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FURNISHINGS : ABCs of a Good Night’s Sleep: Start With the B for Bed

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

By the time you start yawning in the evening, it may be too late to start thinking about a good night’s sleep.

Better to consider the concept when you are wide awake, paying attention in broad daylight to all those little details that can make a bedroom a restful retreat or turn it into a torture chamber when the lights go out.

From the draperies to the pillows to the digital clock-radio on the night stand, every component of boudoir decor can have an influence on the quality and quantity of time you spend slumbering.

The primary element, of course, is the bed.

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In fact, Tom Sceberras argues that it’s not only the most important part of a restful bedroom, but the most important piece of furniture in the house as well.

“You spend more of your life on your bed than you do any other piece of furniture,” he says. “It’s the only thing in your whole house that you use eight hours a day. So it’s got to be the most important.”

It’s only natural for Sceberras to think so. Owner of Newport Bedding Co. in Costa Mesa, he represents the third generation in a family of custom mattress craftsmen.

Chiropractor Steve Bizal of Personalized Health and Fitness in Newport Beach agrees.

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“We spend a third of our lives on mattresses,” he says. “And unlike the time we spend sitting on the sofa or in a chair at work, when we’re asleep, we’re not aware of our posture. All the muscles relax, and if your spine is not supported properly, that can place stress on the ligaments. So it’s important to pay attention to the environment in which we sleep.”

The bed and its accouterments can affect the quality of your waking hours also, Bizal says.

If your back hurts or your neck is stiff and you haven’t suffered any specific injuries, your bed is most likely to blame.

“Ninety percent of the time when you’re a hurting puppy, it’s something you’re doing to yourself or something you’re allowing the environment to do. When I treat people, I ask them a lot of questions about how they sleep and what kind of bed they have.”

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As a general rule, Bizal says, a firm mattress is better than a soft one. But that’s more a matter of personal taste, or, if you have problems, a decision your doctor can help you make.

In any case, try before you buy, Sceberras says.

He insists that his customers spend some time testing his mattresses before they buy, taking time to lie back and relax. And if it’s a bed that two people share, he recommends that both partners go shopping together, getting on the beds at the same time to see how the size and firmness suits them.

In a world where “they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” Sceberras still does.

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When he was a boy and his parents, Gus and Else, set up the Sure Sleep Bedding Co. in the San Gabriel Valley, “there wasn’t much difference between the mattresses put out by the big companies and the mom-and-pop places,” he says.

Back then, the advantage that small custom shops had was primarily price. But over the years the big factories have speeded up production and cut back on components, so Newport Bedding and the handful of other independent manufacturers scattered around the country can now claim a quality advantage as well.

On a busy day, the Sceberrases and their employees may put together as many as three mattresses. A mass-production factory would build 1,200 to 1,400 in an eight-hour shift, Sceberras says.

While the big manufacturers have switched to polyurethane foam and other man-made materials for most or all of the soft parts of their mattresses, Sceberras still uses cotton. It lasts longer, he says, and provides better support.

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The cotton--three layers of it--is laid over dual “enduralator” pads that prevent the cotton from working its way down into the springs. Unlike the continuous coil system used by most manufacturers, with one- or two-turn coils interlinked, Newport Bedding uses a system of independent six-turn coils.

Another thick layer of cotton is stuffed into the sides to keep the edges from breaking down, and the whole thing is button-tufted to keep the contents from shifting. The underside of the mattress is a mirror image of the top, so that it can be flipped over two or three times a year for longer wear.

Major manufacturers also recommend turning their mattresses, as often as twice a month.

Beneath the mattress, and often ignored, is the box springs.

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“It’s a shock absorber for the mattress,” Sceberras says. “A lot of the new beds being made today don’t even have box springs. It’s just a hard, inflexible platform instead.”

He recommends that mattress shoppers sit or lie down on the box springs as well. If it doesn’t have at least a little give, it may not be real box springs.

People with certain respiratory and pulmonary problems may need a bendable bed so they can keep their upper bodies raised. If you need or prefer to sleep that way, Bizal says, an adjustable bed is better than using pillows to prop yourself up.

Some people prefer water beds, and Bizal says they can be fine if you’re not suffering from aches and pains.

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“But in some cases, if you have a chronic problem and you are on a water bed, you may find that by getting off it and onto a regular mattress, your problem will improve.”

Mattress pads such as egg-crate foam can make sleeping more comfortable for some, less so for others. “It’s about 50-50 in the patients I’ve seen,” Bizal says.

Nearly as important as the bed is the pillow--or pillows--you use. Bizal and Ginny Miller, manager of outpatient physical therapy for Saint Joseph Hospital in Orange and Irvine, agree that pillows are most important not for heads, but for necks.

The best pillows, they say, are so-called neck roll pillows, which provide firm support for the neck and softer cushioning for the head.

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Although Bizal and Miller disagree on what is the best position for sleeping, both say it helps to have a pillow for your knees as well. In Bizal’s opinion, sleeping on your back is best for most, with a pillow under the knees. Miller recommends sleeping on your side, with a pillow between your knees to take stress off the hip joints.

They agree, however, that the worst position is stomach-sleeping. “Unless you have a hole in the bed, there’s no place for your face, so you have to twist your head off to the side,” Miller says.

That leaves the ligaments on one side of your neck stretched out, Bizal says, while the other side is compressed.

If you still have trouble sleeping even with a good mattress, proper pillows and correct positioning, you may need to look at other factors.

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Dr. Paul Selecky, director of the Hoag Sleep Center at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, says the bedroom should be set up for sleep as its primary purpose. It should be free of bright lights and loud sounds, which a surprising number of people don’t take into account.

Heavy curtains or blinds can block light, but protecting against noise may be more difficult. For those who live in exceptionally noisy neighborhoods, a white noise generator or tapes of the sounds of waterfalls or crashing waves may help. But Selecky says the whirring of a small fan may work just as well, and at much less expense.

If you’ve spent night after night tossing and staring at the glowing numbers of your digital alarm clock, Selecky has a simple suggestion: put the clock someplace where you can’t see it.

“When we’re talking to patients with insomnia, we tell them it’s better that they don’t watch the clock. The digital clock, especially, ends up being a distraction. They look at it, toss and turn for what seems like a long time, and then they look again and only 10 minutes have passed. They get frustrated.”

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