We remember those particularly perfect nights of peaceful sleep on our travels. Maybe it was in a little country hotel we found once and never got to visit again.
Or a deep, dreamless night we spent cocooned in an efficient and impersonal room in a bustling city whilst the world carried on unheard outside.
We tell our friends when we had a night like that, “I slept really well in that place!” we note, with a certain surprise.
If we think about it, we can’t say for sure what made that night’s sleep good.
We can’t say that the linen had an obscenely high thread count. We seem to recall that the mattresses were all different, and we couldn’t say if we slept in a proper bed or a divan.
The only common denominator will have been the feeling of a fresh bed, of relaxing into freshly laundered, always white and often starched sheets.
Whatever else those places did, they had cracked the code of the fresh bed feeling. A feeling that came in at number one in a 2015 BUPA survey of things that make us feel great.
62% of those surveyed reported the feeling of sleeping in a freshly made bed as their favorite feel great moment.
And in the world of the elite athlete, Nick Littlehales, sports sleep coach and Chairman of the UK Sleep Council, was recently quoted as saying as part of his top tips for waking feeling well rested:
Your bedding needs to be breathable so you can stay cool under the covers. I’m also a big believer in fresh, clean bed linen. It’s not scientific, it’s psychological — fresh linen makes a bed more welcoming. When I worked with the British cycling team, I insisted on fresh bed linen every night.”
The problem of bedroom heating
In the distant past, we used to try and keep warm in bed – now we try to keep cool. Our houses are simply much hotter than those our ancestors lived in.
With central heating and double glazing we have little difficulty in keeping the worst of the winter weather at bay. As a result, our bedrooms are significantly warmer than those even our recent ancestors slept in.
Our bodies are sensitive to temperature; while we sleep, our body’s internal temperature actually drops to its lowest level. As such, we’re hard wired to treat drops in temperature as a trigger for sleep.
That’s why taking a warm shower before bedtime is associated with a way to start a bedtime routine; it increases core body temperature, and when it abruptly drops when you get out, it signals to your body that you’re ready for sleep.
The memory foam repercussions
The increase in sales of memory foam mattresses over the past decade have contributed to the heat of our beds. Despite attempts by some manufacturers to avoid the problem, most memory foam mattresses and pillows still raise temperatures.
As a result, our bed linen doesn’t retain that cool fresh feeling as long, and our bodies don’t experience the same temperature drop that activates our sleep trigger.
To combat the increase in heat in the bed we have to buy new sheets, ones that breathe, ones that wick moisture away and so keep us cooler.
A cool room and regularly changing our sheets will preserve the feeling that we’ve all come to love and which also contributes to better and readier sleep.
The heavenly bed concept
In 1999, Westin Hotels introduced the “heavenly bed concept” to a skeptical hotel industry. It led to a revolution in hotel marketing.
Initially, it was just another way to stand out in the crowded hotel market. However, it highlighted that a good night’s sleep was essentially what the guests really wanted.
Other hotel chains were quick to follow suit with their own versions of the perfect bed, and a competitive ‘best bed for best sleep’ competition started.
Although the bed and mattress were important to the heavenly bed ideal, just as much focus was placed on the sheets.
All bedding had to be white, and as the concept of the optimum sleep environment expanded across the hotel industry, so other elements were introduced to complement the sleep well strategies.
All of these ancillary services were designed to prepare the guest for sleep in a fresh clean bed:
- Turn down services highlighted the inviting white bedding.
- Removing coverlets and bed accessories in the evening drew attention to the simplicity of the clean sheets.
- Turning off all lights apart from the bedside lamp focused the guest on the crisp cool of the white pillows.
Worldwide hotels now spend a great deal of effort in showcasing to guests just how perfect their bedding is. When it works, guests sleep well. And a guest who sleeps well is the most likely to return.
The scent revolution
Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it (Vladimir Nabokov)
As humans we’re programmed to associate, to forge sense links, to tie sensory input with memory and use it as a trigger in our decision making and choices.
Color is important to us – we associate white with luxury, with cleanliness and calm for example. But smell is equally important and a much more amorphous concept to quantify.
The home scents market continues to grow, and tucked securely within the variety of scents are those associated with fresh bedding.
There’s an almost endless list of blue and white marketing designed to make us think of a freshly made bed: clean cotton, fresh linen, newly washed, crisp cotton, and the list of bedding-scent names goes on.
It’s doubtful if when asked any individual could describe the scent of fresh linen. It doesn’t really have a distinctive smell, even though advertising agencies can convince us that it does!
Instead, we’re triggered by a combination of a light clean scent. Recipes are closely guarded secrets, but are thought to contain combinations of jasmine, lilac, peony, Egyptian musk and French vanilla with notes of powder. And of course, the essential ingredient of our own memory of the feeling of a newly changed bed.
There’s a clear sleep benefit in changing bed linen as often as possible. And although it appears to be as a result of a psychological feel good factor, it’s none the less powerful for that.
The smooth feel of pressed cotton as we slide between cool sheets ready for a gentle night’s sleep – we love that feeling.
We would probably benefit from changing our bedding at home more often and making a little bit more of an effort with it.
Anecdotal evidence from online forums and messages boards suggest that the pressing of bedding is a chore too far in the 21st century home, although the feel of freshly ironed sheets is reported as such a joy.
We make huge efforts to be nice to ourselves. We watch our diets and exercise and we buy gadgets and expensive mattresses to ensure a good night’s sleep. Maybe we should start with just changing our bedding more often.