A novel mattress and pillow system that uses heating and cooling to trick the human body into sleeping has been created by engineers in an advance that could lead to new ways of improving people’s sleep.
The new mattress, described recently in a new study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, stimulates the body to trigger the sleepy feeling and helps people fall asleep faster.
“We facilitate the readiness to fall asleep by manipulating internal body temperature-sensitive sensors to briefly adjust the thermostat of the body so it thinks the temperature is higher than it actually is,” study co-author Shahab Haghayegh, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.
The mattress targets the skin on the neck with a warming pillow as this part of the body is an “important bodily thermostat for humans”, according to scientists.
It simultaneously cools the body’s central areas while heating up the neck, hands and feet, increasing blood flow to dissipate body heat.
Scientists experimented with two versions of the mattress – one that uses water and another that uses air to manipulate the core body temperature.
They tested them with 11 subjects, asking them to go to bed two hours earlier than usual, using cooling-warming functions of the mattresses on some nights and not using them on other nights.
The warming and the cooling-warming mattresses helped participants fall asleep faster by about 58 per cent compared to nights they did not use the cooling-warming function even in the challenging setting of an earlier bedtime.
Lowering the internal body temperature significantly shortened the time required to fall asleep and led to significantly improved quality of sleep, scientists said.
“It is remarkable how effective gentle warming along the cervical spine is in sending a signal to the body to increase blood flow to the hands and feet to lower the core temperature and precipitate sleep onset,” said Kenneth Diller, another study co-author.
“This same effect also enables the blood pressure to fall slightly overnight, with the benefit of allowing the cardiovascular system to recover from the stress of maintaining blood flow during daily activities, which is highly important for long-term health,” Dr Diller added.