Lumbar vs slumber: how to capture the perfect sleep
Your bed - possibly the most used and least appreciated piece of furniture in your entire house. That is, until you wake up one day with a crick in your neck.
Whose fault is it really? Probably yours. Most of us either keep quality pillows and mattresses far past their use-by date, accept already worn out pieces from family as hand-me-downs, or purchase the cheapest (and nastiest) options available.
Choosing the right mattress and pillow for optimum rest doesn't mean breaking the bank. You can start by listening to your back and keeping in mind a word from the experts.
THERE'S NO BLANKET FIX
First of all, the quality of sleep we get each night does directly influence our overall health. "It's enormous, probably very under estimated and it's very apparent in clinic when people describe a poor quality of sleep, what the lead on of these issues are," said Andrew Gibson, Treasurer of Osteopaths New Zealand.
A common belief held by many is that as we age, our need for sleep declines. Another is that cushy-soft equals good and firm equals bad. But Gibson has found with his patients that the hours needed, and what is comfortable for the individual, varies from person to person.
"It's not one size fits all, the first thing that's paramount is the mattress must be comfortable, because if it's not comfortable to that person, they will not sleep well."
"Sleep is incredibly important," said Doctor Hayden Thomas, spokesperson for the New Zealand Chiropractors' Association. "It's a time for the body to restore and to replenish its neurotransmitters, the chemicals in the brain and nervous system that signal information and also influence the immune system."
"It's essential to get good sleep for overall health. Especially considering we spend something like a third of our lives in bed. There can be all sorts of health problems linked to poor sleep. From mood and depression through to back pain, neck pain, headaches, and the longer term consequences of sleep deprivation as well."
A HARD CHOICE
"We all have our different levels of what suits us from a firmness perspective," said Gibson.
"My advice is, is the firmer the mattress you can handle, that is still comfortable for you, that's the one to go for."
An osteopath can help you to determine what's clinically a good idea for your body, but comfort is king.
"The theory is one thing and the practice is another, what might look like it should be great for a person, they may find is too difficult to get used to."
TAKE IT FOR A TEST SNOOZE
"It's very hard to prescribe a mattress without them actually lying on it," said Gibson. "It's really hard to lie in a showroom for 15 minutes, feeling quite self conscious, trying to get a sense of, 'Is this going to give me a sore neck?'"
So it's wise to make use of bed stores that have a returns policy.
"There's a prearranged agreement between most of them that if the mattress is not actually comfortable, then the customer has the right and ability to bring it back and exchange it," said Gibson. "Make sure they've got an agreement in place first so you can end up with a mattress you're happy with."
THE PERFECT PILLOW
Compliment your mattress choice with one comfortable pillow to get the best possible rest.
"That bed and pillow combination is actually quite key. Some people have a great bed but a poor pillow and vice versa," said Thomas. "It's really important to get the neck and the whole spine supported properly."
"The key things are," said Gibson, "if they're lying on their side, their neck should follow the line of their spine. So if they're quite broad, for example, a broad shouldered man would need a wider pillow to make sure that his head is not dropping down towards the mattress."
So if you're a small to average sized person sleeping with multiple pillows or a european pillow every night, you may need to examine your sleeping habits.
"If people are using more than one pillow you know they've got a problem," Gibson said, "and if they're using too much height then the head is getting pushed up and away from the mattress. On one side it's being stretched for hours, and on the other side of the neck, it's getting compressed."
"For some people, a contoured or memory foam pillow can be really helpful, but if they've got a short, stiff neck they can't cope very well with that sort of pillow. Sometimes a cotton wool pillow can be good. There are some fantastic natural products that I personally go for."
"There are all sorts of pillows out there and there's not one perfect choice for everyone," said Thomas.
NATURE KNOWS BEST
"I previously had Peace Pillows and they were very effective, they're designed by an osteopath, but I've actually just moved to a brand called In Nature, because they have a wider range and importantly, their latex is a natural latex."
"I personally prefer an all natural approach if it works as well as any other product," said Gibson, "I've just changed my own mattress and gone to a fully natural latex mattress. Because you spend a lot of time there, eight hours a night, and you're supposed to change your mattress every seven to eight years. When I looked into all the chemicals in memory foam, it reads like a petrochemical list. So personally I would rather have a natural product."
What about the other options - futons, gel mattresses, and air beds? Or better yet, that retro sleep solution with the motion of the ocean - water beds?
"They were great in the 70s," said Gibson. "I haven't looked into how they're making them now, if they've improved their technology. I had a water bed about 18 years ago, I didn't own it but I was renting a flat that had one and it was very unsupported. I personally found it far too soft. I never recommend them in clinic."
WHEN IS THE PRICE RIGHT?
"Quality of sleep we can always improve through modern technology and knowledge. There's different technologies, pocket spring, continuous coils; foams are coming out now, whether it's memory foam or latex. There's a lot of choice coming out now but it's a matter of finding out what works for the individual, so it's a big investment for people as well," said Thomas.
"I think for between $2000-$3500 you can get an excellent mattress that as an osteopath, I'd be very comfortable recommending," said Gibson.
"I personally wouldn't spend much more than that. I think you're better off buying something like that, keeping it for 7-10 years, and then change it. I would never recommend spending 10,000, it doesn't sit comfortably with me. Even if it's a better model, I don't think you're going to get a better product that won't one day be worn out."