Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

Sleep on it!

March 2013

Sleep has been in the news a lot lately - how much do we really need to be healthy?

Feeling mattressCan we exist on a lot less so that we can get more done in a day? Famed American celebrity Martha Stewart says she only sleeps five hours a night so she can get more done in the day. During the Second World War Sir Winston Churchill only slept for a handful of hours each night - however he did catch up with regular naps in the day time. Today some office workers say they have managed the art of “power” naps in the daytime to refresh them so they can work night hours as well, but do these really work?

A lot of research has been undertaken lately on sleep and there is now general consensus that while people can exist on a variety of sleep levels, getting regularly less than six hours sleep a night can significantly increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and other problems.

However, the time you spend asleep is not the only important aspect; the quality of the sleep while you are resting is also vital to maintain good health, and this is where the bed comes in. Choosing the right bed is crucial to a good night’s sleep, and this is even more so as we age.

The first thing to consider is size. When you were younger, snuggling up with a partner was great. As we age, we might prefer a little more room to stretch out and become comfortable. If we’re on our own, we might still prefer a wider bed so we can move around at ease to find the best position for comfort. Length is obviously equally important - as a general rule, a bed should be four to six inches longer than you are when lying down.

There are so many sized beds now and not all are the same. Generally however, beds today generally come in:

Small single: 30" by 72" (about 75 cm × 180 cm)
Standard single: 36" × 75", also sold as 90 cm × 190 cm
Queen (or small double or three-quarters): 48" × 75" (approximately 120 cm × 190 cm)
Standard double: 54" × 75", also sold as 135 cm × 190 cm
King: 60" × 78", also sold as 150 cm × 200 cm
Super king: 72" × 78", also sold as 180 cm × 200 cm

Not all bed manufacturers adhere to this exactly and some countries such as Sweden use slightly different measurements.

The height of the bed is something we don’t always consider properly. Beds do come in different heights and as you get older you may prefer to progress onto a higher bed to make getting onto it and more crucially getting up in the morning less effort.

That’s the easy bit! Next comes the decision on the base and mattress. Ideally you should replace both of these at the same time so they have a perfect fit and synergy. There are all sorts of bases, from high tech divans to old fashioned bedsteads and simple wooden slatted bases.

Generally most people like a divan, which is really a box base that can be upholstered with varying degrees of comfort. It can be fitted with drawers for storage or come in a number of other combinations. You can even buy adjustable bases which can lift in various sections. But really the base is secondary compared to the importance of choosing the right mattress.

Getting the right mattress is the really vital bit. Your weight, how much support you need, and most important of all for a good night’s sleep, what feels comfortable for you; all these factors need consideration and of course, it very important that you make the right choice. Today this can be pretty difficult as there are simply so many mattresses available – interior sprung, orthopaedic, foam and today even memory foam – where do you start?

The main aspect is for a mattress to offer you good support everywhere. The mattress should gently mould to your body, but not too much so that when you lie on your side, your spine remains horizontal. If the bed is too soft, you will sink in too much and awake with aches and pains in odd places. If it is too hard, you may get pain from hips, shoulders and other load bearing areas. It used to be thought that the harder the bed, the better it was but this is no longer accepted; it is more important to get the right level of support and flexibility for your body. Orthopaedic mattresses by the way really only mean they offer a little firmer support than other mattresses; they don’t have any additional medical features.

You have probably heard the words interior sprung in connection with mattresses. These are usually made around special springs within the mattress but again, like everything to do with beds, this isn’t a simple aspect. Spring interior mattresses come in open coil, continuous spring or pocket spring ranges. Even foam mattresses come in a wide variety including the latest developments in memory foam for ultimate comfort and support, and also latex for people who want a hypo-allergenic and anti-microbial product.

Of course if you are of a particular age like me, you will remember the craze for water beds. Since then there has been a trend for the Japanese style futon beds and other ideas come and go.

Where does it all stop? The main thing is to do your research and accept that as you age, your requirements may have changed. Some manufacturers say beds are only made to last seven years; certainly you should look at changing your bed every so often. There is lots of information available and staff in good bed shops have been trained to give advice.

There is information on the web from organisations such as the National Bed Federation and under various brand names such as Dreams. The Sleep Council has issued some bed buying tips for the over 50s:

The Sleep Council’s Bed buying tips for the over 50's

  • Always go to a good retailer and lie on a selection of beds to compare comfort and support. Only you can judge what is right for you.
  • Look for a combination of firm core support to hold your spine in correct alignment, with plenty of top layers creating a nice, soft sleeping surface.
  • Don’t head for the nearest orthopaedic bed – it may be too hard for you. Older people may have more back problems, but they also have more sensitive joints.
  • Choose a bed with high lines. It will be easier to get in and out of.
  • A firmer bed is better for the same reasons and also for anyone who spends any length of time sitting up in bed.
  • A soft sleeping surface makes for a warmer bed – it gives better insulation. Even firm beds can have softly quilted surfaces; or a mattress overlay can be used.
  • Beds with adjustable neck, foot, head and leg rests are now readily available – good for anyone who has to spend a lot of time in bed or has high blood pressure or rheumatism.
  • Foam mattresses are non-allergenic and do not need turning.
  • A bigger bed will help avoid one partner disturbing the other – particularly relevant for older people who sleep more lightly. With a double, choose at least a 150cm (5ft) bed; single beds should be at least 90cm (3ft) but the larger 105cm (3ft 6ins) would be even better.
  • Zipped and linked beds – two separate mattresses and bases – enable you not only to meet individual requirements for support and comfort, but also to separate the beds into two singles should one partner become ill. It also makes for easier handling.

Back to Health Section



    Keep in touch with everything happening in Laterlife Today!

    Subscribe to our free monthly email newsletters for the latest articles, offers and events. You can unsubscribe at any time should you want to.



Bookmark This Share on Facebook Receive more like this

Tell us your hospital experience

Tell us your health experiences

Want to comment on this article or ask other laterlife visitors a question?

Then visit the comment section of the Later Lifestyle Network, click on the 'Discussion Tab' (you can't see this until you are logged in) and create a new topic or add your views to an existing one. 

feeling Good

Feeling Good

The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

It includes both one off articles and also associated regular columns of a more specialist nature such as Healthwise, Gardener's Diary, our regular IT question and answer section called YoucandoIT and there's also 'It could be you' by Maggi Stamp laterlife's counsellor on human relationships. 

Looking to the future

Looking to the future

Tell us about what you would like to see here on in the future or any changes you would like to see. Just email

Latest articles

To view the latest articles click on laterlife interest index. To search for articles about a certain topic, use the site search feature at the top right of the page.
Back to Laterlife Today

Visit our Pre-retirement Courses section here on laterlife or our dedicated Retirement Courses site


Advertise on

LaterLife Travel Insurance in Association with Avanti