A good night's sleep: how to choose the perfect mattress for you

With so many labels, new technologies and marketing terms in the world of mattresses, we find out what we should – and shouldn’t – be buying into

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Most of us know by now that the average person needs between seven and nine hours of sleep each night to function properly. But did you also know that we're the only mammal that voluntarily delays sleep? We let electromagnetic wave-producing devices shine bright lights into our rooms, thus disturbing our ZZZs. And we ply ourselves with caffeine throughout the day, sometimes minutes before we head to bed (chocolate, sugary drinks and painkillers count, too).

It's perhaps unsurprising then that up to 90 per cent of UAE residents are suffering from sleep deprivation, with one in four experiencing a form or symptom of a disorder, according to recent research.

The importance of a good mattress 

Besides going to bed early, switching off electronics and avoiding any stimulants, one of the best things you can do to boost the quality of your sleep is to invest in a decent mattress. Yet, with so many models on offer and salespeople on a commission waxing lyrical about each version’s advantages, it can be difficult to know where to turn.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - September 12, 2018: Dominic Zonkovic. Feature story about "mattress in a box". Wednesday, September 12th, 2018 at Mira, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“The key here is to stay well informed on various marketing terminologies, as, more often than not, unsuspecting consumers fall prey to fancy names and product features, which, frankly, are all selling tools,” says Dominik Zunkovic, founder of e-retailer Whisper.

"It's imperative that you do your own research to ascertain the accuracy of values or attributes of the mattress technologies being claimed by manufacturers," he says.

See through mattress marketing tricks 

A few of the industry's buzzwords that consumers need to be wary of include "gel technology" and "medically certified", he says. The former, manufacturers claim, enhances coolness and comfort, while the latter label often comes without any scientific evidence to back it up. "Gel technology is not really cooling as it is not breathable and all heat and sweat is trapped in the gel layer, as it has nowhere to go," Zunkovic says.

Sudarshan Rai, marketing manager at Dubai Furniture Manufacturing Company, which manages the UAE franchise for Serta mattress store, shares a similar sentiment. "Customers should not fall for terms like 'medical mattress'," he says. "We recommend selecting a brand that has long standing in the market and has a good track record."

Another dubious marketing term that has caught Zunkovic's eye is "duvet sleeping fans", which he's seen popping up over the past 18 months, selling at about Dh1,500. "Many people complain about heat disrupting their sleep, so it's not surprising that products meant to address this concern pop up every so often. Also, with most mattress manufacturers still using closed-cell foams that trap heat and sweat, it has opened the doors for new 'sleeping gadgets' to tackle the problem of heat." As long as your mattress uses open-cell foams and breathable fabrics, however, he says there's no need for any newfangled innovations. In fact, he believes they are "completely unnecessary".

Whisper's mattress and pillow uses open-cell foams and breathable fabrics. Courtesy Whisper

There are a few technologies that have impressed both Zunkovic and Rai in recent years, however. For Zunkovic, it's the advancement in foams. "The industry and all of its key players are moving to higher density open-cell foams that ensure breathability but maintain the durability of the product and 10-plus year warranty options without the need to flip the mattress every season." For Rai, it's graphene tech, which removes static electricity from the body "thereby minimising stress and exhaustion", he says.

Block out electromagnetic waves

Zunkovic's company has also developed something called Silver Shield Technology, which has been internationally certified and claims to prevent any EMF [electromagnetic] waves from entering your sleeping area through a grounding cable that's integrated with the mattress and plugged into an outlet next to your bed. "Electronics such as TVs, phones and computers all emit harmful EMF waves, but the biggest culprits that we all ignore are the cables running across our living space. These not only interfere with our brain waves while we sleep but also cause us to have irregular sleeping cycles." This new invention, he says, promises to protect users against 99.99 per cent of all EMF waves. Of course, you could always just remove any wave-emitting devices from your room altogether.

Electronics aside, Zunkovic says we also need to be aware of congestion-causing dust mites and bed bugs. “Any mattress without the necessary protection that is older than a year will have over two million dust mites living in it,” he says, adding that Whisper mattresses incorporate silver particles in its foam and silver yarn in its fabric. Silver, he explains, naturally ionises and kills all bacteria, protecting us from the creatures. Other, less-expensive options to combat mites would be to regularly clean your bedding and mattress, as well as pop on a dustproof case.

Serta mattress store is open in the Dubai Mall. Courtesy Serta

While some of these innovations might seem like luxuries, Rai says there are a number of important aspects we must consider before settling on a mattress. "Some basic requirements to enhance healthy sleep are to maintain spinal alignment, reduce surface pressure and regulate body temperature." These claims are widely backed up by medically certified sleep experts, too. "A mattress that can conform to your body without sagging will give adequate support, and this support should be felt evenly along the length of your body while sleeping, especially at your waist and lower back."

Any pressure on your shoulders and hips, Rai adds, causes people to toss and turn, as it restricts blood flow and causes joints to ache. Which pressure points aggravate or appease is different for everybody, however, and if you have any long-lasting joint pain or medical conditions that interrupt your sleep it’s important to get advice from your doctor.

Everyone's needs are unique 

Dr Hady Jerdak, a sleep disorder expert and chief executive of Harley Street Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi, says the type of mattress that should be used differs from patient to patient. "Some like it to be hard and others softer and more malleable," he says. "There are no medical recommendations for the type of mattress and some companies will claim that they have a medical combination, but it is not based on any evidence."

When it comes to any technologies and innovations claimed by mattress sellers, Dr Jerdak says "they are completely not based on correct medical studies and thus as sleep specialists we cannot recommend any one type over the other". However, he says, orthopaedists may have some preference for semi-solid mattresses as they provide better support for your back.

What’s important, Dr Jerdak says, is that you are comfortable and incorporate healthy behaviours into your sleep routine. For example, he advises to avoid coffee; turn off your smartphone; read a book; get enough exercise throughout the day; meditate; make sure your bedroom is cold, dark and calm; and use your bed to sleep, not work or eat. “All these, in addition to others, are by far more important than the type of mattress. I believe companies are using these mattress qualities for advertising purposes and nothing more.”

There is much to be said for a comfortable new bed, however. So, when you are mattress shopping, Zunkovic says the best thing you can do is spend a few months sleeping on a mattress before deciding if it’s the right one for you (his company offers a 100-night risk-free sleep trial). Not all shops offer a lengthy trial period, however, which is why Rai advises shoppers to spend at least 10 to 15 minutes lying down on one in the store – although Zunkovic argues it’s “impossible to know whether or not you will sleep well on a mattress by simply lounging on it for a few minutes in a brightly lit showroom”.

“Do lots of research online to find a product that tackles the main sleeping problems,” Zunkovic advises. Most importantly, adds Rai, consider the time and money you put into it all as an investment for your health. “A good quality mattress will provide a good night’s sleep and ensure total well-being.”