We are more likely to develop conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis, incontinence and breathing difficulties, all of which can cause broken sleep.
Experts from the Sleep Health Foundation say our bodies also make less of the hormone melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep in the first place.
According to the Better Health Channel, sleep deprivation can cause fatigue, impaired concentration, mood changes and poor coordination.
In particular, it can reduce deep sleep (also known as Stage 3 and 4 non-REM or “delta” sleep); potentially affecting essential repair and restoration processes.
Bureau of Statistics figures show that the proportion of Australians aged 65 and over rose from 11.1 to 13.6 per cent in the 20 years to June 2010, while the proportion aged 85 and over doubled from 0.9 to 1.8 per cent.
Those who become unwell or less mobile with age may not only be more prone to poor sleep, but forced to spend longer in bed.
“In this context, creating optimum environmental conditions may facilitate peaceful or restorative sleep,” says Associate Professor Rajiv Padhye, Director of RMIT’s Centre for Advanced Materials and Performance Textiles.
“A conventionally constructed and finished mattress can intensify a person’s body heat and push it back into their skin, causing perspiration. The resulting discomfort can disrupt restorative sleep.”
With funds from the Federal Government’s AusIndustry program, Melbourne-based bedding textile manufacturer Bekaert Australia has joined forces with Padhye and colleagues Associate Professor Lijing Wang, Dr Lyndon Arnold and Saniyat Islam to develop textiles and finishes for better moisture management and thermal regulation.
“Moisture management involves drawing any perspiration away from the skin, through the bed sheet and into the mattress fabric,” says Wang.
“This maintains the person’s back at a comfortable level, so they don’t wake up perspiring.”
RMIT’s team will design and test a mattress and uppermost layer (known as “ticking”), along with a multi-layered removable mattress cover, for potential use in settings like hospitals and aged care facilities.
Bekaert has also asked the team to help make its existing bedding range more functional for the broader Australian population.
This includes incorporating moisture management agents into mattress ticking; treating bed sheets with a durable anti-microbial finish; and embedding mattresses with a polymer-based “phase-change material”, which can absorb or release heat to keep the surface temperature more comfortable and constant.
With an annual $30 million-plus turnover, and more than 110 employees, Bekaert Australia has a large presence in the domestic market.
“When it comes to basic products, factors like local wages and the high Australian dollar make it difficult to compete with overseas manufacturers on price alone,” says Managing Director Luc Deleu.
“To maintain our market leadership, we have to compete through innovation.
“Working with Rajiv, Lijing and their team means we can access specialist research and development expertise, along with state-of-the-art technical testing facilities that we don’t have in-house.”
The project is due for completion in late 2014. Bekaert will then consider developing prototypes for market testing, before commercialisation.
Story: Fiona Marsden
Photo: Carla Gottgens
Video: Cassandra Wright
This story was first published in RMIT’s Making Connections magazine.