Dr Benedict, you are a neuroscientist and have been researching into the subject of sleep for many years. During this time, have you noticed a change in the significance afforded to sleep by the general public with respect to health and performance?
“The subject of sleep has certainly gained in significance over all these years, and it was not so popular in 2002 / 2003. Then, I saved one of my first publications onto a floppy disk and sent it to the USA. It was not until some months later that I got a letter back. Today, everything is digital. We simply live in a different age, which means not only that information flows faster. It also means that it reaches a much larger audience.
And then there are people, such as Mathew Walker from Berkley, who has written a very successful book entitled ‘Why We Sleep’. I and others have also written books that present the subject in a somewhat more popular scientific way. Many people are interested in it because we all have had some experience of poor sleep at some time or other and thus know how debilitating insufficient sleep can be.”
Nowadays, many people are aware that healthy sleep contributes to an intact immune system and aids concentration. However, it is not just a matter of how long we sleep. How can we improve the quality of our sleep?
“Vital for the quality of our sleep is our bedroom, in other words, the setting and what we sleep on, our bed and our bedding, such as pillow and duvet. And, when you start digging into research on this subject, you soon see that there is a great deal of industrial expertise but almost no academic expertise. The subject hasn’t been all that well researched. And that is very surprising.
Naturally, that on which I sleep or the materials in which I spend eight hours of my day also impact on the quality of my sleep.
One of the things I found so positive at Heimtextil is that you encounter a host of people from the industry who have many excellent ideas. However, these ideas are barely registered by researchers. I took this to heart and conducted a study about weighted blankets. Hopefully, I will be able to say more about this at the Heimtextil Summer Edition when our work has been published.
Although we rack our brains about influences such as internet usage and have a stressful way of life, nobody thinks, for example about bedroom hygiene. And there are many aspects to be considered, such as ventilation or materials. How can they wick moisture away? Naturally, house dust mites are also an important factor for many people because they cause nasal congestion.”
Are there any national differences in terms of sleep? And can this be seen statistically in the state of health or mind of the populations concerned?
“There is a good study in which people from different countries were asked how they sleep. The results show that there are too many people worldwide who do not get enough sleep. However, there are also noteworthy differences from country to country.
Naturally, this cannot simply be down to the sleep setting. It also depends on the cultural significance attached to sleep in the various countries. In Japan, for example, napping is part of the Japanese way of life. Thus, in Germany, a country that is highly oriented towards performance and the efficient use of time, it is hardly surprising that there is little room for sleep.
It is not only that this applies to a country but also that there are very different groups and corresponding risk groups within a country: a group very typical of this comprises young people who are forced into early-morning routines, which often causes great problems for them.
The subject of sleep is also important in Sweden. This is due to the geographical situation of the country, which means we have very dark winter months and very light summer months. And this, of course, also has a major impact on how well we can sleep.”
Do you have information or advice that you would like to pass on to the bedding industry or the trade?
“Scientific research is lagging behind the industry when it comes to sleep. Generally speaking, someone who tells me about different pillows with different degrees of hardness and different fillings has, thanks to their customer contacts, a much better idea of these aspects than I do. This is because I am primarily a sleep researcher interested in why we sleep and what happens when we don't sleep. And, in this respect, the bed plays a more functional role.
If we look at the bed industry – and I find this extremely interesting – this can be very productive for research. Nevertheless, we should also remember for the future that, although we manufacture for the mass of people, we shouldn’t ignore their individual needs.”
Thank you very much!
Tip: Dr. Christian Benedict will speak during the Heimtextil Summer Special in Frankfurt on 21 June 2022 at 2 p.m. at Heimtextil Conference Sleep & More, Hall 3.0 on the topic: "Coronasomnia: How the pandemic and the use of screen-based technology amid the pandemic changed our sleep“