses

Understanding the Importance of Sleep and the Right Mattress

Why Do We Sleep?

We need sleep in order to function properly during our waking hours. Some people think of sleep as a cessation of all physical and mental activity, like hitting the pause button on the body. In reality, sleep is an active state where the body performs essential maintenance to ensure both physical and mental well-being. Without this maintenance, the body would weaken and the mind would become cluttered with disorganized thoughts.

Physical Importance of Sleep

During deep sleep, the body produces a hormone called HGH, which repairs tissues and recharges the immune system. We only produce HGH while asleep, which makes getting rest paramount to keeping up with physical health. Sleep is also the time when growing bodies develop. Additionally, the body performs metabolic functions during sleep, and scientists have observed a link between getting normal sleep and maintaining a healthy body weight.

Mental Importance of Sleep

Though we tend to think our minds shut down for sleep, the brain is busy at work sorting and filing the events, thoughts, and emotions we experienced through the waking day. This storing process converts short-term memories into long-term memories so we can easily recall past events. Since we constantly take in information during the waking day, sleep gives the brain time to recharge for another day of input.

What Happens During Sleep?

While asleep, the body switches between two basic states: non-rapid eye movement sleep (non-REM or NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Both are essential to health, as physical maintenance occurs during non-REM sleep and the brain recharges during REM sleep.

The Sleep Cycle

Further examination of the sleep cycles shows that the body goes through five stages while asleep. The first four phases make up non-REM sleep and lead into the final stage of REM sleep. After the final REM stage, the process begins again. A complete sleep cycle (all five stages) takes about an hour, and the body should go through about eight cycles each night.

The Five Stages of the Sleep Cycle

Stage 1:
The link between being awake and being asleep, the first stage of the sleep cycle gently eases you from wakefulness to sleep. If broken from the first stage, individuals will not think to have been asleep at all. Stage one typically lasts from five to 10 minutes.

Stage 2:
The actual onset of sleep, stage two marks a decrease in heart rate, breathing, and body temperature. In this stage, the body prepares to enter deep sleep. Brain activity slows down but shows spikes of activity. We spend approximately half of the sleep cycle in stages one and two.

Stages 3 and 4:
Typically categorized together, stages three and four represent the deepest states of sleep. Here, the body begins essential restorative functions. Blood pressure drops, blood flow to the muscles increases, and tissues growth and repair takes place. The body releases HGH, and growth and development, such as bone building and muscle repair, take place. During this deep-sleep state, the brain emits extremely slow delta waves, which makes it difficult to break out of sleep. Individuals awoken during stage three or four usually experience disorientation and may not remember conversations that take place if they go back to sleep within a few minutes.

Stage 5 (REM):
The body becomes immobile, and the eyes dart back and forth in rapid succession, which gives the stage the nickname rapid eye movement. The brain experiences heightened activity similar to being awake, and as a result we experience our most vivid dreams. The mind performs essential memory consolidation functions during this stage, and dreams are theorized to be a byproduct of the process.

Stage five occurs after about an hour and a half of falling asleep and lasts for about 10 minutes. After stage five completes, the cycle begins again. As the night progresses, the length of REM sleep tends to increase with each cycle and the amount of deep sleep decreases. By morning, we almost entirely experience REM and stages one and two of the cycle. In total, we usually spend a little over two hours, a quarter of the night, in REM sleep.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Age plays the primary role in determining the amount of sleep an individual needs. Infants require the most sleep, needing about 16 to 18 hours per day. By preschool, children need about 11 to 12 hours of sleep a day. Teenagers usually need nine hours of sleep to feel fully rested. Most adults require between seven and eight hours of sleep to function normally. Additionally, if you have been deprived of sleep, the amount of sleep needed to feel rested increases. When trying to "catch up," you fall into REM sleep sooner and stay in the stage longer than normal.

Common Effects of Getting Too Little Sleep

Physical Effects of Lack of Sleep

Lack of sleep can cause physical impacts of a weaker immune system and higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Individuals frequently deprived of sleep may experience weight gain. A sleep research study performed at the University of Colorado indicated that an adult that gets less than six hours of sleep every night can gain two pounds in a week.

Mental Effects of Lack of Sleep

Sleep deprivation can cause striking psychological effects, too, like moodiness, inability to focus, and short-term memory loss. These effects can inhibit children from learning and decrease productivity at work. Frequent sleep loss has also been linked to developing signs of depression. With extreme sleep loss, psychological effects escalate to hallucinations. Lack of sleep can be dangerous for drivers, as driving requires constant attention. Some studies show that being awake for over 18 hours can cause impairment similar to being legally drunk.

How Your Mattress Can Cause You to Lose Sleep

Sleeping on an inferior mattress may cause improper spinal alignment and offer uneven weight distribution. These problems lead to pressure build up in the lower back and the shoulders and disrupted blood circulation. As a result, individuals toss and turn throughout the night frequently breaking out of the sleep cycle. This lengthens the amount of time to complete one cycle and results in fewer completed cycles in a night.

Your body loses the ability to regulate its temperature during REM sleep. Abnormal temperatures in the sleeping environment can break you out of the sleep cycle. Inferior mattresses tend to trap and store body heat, which can then cause you to wake up by feeling overheated.

Sleeping on the right mattress remains essential to getting healthy sleep. Anyone troubled with sleep loss should consider the possibility that their mattress is at fault. In many cases, a new mattress serves as the quickest and easiest solution to obtaining the proper amount of sleep.

Sleeping Positions

No one person sleeps the same way and your choice in mattress eventually reflects as much. Some sleep on their side, while others on the stomach or the back, and still more favor a combination, sometimes of all three. Each sleep position speaks to different aspects of the personality of the individual sleeper. Choosing the proper mattress depends on multiple factors, with sleep style playing a crucial part in determining the best sleep surface while mattress shopping.

Each position speaks volumes about personality and has been corroborated by multiple studies. For instance, Professor Chris Idzikowski, Director of the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service (SAAS) in the United Kingdom analyzed the most common sleeping positions and linked each to particular personalities. In essence, each person's sleep style will also correlate to the type of mattress needed, as each position requires varied support. With a need for better posture, a good night's sleep, and overall comfort, each sleep style plays a role in each necessity.

Side Sleepers
More people sleep on their sides than any other position, though not all side sleepers are created equal. Most sleep in the fetus position, curled up on their side as if still in the womb. According to Idzikowski's study, more than twice as many women adopt this sleeping style than men. The study states that such sleepers show a tough exterior but remain sensitive at heart. While shy at first, this type of person eventually relaxes. When sleeping on the side, alleviation of certain pressure points may become necessary, leading to certain mattress needs.

Two other types of side sleepers are called the log and the yearner. Log sleepers lay on the side with both arms against the body. Considered easygoing socialites, log sleepers typically trust strangers but may also end up somewhat gullible. Finally, the yearner sleeps with both arms out in front of the body while lying on the side. The study relates that yearners may have a suspicious nature and may come across as cynical and tend to stick to decisions once made. All side sleepers require a mattress that refrains from putting undue stress on the shoulder and hips, meaning a slightly softer sleep surface that accommodates the natural curve of the body.

Stomach Sleepers
Another common way of sleeping is on the stomach. Known as the freefall, sleepers tend to lay on their front, with the hands around the pillow and head turned to one side. The study found that freefall sleepers may act expressively and appear brash at times. Furthermore, freefallers may prove to be thin-skinned and not take criticism well. Requiring a firm, stiff sleep surface, stomach sleepers may suffer from lower back pain, making mattress shopping focus on keeping the body level instead of sunken in. Spine alignment remains crucial when selecting a mattress if the sleeper typically sleeps on the stomach.

Back Sleepers
For people who sleep on the back, they typically do so in one of two ways: the soldier or the starfish. The soldier lies on the back with both arms pinned to the sides, while the starfish lies on the back with both arms up around the pillow. Soldier sleepers remain quiet and reserved, not liking to fuss, but setting themselves and others to high standards in everyday life. The starfish tends to be a bit friendlier, ready to listen to others, and will help when needed. At times shy, starfish do not typically wish to appear the center of attention. Sleeping on the back tends to add pressure to the lower back. Finding a mattress that accommodates both a stiff innerspring and a soft top may suit back sleepers best to maintain proper posture.

How Does Sleep Position Affect Buying a Mattress?
While each category of sleep positions may stand alone or combine during a night of rest, the health benefits of each remain crucial to choosing the right mattress. While sleeping on the stomach promotes better digestive health, laying on the back may lead to sleep apnea, common snoring, and just a general bad night's sleep, which in turn leads to grumpiness while awake. Sleeping on the side may be detrimental to some of the vital organs over time but may also help with acid reflux and sleep apnea. Nevertheless, while shopping for a mattress, knowing your personality and your basic needs should help when picking the best sleep surface. Trying out mattresses while in the store for up to 20 minutes on each mattress may help with the selection, as well.

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