Bedroom bliss: how to choose the right bed

Your bed is the starting point for a good night’s sleep but how do you know which one is best for you?

Much has been written on how sleep is paramount to our wellbeing but psychologist Dr Sean O’Connell, who runs sleep clinics, goes as far as suggesting we should prioritise it over exercise.

He says the different bed and mattress options are but one element in creating a space conducive to shuteye, recalling that some of the best sleeps of his life were in his grandparents’ house as a child, in a dilapidated bed with a mattress that dipped in the middle and felt like he was sleeping in a hammock. “Part of being comfortable is how safe you feel. When most of us think of safety we think of protection, of not being attacked. But being safe also covers not being distracted.”

One such distraction is technology, he explains, recommending we leave the phone in another room and replace it with an old-fashioned alarm clock. “The buzzing of your phone and its social media feeds is distracting. Switch off all screens an hour before bed. That includes a reader, a phone, a laptop and/or a TV.”

The temperature of the room is also important. But rather than measure it using a standard thermometer, use your own comfort state as a benchmark, he says. “If you’re tossing and turning this is a key indication that the room is too warm.” In turn, restlessness will activate the brain.


Too cold

The converse is also true, he adds. “If the room is too cold your mind can’t relax enough to sleep – think of early man trying to sleep in a cave with the rain beating in.”

He suggests creating rituals around bedding down for the night, shutting down screens in favour of an old-fashioned physical book or listening to the radio; the making of a hot water bottle or switching on of the electric blanket, fluffing up the pillows and then drawing the curtains on the world.

But while much has been written on creating a better sleep environment, the experience of buying a bed is often rushed.

Despite the introduction of beds in boxes, mainly available to buy online, most Irish customers still go to physical stores to purchase their beds, so why is the experience so out of sync with the Zen-like atmosphere experts suggest we should pursue at home to get a good night’s rest.

“Your bed needs to give you back support and not feel too soft underneath, but the rest of the bedroom experience should create a sensory environment for sleep,” O’Connell counsels. “This is what hotels offer with their crisply laundered linen, pillow menu and high-spec bed. People are travelling more and staying in good hotels where they experience great sleeps in rooms that are generally uncluttered.”

Slumber choices

The average Irish person spends €1,500 on slumber choices, according to Irish firm Kaymed's head of marketing, Conor Stapleton. This includes the base and mattress and is equitable to the price of a designer handbag, yet while the latter offers a premium experience, there is little sense of the same luxury in the bed-buying process. Whether you want to buy a cheap and cheerful mattress and base or a top-of-the-range, cashmere-stuffed extravaganza that would meet with Princess and the Pea approval, you still have to physically test each one by lying on it, usually under brutally bright lighting, probably still wearing your coat and shoes, to get that Goldilocks moment – a bed that is just right.

According to the Kilcullen firm’s research and focus groups, this experience is universally disliked, Stapleton says. “There is too much choice, the offers are confusing and it is hard for would-be buyers, mainly women, to discern the difference. Customers want to be able to navigate this space themselves and to be able to clearly see the selling points of each bed and its price.”

The tech to do this differently is here – Kaymed already has a sleep device that determines the best bed for your body size and temperature. It is used in the Middle and Far East, but so far no Irish retailer has picked up on this selling tool. However, changes are afoot.

Rock hard

We’ve come a long way from the 1980s belief that a bed was only good for you if it was rock hard,” Stapleton says. “Back then, a bed was for life. We now change ours on average every eight to 10 years, when the mattress is showing its age with discernible body impressions and coffee spills.”

About 20 per cent of the Irish bed market is Irish-made, estimates Myles Campion, head of furniture at Arnotts. Natural materials and vegan options are now also key selling points. King Coil's Grand Elegance features natural fillings of wool and cashmere encased in cotton. Recently, the Hilton hotel group introduced vegan suites at its Bankside, London, establishment. The bed's headboard is made from pineapple leaves, the floor is bamboo while the seating and cushions are upholstered in Pinatex, a leather-look material that is also pineapple in origin.

When it comes to size, according to Stapleton the king-size bed, one that is 5ft wide by 6ft 6ins long, outsells the traditional double, 4 ft 6 ins wide and 6ft 3ins long, by a ratio of three to one.

The divan is Ireland’s favourite style of bed, he says. The average tends to sit 51cm off the floor, so if you live in an average-size house with 2.4m ceiling heights, then the volume of a divan is going to dominate the room but it can also look and feel sumptuous.

Staff training

Campion, who previously worked at Harvey Norman, says good staff training, rather than technology, can offer customers better advice. “You need to qualify a customer’s needs by asking the right questions. Do they sleep on their back, their side or their front, for example? Are they a hot or cool sleeper? There are beds to compensate for either.”

And, he says, if the buyer is one half of a couple then they should shop together. The couple that tests beds together has a better chance of continuing to sleep together.

Pillow talk

Harvey Norman stores offer a sleep studio where you can try a selection of pillows, a bit like the menu you might find on the beside locker of a five-star hotel. Stapleton, whose company supplies some of the pillow styles, says the staff use a tool that was developed by osteopaths to measure the gap between the side of your head and the side of your shoulder to determine which pillow style will best align your spine. “Seventy-five per cent of us sleep on our side or find ourselves on our sides mid-sleep. By measuring the gap between the mattress and the side of your head it will find the right pillow for your needs – one pillow should fulfil this function and there is a choice of five different sizes with stuffing ranging from feather and down to a best-selling Memoryfoam gel pillow.”

When you’re shopping for a bed

When in a bed showroom keep any feeling self-consciousness to a minimum by bringing along a newspaper, a book and/or headphones as props to help make you feel more at ease. You need to give each bed at least five minutes, ideally 10, to determine if it is the one for you. So you need to lie down fully. Don’t sit on the edge. This is not how you will be sleeping on the bed.

If you like a medium or firm bed and your partner loves a soft squishy one then ask about zip and link mattresses . It will allow you to be connected yet enjoy the kind of base that elicits a good nights sleep for both of you.