Do you ever wake up, after what you think has been a good night’s sleep, only to feel tired, sluggish, and ‘on edge’? You’re not alone. This is something many people are experiencing. And it’s because a good night’s sleep isn’t just about resting; it's about properly supporting your body and mind.
Quality vs. quantity
How was your sleep last night?
If you got your 8 hours and didn’t wake up too much throughout the night, you’d probably say that your sleep was good. But did you sleep well, or did you simply sleep for a decent amount of time?
The two are very different.
While the length of your sleep may be OK, the quality of that sleep can be quite poor. And when it comes to sleep, quality is just as important as quantity – perhaps even more so. Researchers are beginning to believe that sleep quality is superior to sleep quantity as an index for assessing sleep’.
Because quality sleep is key to supporting both physical and mental health.
In 2022, a study was published looking at the quality vs. quantity debate. Researchers examined the impact of cutting sleep quantity by two hours or more. Interestingly, they found that participants could live healthy, happy lives on a reduced amount of sleep. However, problems arose when the quality of that sleep was poor. Poor sleep quality was linked with a decline in overall health.
The sleep-health connection
Experts largely agree that poor quality sleep can increase the risk of developing a number of health conditions. This ranges from musculoskeletal disorders caused by suboptimal sleep posture to health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and kidney disease.
While it may sound strange that sleep deficiency could contribute towards these sorts of conditions, it’s entirely possible. The reason is that, although sleep may be a time of rest for you, it’s a time of maintenance for the body. When you sleep, your body is hard at work, producing and regulating hormones, and developing critical T-cells to boost the immune system. When the body isn’t able to carry out its maintenance tasks effectively, the likelihood of health conditions begins to increase.
So that explains the physical health side of things – but how about mental health?
The more physical stress your body is under, the more likely you are to develop a mental health condition such as stress, anxiety or depression. In fact, 1 in 3 people with a long-term physical health condition will go on to experience mental health concerns. Of course, it’s impossible to know if one causes the other, but what is clear is that physical pain can certainly make us feel worried and agitated.
And even if you’re not in physical pain, some mental health problems are still thought to be caused by – or exacerbated by – a lack of quality sleep. When you’re constantly tired, your attention span can decrease. You can struggle to retain information or behave productively. You can begin questioning your abilities. And in extreme cases, poor sleep can even cause hallucinations.
The secret to sleep? A great mattress
What so many of us need to be doing is working to improve sleep quality, rather than sleep quantity. And while there are a number of factors that contribute towards sleep quality – bedtime routine, medications, use of alcohol, and so on – choosing the right mattress is a crucial part of the puzzle.
And scientists agree.
One study examined the impact of different mattress types on sleep quality. The researchers found that people sleeping on ‘comfortable’ mattresses experienced more deep sleep and a better overnight body temperature than those sleeping on mattresses deemed to be ‘uncomfortable’.
So what is a ‘comfortable’ mattress? The study identified 3 key factors:
- Support for the curvature of the spine
- A bed surface that conforms to the body
- Balanced distribution of body pressure
These qualities can all be found in memory foam mattresses. These mattress types mould to the body shape and follow the natural curvature of the body while easing pressure on the joints.
But what many people don’t know is that memory foam mattresses come in all sorts of different varieties. Memory foam is often associated with being quite a soft mattress, but it depends on how thick a layer of memory foam is present. Memory foam mattresses can be very soft, or quite firm.
So what’s best?
According to the study we’ve just looked at, you can enjoy a more comfortable sleep when your lying position is similar to your standing position. So ideally, you want to feel as though you’re being supported on top of the mattress, rather than sinking into it. This is where a firm mattress can help.
However, it really depends on what sort of health problems you’re experiencing. For example, if you’re struggling with hip pain or joint pain, a medium firmness or softer mattress can help to alleviate the pressure. This creates a sleeping experience which is more comfortable for you personally.
Replacing your mattress
If you seem to have more aches and pains than before, or you’re noticing that your mental health isn’t as good as it once was, it’s important to get yourself checked out by a healthcare professional. However, the cause of the problem could be something as simple as having the wrong mattress.
The good news is that replacing your mattress doesn’t have to be costly. In fact, it’s possible to get a good, comfortable mattress that supports your physical and mental health for under £100. But during this difficult cost-of-living crisis, it’s understandable that many people are reluctant to spend. In this case, you might want to consider a memory foam mattress topper. A little less costly than a full mattress, a topper sits on top of your existing mattress to enhance the comfort.
Your health shouldn’t take a back seat. So neither should your sleep. You may be surprised at just how much you can improve your physical and mental health, simply by replacing your mattress.