As technology continues to embed itself deeper into our daily lives it blurs the lines of what we consider working hours.
Many of us continue to work after we get home or even check emails from bed. And while it may give us flexibility, it is also costing us our sleep health.
Twenty years ago Dr Carmel Harrington quit her job as a lawyer to get a PhD in Sleep Medicine.
“When I first started my friends thought I was having a lend of them because then we didn’t think sleep was a thing you could study. Most people didn’t think of sleep at all, we didn’t think there was anything important about it.”
Now, Harrington is an internationally recognised sleep expert, the managing director of Sleep for Health and an honorary research fellow at the Children’s Hospital Westmead. She is also the author of “The Sleep Diet” and “The complete guide to a good night’s sleep”.
According to an economic report commissioned by the Sleep Health Foundation, in 2010 almost 10% of the Australian population suffered from a sleep disorders.
The “Re-Awakening Australia” report, conducted by Deloitte Access Economics, also found that indirect financial costs associated with sleep disorders and conditions was estimated to be $4.3 billion in 2010. This includes $3.1 billion in lost productivity due to premature workforce separation and mortality, and absenteeism.
Overall, it found the total cost associated with sleep disorders in Australia to be a whopping $36.4 billion.
“I liken the attitude change [to the way we think about sleep] to the fast food trend,” says Harrington.
“As fast food became popular we starting eating whatever we want — and now we’re paying for it. Now with digital world we can stay up and work around the clock and now we’re not getting the sleep we need.
“It has absolutely got out of hand. We’re a world of poor sleepers.”
From medicinal therapies to mediation practices, many industries are now benefiting from improving how people sleep.
But one key player is completely reinventing itself to do so: the humble mattress.
Until recently the business of making mattresses has been relatively straightforward. But as sleep health becomes a higher priority, these business are innovating, and fast.
Earlier in the year we spoke to Koala Mattress, the company going viral for its Facebook videos and promises to have its mattresses shipped within four hours of an order being placed.
Now, A.H. Beard is getting in on the game.
The fourth generation, family-owned Australian business may have started in 1899 but it’s by no means old school.
It’s latest product is Sleepsense, an adjustable bed with built-in sleep tracking capabilities.
Linked to a smartphone app, users are able to personalise their sleeping experience according to results recorded by the mattress.
The built-in sensors in the bed measure a list of criteria such as time slept, times out of bed, how long you were snoring for, resting heart rate and more. Using these statistics, the app calculates a sleep efficiency score, and users can then adjust the firmness and position of the bed to get a better sleep.
“It’s the first bed that actually allows you to act on sleep tracking data, meaning that you can actively improve your sleep quality to give you the best sleep you’ve ever had, night after night,” said Paul Blewett, group manager at A.H. Beard.
We decided to put the bed to the test to see what all the hype was about.
So, here it is, hosted by the Old Clare Hotel in Chippendale, Sydney.
First impressions: It’s huge.
This specific mattress is the Sleepsense Vibrancy with sleep tracker, on the split king Genius adjustable base. This means that if you and your partner have different preferences the bed can be adjusted to two different settings.
A double bed mattress with tracker starts at $7,499, and is only sold at Harvey Norman and Domayne.
And here’s the app. Let’s have a look around.
Base positioning. This lets you move the head, or feet up and down. It also has pre-set positions. My favourite was recover.
As you can see here, this what it looks like with the head of the mattress raised slightly.
Feel like a massage? You can go to sleep with one and the timer will turn it off after a certain about of time.
Here’s the widget to adjust the firmness of the mattress.
The good thing about this capability is that as your body changes, you can change the mattress to suit. For example an older person with back pain might need a firm mattress, while a pregnant women may need something a little more plush.
OK. Time to test my sleep.
I generally consider myself a good sleeper. I get an average 7-8 hours sleep a night, don’t often wake in the night and have no problems falling asleep (to be honest I’m usually asleep before my head hits the pillow).
My one qualm however is when I wake up in the morning I still feel lethargic. So let’s see if the app can tell me why.
Now for the results.
Here you can see my patterns of deep sleep: Five solid peaks. I thought this was a pretty good result. But speaking to Harrington, who has worked with A.H. Beard for the past three years as it perfects the Sleepsense product, she said there were some clear takeaways from this pattern that could help to improve my sleep — despite the fact that I scored 100%.
“You had zero sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep),” she said, “a normal amount is between 10-15 minutes.
“This indicates you’re not getting enough sleep,” she said.
I slept almost eight and a half hours — surely that’s enough? Apparently not.
“There is a magic number for each of us,” she said. “If you’re not getting the sleep you need your performance suffers.”
She suggested experimenting with adding an extra 20 minutes a night to my regular sleep time.
“Doing so you’ll be quicker and more accurate during the day,” she said.
She also said the peak of deep sleep I experienced just before I woke up could be the reason why I wake up feeling lethargic.
“When we wake up from deep sleep we can experience sleep inertia and it can be very disorientating,” she said. “You probably need need half an hour more sleep.”
She recommended I try to take a 20 minute nap in the afternoon if I found it hard to get to sleep earlier in the evening.
“But make sure you set an alarm and when it goes off, get up and do a few star jumps to wake the body up.”
I put my tiredness in the mornings down to the fact that maybe I wasn’t a “morning person”, and according to Harrington it could well be a contributing factor.
“Not everyone can be a morning person,” she said, “it’s actually hereditary.”
In saying that, she said you can move your body clock but you have to be diligent.
Here’s a look at the other stats that the app records
* I am SO glad I didn’t snore. That could have been very embarrassing.
While on paper I am the perfect sleeper, Harrington shed some light on ways people who may sleep poorly can improve their sleep.
Get off your phone
“People are working right up until the moment they go to sleep, usually on their iPhone,” she said.
“This exposure to bright light prevents getting a good sleep. If you’re looking at your phone your body isn’t producing melatonin that helps you go to sleep – the eye can’t detect different between a bright screen and the sun.”
She suggests switching off all tech an hour before you go to bed. She said having a hot shower and dimming the lights can also help. Oh, and stay away from the booze.
“I always switch off one hour before hand and I have a herbal tea,” she said, adding that a regular routine is key.
Light sleepers need to relax
“We all have the same physiology but some people are lighter sleepers than others,” she said.
“These people have to learn sleep is a very natural thing and you will go back to sleep if you allow yours to relax enough.
“If you have prolonged waking up in the night. Do mindfulness exercise. Breath slowly and do progressive relaxation, starting at toes working way up body.”
Up and down in the night? Don’t have that cuppa before bed
Getting up once or twice isn’t a big deal but Harrington says if it’s more than that you need to look at the liquids you’re having after your evening meal.
“Limit what you’re drinking three hours before going to bed,” she said.
Have the right tools for the job
“I also suggest people get the best mattress and linen they can afford,” she said.
“We buy expensive shoes for our feet, it only makes sense to do it for the thing you send eight hours a night on.”
While Harrington said people are definitely starting to take better care of their sleep health, there are always ways we can improve.
“If we want optimal health we need to eat well, exercise and sleep well. Sleep sets us up to flourish during the day. Everyone should wake up with enough energy ready to take on the day.
“If you’re not, you should consider seeing your GP.”