Health

While You Were Sleeping

October 28, 2021

The more we know about sleep, the more important we find out it is: it allows the body to repair, recover, learn and remember information, regulates metabolism and boosts the immune system. In an interview with Wired magazine, sleep scientist Aric Prather called sleep “the dishwasher of the brain,” in that it can help shift toxins that accumulate there and therefore prevent neurodegenerative diseases.

But not all sleep is created equal, and definitions can vary from one person to the next. “There is no universal predictor of good sleep,” says Sam Prochazka, CEO and founder of GoodMorning.com. “For example, some people might toss and turn all night but report having had a restful sleep, whereas others might remain perfectly still and report having had a restless sleep.”

“We have to define what is better sleep,” agrees Kristin Rondeau, national educator for Saje. “I think it’s consistent sleep, being able to fall asleep easily and stay asleep. And that can come from a consistent routine that tells your body, now is time to sleep.”  You also need to create a space that’s comfortable, from the right temperature to the right smell, and dedicated just to sleep.

The pandemic played merry hell with sleep patterns; Sleep Foundation even identified a new phenomenon, coronasomnia, where people who ordinarily slept well started to experience issues. Therefore, businesses that specialize in helping you sleep or improving your sleeping environment saw more customers. “There’s definitely been an increase in home goods purchases in that space,” says Lior Ohayon, founder of Hush Blankets. “When we ask customers why they’re buying our products, many answer that it’s about relieving anxiety and stress.”

Oana Papuc, co-founder of Vancouver linen specialist Flax Home, agrees.  “With everyone being home all the time, everyone has the impetus to make their living space more comfortable. And we’re all focused on rest, since this period has been taxing physically and psychologically.”

Perhaps your biggest and most important investment is your mattress, and choosing the right one can be daunting, but necessary; Prozachka says the average lifespan for a mattress is just eight to 10 years. “When choosing, two important things to consider are sleep position and body weight. Back sleepers and stomach sleepers require a mattress that is supportive in order to maintain proper spinal alignment. Side sleepers, on the other hand, should stay away from extremes and find a mattress that’s neither too soft nor too firm; if your body sinks in too much or too little when side sleeping, it may not relieve pressure points on your neck, shoulders and hips.”

He points out that people who weigh less than 150 pounds do not sink as deeply into a mattress as those who weigh more, so they should stick to the lower end of the firmness scale—something that rates around 3/10, versus a 6-10 firmness rating for those who weigh more than 200. Luckily, GoodMorning.com has an online mattress matchmaker quiz that can help you find the best fit for your body and sleep style.

Hush has just started making mattresses in response to consumer demand, but the business started with weighted blankets. Ohayon says these work under the principle of deep-touch pressure simulation—sleeping under one is a bit like being hugged, and causes your body to release hormones like serotonin and melatonin, and reduce cortisol. “It improves how deeply people sleep so they wake up more refreshed,” he explains. In the past, brands would recommend customers choose 10 per cent of their body weight, but Hush’s products tend to be larger so they go over the side of the bed, and heavier, so that two people sleeping together can feel the benefits.

Hush blankets come with a removable cover in either a furry fabric (for winter) or a silky bamboo that stays cool in summer (or if you are a hot sleeper all year round). Another beautiful option for bedding is linen. “My husband and I have different sleep temperatures. I am always cold—even in a heatwave I need a cover—and he is always hot,” says Papuc. “Linen is temperature regulating for both of us and temperature regulation is a big part of healthy sleep. Bedding can go a long way to maintaining that throughout the night.”

Even small accessories can make a big difference to sleep. “Slip silk pillowcases are anti-aging, anti-sleep crease and anti-bed head,” says the Aussie brand’s co-founder, Fiona Stewart. “In laboratory testing, [our] pillowcases were shown to absorb significantly less face cream than cotton pillowcases, so they keep your skin’s moisture and valuable face and hair products where they belong—on your face and hair.” Silk also creates less friction, which means you get reduced stretching and tugging on your skin.

Stewart says real silk is the best material by far for pillowcases and accessories like eye masks. However, if you want to avoid animal-derived products (silk comes from silkworms), there are other options. U.S. brand Silvi has a mulberry silk option, but it also makes pillowcases from bamboo fabric. These offer the beauty benefits of silk pillowcases, plus acne-fighting power because they’re infused with silver ions that can supposedly kill bacteria and dust mites.

Once you’ve got your bed fixed up, it’s time to work on the sleep routine, which is where essential oils can come in. “Scent is connected to our limbic system. If we incorporate them into a sleep routine, the body starts to recognize scents and react like, ‘When we smell this, we do this,’” says Rondeau. “When I use particular blends I know I’m going to lie down and relax.”

Saje has a broad range of products designed for sleep and relaxation. For people who have occasional sleep issues,  Tranquility contains lavender and chamomile, plus marjoram for deep breathing. “If we breathe deeply, we sleep deeply,” she explains. For those who have chronic and pronounced sleep issues, Sleep Well contains valerian, traditionally used as a sedative. Different ingredients work differently on different people—though there are some firm guiding principles, so it’s worth sampling a few different blends to find the one that suits you best.

Rondeau believes that, ultimately, having a good sleep routine is about self-care. “It’s saying that you deserve the things that will set you up for the rest of your day,” she says. “We should be prioritizing a sleep system and creating a routine like we do during our working life or for our physical fitness. If you want to be in optimal health, it starts with sleep—there’s no debating that.” —Aileen Lalor

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