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  • Katherine Wood

Sleep is a Basic Necessity:

How many times do you wake up “feeling like an 80-year-old”? In fact, when was the last time you slept peacefully the whole night and woke up refreshed? 


People seem to think it’s normal to have poor sleep, it’s been normalised along with countless other things. 


Sleep is a basic necessity like food and water, yet people compromise far too often on getting a good night's rest.  

It is recommended that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. It is vital for replenishing our energy and maintaining good health, quality of life and well-being throughout our lifetime. 


Good sleep isn’t just important, it is necessary! 


Why your sleep matters: 


Insomnia or difficulty getting and staying asleep long enough to feel refreshed the next day is a common problem, it regularly affects around one in every three people in the UK. One in three people accept bad sleep to be ‘normal’. Sleep deficiency can interfere with our work, performance, emotional regulation, and social situations. The seriousness of the negative health impacts extends further such as problems like high blood pressure, stroke, and depression. Chronic poor sleep can even increase the likelihood of developing dementia, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and even some types of cancer. The evidence is overwhelming, yet it’s another deadly impairment we have ‘normalised’. 


The number of people complaining of sleep disorders has been steadily increasing, with low back pain being one of the main contributors. 

Not only does low back pain affect sleep quality, but it’s also the top reason for middle-aged decrease in mobility. Experiencing back pain inhibits engagement in exercise, leading to a domino effect of weight gain, muscle loss, reduced stability, and balance. Reducing your back pain is essential for you to stay healthy.  


Low back pain can either be caused or perpetuated by a poor mattress and we spend a whopping one-third of our life lying in bed, so let’s start there. 




Increasing numbers of mattress companies promote the pretence of orthopaedic mattresses with little evidence supporting these claims. 


So, what does the evidence say?  


Medium firm mattresses are the superior choice on all parameters, with 75% of orthopaedic surgeons recommending a firm mattress. Benefits include: 


- Improved sleep quality 

- Decrease in back pain 

- Significant decrease in stress levels 

- Improved spinal alignment 

- Improves pain in bed, on rising and daytime pain and disability 


Not only is a firmer mattress better for your spinal health, but it also saves you money in the long run. Mattresses soften over time, with firm mattresses giving you more longevity for your money. Try putting plywood under the mattress to dampen movement from slats or bed springs to keep your mattress firm. 


Soft mattresses have been shown to do the opposite, spanning many adverse effects. Because soft mattresses allow your body to sink into them, they cause your spine to curve out of alignment, twisting your joints and causing them to become painful throughout the night. This has a knock-on effect:  


o Poor sleep posture 

o Increased pressure on the spine, contributing to pain 

o Can obstruct blood vessels 

o More movement during the night  

o Can disturb sleep 


This indicates that mattress stiffness can play a role in sleep disturbance and circulation during the night. 


Sleeping position: 


Side sleeping is researched to be the best position to sleep in, supporting and relieving pressure on your spine, allowing the muscles to relax and recover. It may also prove useful for those who snore or suffer from heartburn. 

In contrast to this, stomach sleeping is the worst position to sleep in, causing the greatest risk of neck and back strain. 



What is the right pillow? There is so much conflicting information, so I will tell you the researched facts.  

The cervical spine (neck) must be in neutral alignment with the rest of the body. Seems easy enough. Apart from the fact that we all have individual spinal alignments, my body build is not going to be the same as a 6-foot rugby player with broad shoulders.  

Many people believe contoured pillows to be the best option, however, the evidence is controversial and insufficient. How could one pre-set height serve every body type? 

A 2023 study has found that having an adjustable pillow that is set up to the correct height for your individual physique improved neck pain. They found that the material must not be compressible of more than 5mm in order to support your structure through the night. 

Let’s put that into context. For all of those duck down pillow lovers – you fluff up your pillow ready for bed, but what happens when you actually put your head on it – does it stay the same height? The answer is no, meaning your cervical alignment significantly changes.  


The most cost effective and efficient way around this is to fold up old towels and build them to the height needed for your specific body. If you need help with this, you can search ABC pillow height into YouTube (or click here) and find a tutorial using the ABC pillow and modify it using towels.  


My recommendation based on my own tried and tested experience: 


Waking up in pain after a disrupted sleep was something I used to tolerate for years (believing that was normal – it is NOT NORMAL). The mattress I have come to love is a very firm latex foam, offering much more support than memory foam. The firmer the better, your mattress will soften over time. It is highly durable, environmentally friendly and all-natural – all of which is important to me. I sleep on my side, using an ABC pillow and I sleep like a baby. 


There is no excuse to wake up stiff or in pain – look after your body so it can serve you for years to come. 





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