The sleep environment: bedding
How important is it to maintain an appropriate sleeping environment (your bedroom)? Do we really need to give it much thought? Don’t we just get tired and pass out? If you think like this then good for you- it sounds like your sleep is great! But is it? It’s not uncommon for us to wake up feeling unrefreshed, or like we could do with a few more hours sleep despite seemingly sleeping soundly all night. These feelings can affect our days, and feelings of sleepiness/lack of concentration can interfere at the most inappropriate of times – like in a meeting or when we are driving. Interestingly a lot of us feel this is the norm and that we have no control over it. There are many things we can do that will improve sleep significantly. One of those things is our bedding. Why?
First and foremost is temperature. Temperature significantly affects our sleep and of course bedding can be a considerable influence on our temperature. Secondly is comfort- if your bedding is uncomfortable it will significantly affect your ability to get to sleep quickly and stay asleep without becoming restless. Thirdly the materials we use in bedding can exacerbate allergies. All these issues can cause frequent awakening at night and weakens the important processes that go on in our sleep that help us live longer, feel better, with less issues.
So what bedding is best? The answer might be wool – not something that comes to mind when we think of bedding. It turns out, scientists have tested wool along with other bedding materials to see which induced the best quality of sleep.
Wool was found to induce both longer and deeper sleep, with those sleeping on wool bedding waking less frequently during the night. These affects were amplified the hotter the temperature, with people in wool sleeping over 20 minutes longer compared to other types of bedding. More interestingly, wool was found to improve the duration and quality of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This stage of sleep is theorised to be most important for memory consolidation and most people associate it with dreaming. This stage of sleep is quite active and light compared to other areas of our sleep and it’s fairly easy to be woken out of REM sleep for a few seconds during the night, causing excessive sleepiness and a feeling of poor quality sleep in the mornings, especially as we age.
The reason wool seems to be able to improve sleep this way seems to be it’s ability to maintain a stable body temperature. Due to the way wool fibres are arranged it has the ability to carry perspiration away from the skin. This helps cool during warm temperatures. The arrangement of fibres in the wool also trap air so when it is cold, we are kept warmer. Thus leading to less waking up episodes in the night and a more continuous cycle of sleep, including REM sleep.
Children will often wake frequently during the night due to temperature so not only is wool ideal for adults, it can be used for the whole family. Wool it turns out, is also naturally hypoallergenic, which means it is less likely to aggravate a child’s skin, causing rashes, eczema or other skin disorders. It can even be of benefit for people with asthma, as the natural fibres help deter dust mites and other allergens.
From a Sleep Physiologist point of view- this is impressive. I wanted to see the results for myself. That’s when I came across the Devon Duvet Company. One of the first companies to tap into wools potential for sleep. When looking at new products these days there are several ways to influence me – first and foremost is evidence-based practice as well as environmental impact and ethical factors.
The Devon Duvet Company is providing locally sourced, environmentally and ethically friendly wool. They recycle anything they don’t need – giving to charity what they don’t use themselves. Devon Duvets’ wool duvets, pillows and mattress toppers are all individually handcrafted in their Devon workshop using high quality natural materials. They only accept the best grade wool from well-regulated British farms from summer/spring-shorn sheep and never from the slaughterhouse or winter sheering. The wool itself stays in British mills for cleaning and processing without the use of bleaches or chemicals to retain the natural properties of the wool.
When I received my bedding it felt soft and light despite the duvet being appropriate for all seasons. I was advised to use 100% cotton duvet covers in order to allow the wool to breathe and do its job well, these are easy to find and most duvet covers tend to be made like this. The pillows that came with the duvet were really interesting. They could be unrolled and re rolled to suit your own comfort needs- and they still came in different firmness ratings- 1, 2 or 3. I had a pillow firmness of 2 and another of 3 for my partner.
The first thing I noticed was how nice it felt to get into bed. I am used to Duvets that take a while to warm up, can be noisy and quite thick. This duvet was like a whole other experience. A nice standard temperature greeted me – I didn’t feel cold getting in to the duvet nor did I suddenly feel overheated. Getting to sleep was easy; the noise from the duvet was barely there compared to what I was used to. The sleep itself was…uneventful. I didn’t wake up during the night and when I woke up in the morning I was rested and warm without being overheated. I do tend to feel the cold more than most people.
My partner reported that he didn’t get too hot- which is his worst nightmare and completely opposite to my needs. We tend to forget that when sleeping in the same bed with a partner, usually the needs of one aren’t the needs of the other and its perfectly understandable that some of us actually sleep better alone. However, this duvet seemed to work for both of us.
All in all I am impressed that the duvet has added to our sleep quality and continues to do so.
Any downsides? As with most natural products, there is a slight ‘wool’ smell to the duvet when you first open it out, eventually going away with use. If you’re not keen on the natural smell, air out the duvet on a nice sunny day in the garden before use.