Pyjamas and doonas could be precisely tailored to our sleeping patterns to help give us a better night’s sleep, thanks to the innovative work of textiles researchers at RMIT.
With good quality sleep considered critical for health, wellbeing and productivity, the research at RMIT’s Centre for Advanced Materials and Performance Textiles is working towards the development of more effective and better sleeping environments.
Projects leader Associate Professor Olga Troynikov said finding new approaches to improve sleep would benefit a diverse range of people – from athletes that want to speed up and improve their recovery from exercise to enable better performance, young people who need better quality sleep to assist with growth, shift workers, older people struggling for quality sleep, patients striving to return to health after illness, and those with clinical sleep disorders.
“Sleep as a measure of health and wellbeing is increasingly seen as one of the most crucial human necessities, particularly in today’s hectic world,” Troynikov said.
“Poor sleep quality and sleep restriction strongly influence our personal wellbeing and productivity.
“Sound sleep is critical not only for people who need high levels of concentration as part of their profession, such as surgeons or air traffic controllers, but also to all of us who need our brains to be working properly to ensure we are safe and efficient at work, at home or in the car.”
The research is leading to the design and development of new materials, improved sleepwear and bedding products that could one day be personalised to each individual’s unique sleeping patterns and preferences.
A number of projects, largely funded by Australian Wool Innovation and leading European institutions, are addressing different thermal bedding and ambient sleep environments, and their interaction with metabolic heat and sweat production, and how these impact on the comfort levels of the sleepers.
A significant achievement of this research has been the development of a new approach to enable objective investigations into dynamic sleeping environments, which was presented at the 16th International Conference on Environmental Ergonomics held in Portsmouth, United Kingdom.
As part of the new approach, a thermal articulated manikin, dubbed Newton by the researchers, is tucked into bed and monitored while he “sleeps”.
“Carrying out research on human subjects would be very time consuming, expensive and would result in highly variable data,” Troynikov said.
“Using a thermal manikin is valuable as he is of human size and form but, unlike humans, is very neutral and objective in his responses, allowing us to collect reliable data.
“In many cases the initial research would be followed by studies on human subjects in sleeping labs, which we have done in some of our research.”
The broad research of the group that Troynikov leads focuses on the physical, physiological and psychological interface between humans, textile materials and apparel systems when worn against the human body, and surrounding environments.
In the past decade the group’s research has focused on sport and performance apparel, protective and industrial work wear, medical textiles and garments.
“It was the results of these studies that led us to start looking at human performance and wellbeing holistically, including sleep and sleeping environments,” she said.
Story: Emma Morgan