Sleep is an essential aspect of life, taking up almost a third of a person’s lifetime. However, achieving a good night’s sleep is not easy for everyone and the older we get, the more difficult it can become. Fortunately, today’s consumers are presented with a selection of textiles that can help counter this challenge.
How Textiles Affect Your Sleep Life
Textiles play a role in encouraging rapid eye movement (REM) and ensuring sleep efficiency, or the ratio of sleep time to time in bed. The thermal environment, which encompasses temperature management, humidity, and airspeed, is a key consideration in choosing which textile is best for sleep. This means there is a thermal comfort zone for sleepers and moving outside that optimum temperature range results in discomfort and disrupts sleep.
One study found that people sleep better at 26C/78.8F compared to 32C/89.6F. Sleeping also tends to be better during autumn or winter than in summer. Another study found that sleeping is better at 17C/62.6F compared to 22C/71.6F, but that cold exposure could increase a person’s wake after sleep onset (WASO), or the time they are awake after having fallen asleep. Simply, good sleep requires thermoregulation, or cooling and warming the body depending on the person’s climate.
Textiles that help control moisture also affect sleep. For instance, Allison Howard’s objective when she created her engineered bedding company Nollapelli was to find textiles that are good for the skin, but it expanded toward sleep improvement in no time. “Nollapelli’s unique fabric was born out of a need for a bedding fabric that was healthier for the skin and hair—that is, a fabric that balances moisture, temperature, and friction,” Howard explains. “It was only after getting our bedding fabric into the hands and onto the beds of customers that we started receiving so much feedback about improved sleep. It was interesting—but perhaps not surprising—that a fabric that solves for skin, our largest organ and a sensory organ, also solves for sleep.”
Which Natural Textiles Are Best for Sleep?
Wool, linen, silk, and cotton are the four most recommended textiles for sleep. Wool is an excellent insulator and can wick away moisture, but it can also be rough on the skin and costly. Linen is a breathable material ideal for warm climates. However, it can also be expensive and wrinkles easily. Silk is another good insulator that is soft on the skin, but it is also relatively expensive and high maintenance.
Among the four natural textiles, cotton is the one that comes in a wide range of prices. It is soft and breathable and becomes stronger the more it is washed. However, moisture collection can be a problem. According to Howard, “Your body releases moisture while you sleep, depending on a host of factors including temperature. How your bedding fabric manages that moisture impacts your skin, hair, and, ultimately, your sleep. One hundred percent natural fabrics that absorb and hold onto moisture cause an increase in friction when moisture gets trapped in the sheets, and the fabric sticks and pulls against skin and hair.” She adds that damp sheets are also uncomfortable for the sleeper.
Sleepwear Innovations for Skin Cooling
The fabrics of Nollapelli, for example, contain 45% Tencel, a rayon fabric that Howard says is more durable and breathable, dries faster, and wrinkles less than 100% cotton. Tencel is gaining popularity in the fashion and homeware industries because it is pesticide-free and derived from wood pulp, making it sustainable and biodegradable.
Performance polyester is another fabric gaining more use in sleepwear due to its breathable, wrinkle-resistant, and water-resistant features. Its latest iteration comes with micro-pores that help sweat pass through for evaporation, which means it doesn’t trap moisture and is ideal for people who perspire a lot while sleeping.
The partnership between the leading supplier in the home textile market, Standard Fiber, and thermoregulation material science company, 37.5 Technology, is set to offer responsive sleepwear and bedding capable of adjusting humidity. The technology used involves applying the thermoregulating properties of volcanic minerals to cool the body when it is warm and heat it up when it is cold.
Smart Textiles for Sleep-Related Disease Monitoring
Selection of fabric is also important in the development of smart textiles, which are sensor-embedded textiles than can react to mechanical, chemical, thermal or other kinds of external stimuli. For example, softness and washability were important factors when developing a smart textile to monitor posture and physiological signals among people with sleep-related diseases.
Textiles can have a positive impact on quality of sleep and could therefore also influence quality of life, especially among people living with conditions that lead to disrupted sleep. As more innovations weave into the market for sleep-aiding textiles, consumers should be presented with a range of affordable, soft, insulating, and moisture-wicking sleepwear and bedding for a good night’s rest.
About the Author
Nicola Davies is a consultant and writes science-based articles in a number of industries. She has written numerous feature articles for AATCC.