We spend a third of lives doing it. It’s vital to our health and wellbeing. And yet we don’t always pay enough attention to what we do it on!

The answer of course is sleep – something that every single one of us does without giving too much thought to just how important a good bed is to a good night’s sleep. And how important good sleep is to how well we cope with everyday life

So, just for starters, here are a few good reasons why sleep is so important:

• Lack of sleep suppresses your immune system making you more vulnerable to infections and metabolic and hormone changes.
• Sleep ‘debts’ can diminish your levels of concentration and make you liable to swings in temper and depression.
• Sleep can also affect our learning and problem solving capabilities. The more REM sleep we have, the easier it is to retain things that were learned the day before. Problems that appear insoluble can become clear in the morning.
• According to the British Sleep Foundation, for the average person who needs eight hours sleep, losing even one hour can lower your IQ by one point the next day.
• Research from the University of Chicago found skipping beauty sleep will make you old. Sleeping four hours a night for less than a week hits the body’s ability to process and store carbohydrates and regulate hormone levels. These changes mimic many of the hallmarks of advanced ageing.
• Extreme sleep deprivation brings hallucinations and difficulty speaking and moving.
• Lack of sleep can be life threatening. Recent research has revealed that falling asleep while driving is estimated to cause 10% of all road accidents – and up to 20% on monotonous roads such as motorways.
• A 30-minute nap can reverse information overload. A midday siesta is all you need to return the brain to its wide-awake state of receptiveness.
• One night’s sleep deprivation can lead to impaired attention, increased sleepiness, increased perception of muscle tension and increased hostility.
• Performance in sport or creativity (eg playing a musical instrument) can be improved by as much as 20% after a good night’s sleep.

So getting a good night’s sleep is as important to our wellbeing as a good diet and regular exercise and in the same way that it’s important to follow a few simple rules in order to eat well and exercise sensibly, these are The Sleep Council’s top ten tips for a getting good night’s sleep:

1. Keep regular hours. Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time, all the time, will programme your body to sleep better. Choose a time when you are most likely to feel sleepy.

2. Create a restful sleeping environment. Your bedroom should be kept for rest and sleep and it should be neither too hot, nor too cold; and as quiet and dark as possible.

3. Make sure your bed is comfortable. It’s difficult to get deep, restful sleep on one that’s too soft, too hard, too small or too old.

4. Take more exercise. Regular, moderate exercise such as swimming or walking can help relieve the day’s stresses and strains. But not too close too bedtime or it may keep you awake!

5. Cut down on stimulants such as caffeine in tea or coffee – especially in the evening. They interfere with falling asleep and prevent deep sleep. Have a hot milky drink or herbal tea instead.

6. Don’t over-indulge. Too much food or alcohol, especially late at night, just before bedtime, can play havoc with sleep patterns. Alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, but will interrupt your sleep later on in the night.

7. Don’t smoke. Yes, it’s bad for sleep, too: smokers take longer to fall asleep, wake more often and often experience more sleep disruption.

8. Try to relax before going to bed.. Have a warm bath, listen to some quiet music, do some yoga – all help to relax both the mind and body. Your doctor may be able to recommend a helpful relaxation tape, too.

9. Deal with worries or a heavy workload by making lists of things to be tackled the next day.

10. If you can’t sleep, don’t lie there worrying about it. Get up and do something you find relaxing until you feel sleepy again – then go back to bed.

A good bed, regularly replaced can make a big difference to how well you sleep, but if you’re not sure whether you need a new bed or not, try this simple bed MOT (Mattress Obsolescence Test!)

With normal wear and tear a bed should last around seven years. You should do the MOT test annually after about 5 years. If you answer ‘Yes’ to three questions, you’re not getting the best possible night’s sleep. Five or more ‘Yes’ answers and it’s time to buy a new bed.
• Is the bed seven years old or more?
• Do you ever wake up with neck or back ache?
• Is the mattress cover torn or stained?
• When lying in bed, do you feel springs or ridges beneath the surface?
• When moving in bed do you hear creaks, crunches or other suspicious noises?
• Do you and your partner roll towards each other unintentionally?
• Is the bed too small to give an undisturbed night’s sleep?
• Is the divan or base uneven or sagging?
• Are the legs and castors worn out?
• Would it be embarrassing if the neighbours saw the bed without its covers?

A ground-breaking 1998 study conducted by top British sleep expert Dr Chris Idzikowski for The Sleep Council concluded that you may get a better night’s sleep by buying a new bed rather than popping a sleeping pill. The study found that people on uncomfortable beds slept nearly one hour less than those on comfortable beds and that when replacing an uncomfortable bed, a new bed was associated with an increase of 42 minutes’ sleep – much greater than the increase associated with sleeping pills!

When you do come to buy a new bed, the choice and variety available may initially seem a little overwhelming, so here are a few tips to help you through the bed-buying maze:

• It’s important to decide your priorities and concerns in advance. For example, is it price, storage, access to bedroom, turning the mattress, getting in and out of bed, overall size or shape, a health issue, etc that matters to you most?
• If possible, try a selection of beds for comparison before you buy.
• Buy for correct support and comfort for your weight and build – not just firmness.
• Lie down in your normal sleeping position and make some turns, too. Wear comfortable clothing and remove any outdoor gear.
• Try it together, if the bed’s for two.
• Don’t forget a bed is a mattress and a base working together – don’t consider them in isolation.
• Think big – larger beds are more comfortable.
• You get what you pay for – both in product and service – so spend as much as you can afford.

Remember, you’re going to spend over 20,000 hours on your bed during its (seven year) lifespan so it’s worth taking a little time and effort in the beginning to make sure you make the right choice.

For more information about buying a new bed, you can obtain a copy a free copy of The Sleep Council’s Bed Buyers Guide, telephone 0800 018 7923 or visit the web site at www.sleepcouncil.com

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