Better sleep, better energy

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Invest in your bedroom and get a good night’s sleep.

It’s amazing how little value we attach to a good night’s sleep. Rather than investing in a new bed or high-quality natural bedding, we often neglect our bedroom environment. However, statistics show that back pain affects almost 80% of South Africans at some point in their lives, and the major cause of this is sleeping in discomfort. And, research shows, you can add to this list cranky moods, headaches and neck pain – all common symptoms of a bad night’s sleep. Since you spend, on average, a third of your life sleeping – don’t you think it’s time to create a better sleep environment?

Sleeping in comfort

According to Corné van Breemen, owner and manager of Good Night Linen (, you should consider your bedroom as your personal refuge where you can retreat from the noise, stresses and strains of everyday life. “The quality and length of your sleep is affected by your sleep environment,” she says. “Sleep comfort is essential to getting a good night’s rest, so that you can awaken physically and emotionally re-energised, ready to face a new day.”

Lise Parry, buying manager of Loads of Living (, agrees: “We don’t really need to be told we perform better after a good night’s rest; we know it. For starters, the ideal sleeping temperature, based on scientific evidence, is 18°C to 23°C. Products made from natural fibres such as linen, cotton or silk are the best – they remain cool in summer and do not cause the same level of perspiration that synthetic fabrics do. This also applies to natural inners, which allow for breathability, ensuring that body heat is kept inside the covers in cold weather and allowed to escape naturally in hot weather.

Choose wisely

When it comes to sheets, mattresses and pillows, there is no one-size-fits-all. Everyone has different needs and preferences, so it might be challenging to find the type of fabric, filling, weight and texture that works best for you. “To make it a little easier, concentrate on how the product makes you feel and affects your sleep comfort, rather than the colour, pattern and style,” says Van Breemen.

Interior consultant Anna Correia, of, suggests visiting an array of retailers to conduct a “rest test” – lie on an array of beds in your usual sleeping position.

In addition, when choosing a mattress, do your research and then try them out with your sleeping partner, says Parry. “Mattresses can be an expensive investment, so make sure you are happy with your choice and that it caters to your needs,” she adds.

“When it comes to pillows, they all look pretty the same to the untrained eye, but if you peek beneath the covers, you’ll find a bewildering array of fillings, such as soft, traditional down and feathers, latex foam, polyester gel and memory foam – even exotic materials such as buckwheat hulls.”

Parry explains that while comfort is of primary importance, it should not be your only consideration. You also have to think about neck support, potential allergens and long-term durability. As a general guide, if you sleep on your back, you should have a firmer mattress than those who sleep on their stomachs, and a soft support pillow is recommended for stomach-sleepers, versus a firm support for those who are side-sleepers.

For good health

Dr Guy Ashburner, a Cape Town osteopath, recommends a firmer mattress over the use of a soft feather mattress. However, he says, if the mattress is too hard, it may create strain on your spine. “So, when lying on your side, your hips and shoulders would be supported, but not your waist.” Your spine is then forced to curve or side-bend down towards the bed’s surface to gain support. “This unusual, unsupported position places strain on the spinal ligaments, so eventually pain wakes you, or there are problems the next morning, such as discomfort or stiffness.” Ashburner says the combination of weak ligaments from being too sedentary, or having a slumped posture at work, as well as degenerative disc changes, creates abnormal spinal alignment.

“A bad bed can be a contributing factor to aggravating an old back problem.” It may even be the cause of spinal joint strain, with associated neurological symptoms, such as sciatica, he adds.

“A good bed offers a surface that allows you to sink into it a little, so that your curves and body shape may be accommodated. The major function of a bed is to provide a comfortable, neutral position for the spine. A medium-firm mattress is the recommended optimum firmness,” he says. “A mattress that seems perfect in one position actually might cause some strain on your back in another, so it is important to spend sufficient time in each position to establish how it really feels.”

He recommends talking to your osteopath or specialist about the best sleeping postures for you, which will lessen the impact on your neck and lumbar spine.

The best sleeping position will depend on the level of pain you are suffering, as well as your specific diagnosis. If you don’t have a diagnosis for your neck, back and shoulder pain, it would be advisable to address this first by consulting your local osteopath or doctor.

“Pillows also play a big role in the quality of your sleep, and, once again, it is a good idea to consult your osteopath about this topic and then follow his recommendations,” he says.

“Essentially, your spine needs to be in a neutral position. If you are lying on your side, the space between the side of your face and the bed needs to be filled with a pillow. Too much or too little pillow will cause your neck to bend in an awkward fashion, causing potential neck strain.

If you are lying on your back, one small pillow will suffice. Too many pillows cause the neck to flex forward and create strain.”

Creating a refuge of sleep

“The bedroom is a place for relaxation and rest, so soothing, subtle colours in the softer tones of naturals, greens, blues, greys, pinks and white work best,” says Correia.  “In addition to colour, wall-to-wall carpeting creates a warm and comforting feel.” She adds that windows can also be decorated to suit the space, and recommends that curtains be lined with block-out lining to darken the room for optimal sleeping. “Not only do they block out sunlight; they also assist in noise absorption. Lighting plays a huge role, and bedside lights will always be part of the equation. Choose these well, especially if you like to read before bed, and make sure your lamp is adjustable,” she says. “If you’re not an avid reader then a standard lamp and shade is the way to go.” She suggests getting rid of all the clutter in your bedroom and keeping the space a “no-TV-zone”.

“My pet hate is aTV in a bedroom, as they interrupt the look and feel of a space that is meant to be calming. Rather surround yourself with books and magazines that will help you to unwind after a long day.”

Ashburner points out the importance of sleeping in a completely darkened room. “Light during the night depresses your immune system,” he says. “Even a dim source, such as a bedside clock or a night light, may switch melatonin production off, so keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Quality sleep has been linked to balanced hormone levels and an improved mood.”

Bedding and sleeping disorders

A great incentive to spend money on a pillow is one that guarantees snoring to stop. Says Parry: “Almost all treatments for snoring revolve around clearing the blockage in the breathing passage. Pillows can assist with that – there are occasions when snoring is the result of an incorrect sleeping position. Sometimes, sleeping with too many pillows can stretch and narrow the air passage. Using one well-selected pillow can avoid that. Also, lying on your back can cause snoring. So, a change in sleeping position can help.”

Parry also believes that if none of these tips help you sleep better and more comfortably, you might suffer from insomnia, which is often a symptom of another problem, such as stress, anxiety, depression, or an underlying health condition. Van Breemen points to allergies as another hindrance to a good night’s sleep. “Allergy to feather pillows and pet hair is a common cause of severe snoring. If you have feather bedding, you may well find that, by changing to synthetic fibre-filled bedding, you can eliminate the snoring overnight. Similarly, you may be allergic to pet hair, and your snoring may be worse if your pet has been in your bedroom or sitting on your bed.”

Busting the bedding myths

MYTH: The higher the thread count, the higher the quality. “This is not true,” says Van Breemen. “Cotton sheets are the preferred choice because they’re smooth and cool against your skin, and quality depends on the yarn used and the finishing process that the fabric is subjected to. Additionally, anything higher than a 400-thread count becomes un-washable due to the inability of the water to pass through the fabric.”

MYTH: Mattresses and pillows never need replacing. “It is advisable to change your mattress every five to 10 years. If your mattress looks tacky, worn out and dented, and you are not having a good night’s sleep on it, then you know it is time for a new mattress,” says Correia. “As for pillows, I would advise changing every five years. This is a personal issue, as many people hang onto their pillows for life. Once the foam has worn out and becomes lumpy, or the feathers are not maintaining and your neck or shoulders are constantly in pain, then you know it’s time to replace your pillows.”

MYTH: Any old mattress or pillow will do the job. “Our backs support a complex system of vertebrae, discs, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves – and our spine is naturally designed to work well in an upright position, but the moment we lie down on beds and pillows that fail to provide proper support, the spinal components are subjected to considerable stresses and tension. This lack of back support can aggravate an existing back condition, leading to back pain and costly visits to chiropractors,” says Van Breemen.

MYTH: All “orthopaedic-quality” beds are made equal. “Be aware that ‘orthopaedic-quality’ beds are usually too hard,” says Ashburner. “The fact that the bed is hard does not necessarily mean it’s the best for your body. Too hard or too soft is not the answer. Find a comfortable bed surface that can support you, and then the rest of the mattress should be firm enough to stop you sinking in too far.”

When the bedbugs bite…

Bedbugs can enter your home through luggage, clothing, second-hand beds, furniture and other items. Because of their tiny size, they are difficult to detect, as they hide in nooks and crannies, coming out only at night to feed. Your home might be immaculate, yet you may still have bedbugs.

Signs that you’re sharing the bed with bedbugs:

  • Tiny blood stains on your sheets or pillowcases.
  • Dark spots of bedbug excrement, egg shells or shed skins in areas where they hide.
  • An offensive or musty smell in your bedding.

Getting rid of bedbugs:

  • Clean your bedding, linen, curtains and clothing in very hot water.
  • Scrub down your mattress seams before vacuuming.
  • Steam-clean regularly.
  • If all else fails, call the exterminator.

For more information

Dr Ashburner’s website,, has a list of practising osteopaths.


By Charlene Yared-West


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