Science finds benefits of sleeping with wool

6 December 2013

An old truism is that a good night’s sleep is essential to good health, and modern medical science is generating plenty of supportive evidence. Poor sleep outcomes have been shown to be a risk factor for obesity, diabetes, thoracic cancers, risk of depression and even overall mortality rate.

With wool having been previously shown to be linked to good sleep outcomes, a strategic investment target for The Woolmark Company has been to collect and collate scientific data to support marketing statements regarding sleep and sleeping patterns, among other important wellness topics, including skin health.

The Woolmark Company has been supporting a study at the University of Sydney, led by Associate Professor Chin-Moi Chow, with support from Ph.D student Mirim Shin - as reported in the article Study backs wool for a good night’s sleep.

The second phase of this adult sleep study has been successfully completed. For this phase, participants slept in Merino wool or cotton pyjamas, and under cotton, polyester or wool doonas at 17°C or 22°C ambient temperature, or under a cotton sheet at a tropical 28°C temperature.

The results from the 17°C and 22°C temperature regimes were recently presented at the Australasian Sleep Association’s ‘Sleep Downunder 2013’ Conference in Brisbane in October this year. The key findings are that, under these conditions, wearing Merino wool pyjamas significantly reduced the time for the participants to fall asleep, and thereby contributing to increased total sleep time. While the increase in average total sleep time may appear small at just more than seven minutes per night, this equates to nearly an hour per week, or nearly two days per year.

Mirim is working hard to finalise the 28°C ambient temperature paper, among a number of significant research ‘leads’ arising from this work.

A related stream of research under way is that conducted by Associate Professor Amanda Richdale at La Trobe University.

In this instance, the work focuses on the impact of the sleep environment on sleep quality outcomes of children aged between two and five, whereas the University of Sydney study has focused on adults.

The pilot phase of this study was successfully completed earlier this year, and with the assistance of 101 families with children with and without autism enrolled at the university Children’s Centre or from the Olga Tennyson Autism Research Centre’s participant registry.

The study found that sleep problems were relatively common, and that some of the major factors affecting sleep quality included temperature and bedding, and also the amount of ‘screen’ time (time spent on computers/tablets).

This pilot phase finding relating to temperature and bedding has been an important step in building the case for the much larger second phase, which is now under way, with ethics approval already received.

According to The Woolmark Company’s Dr Paul Swan, “the great value of these research investments is that we are now building a very solid and contemporary body of scientific evidence that wool is part of the recipe for good night’s sleep, and indeed part of a lifestyle of health and sustainability”.