The science of sleep

We may be a nation of insomniacs, with modern technology exacerbating the issue, yet the pivotal role of our bed in getting a good night’s sleep remains unchanged

Art and Design 20 Nov 2019

Margaret Thatcher famously survived on just four hours’ sleep a night. In the 1980s, this kind of ‘sleep when you’re dead’ attitude was one shared by many, according to Savoir Beds managing director Alistair Hughes. These days, however – with smartphones and social media contributing to our 24/7 lifestyles – getting a good night’s sleep is increasingly recognised as vital for both physical and mental wellbeing.

‘People acknowledge that it’s important to get more sleep yet at the same time we’re doing things that fundamentally act against that,’ says Hughes. ‘I think this will change. I suspect it might reach a point where people feel they’ve overdosed on technology.’

Still, according to Savoir’s in-house research, Britain is a nation of insomniacs. Sleeplessness is one of the most common complaints heard by GPs, with one-in-10 adults suffering from insomnia and over half the population – 51.3% – admitting they struggle to nod off at night.

Savoir Beds

There are many factors that negatively affect sleep: work, diet, anxiety, young children. But one of the most important things you can do to rectify bad sleep is to choose the right bed. ‘The two fundamental elements of the bed are support and temperature regulation,’ says Hughes. ‘The bed isn’t everything, but it is the most important element in getting a good night’s sleep.’

Of course, it is fair to say that Hughes is a little biased, having been in the bed-making business for the past two decades. The British businessman was originally a management consultant for a private members’ club in London, but he wanted to take on a new challenge. Through a contact at the club he learned about The Savoy’s in-house bed-making business, one that dates back to 1905, when the five-star hotel commissioned the ‘ultimate’ bed, dubbed the ‘No.2’. This renowned model is still a mainstay of the hotel, slept in by such prestigious former guests as Sir Winston Churchill and Marilyn Monroe. The late King Hassan II of Morocco once claimed the No.2 was ‘like sleeping on a cloud’ and subsequently ordered 24 for his palace.

‘What struck me was that the Savoy beds were clearly expensive beds made in a way that was very labour-intensive, but when you looked at the bed market, no one seemed to care about it,’ Hughes explains. ‘It was like the dusty corner of the department store or like buying a used car, and that’s not how it should be.’

Realising he’d found just the challenge he was looking for, Hughes and his business partner purchased The Savoy Bedworks in 1997, later relaunching as Savoir Beds. Today, the company makes fewer than 1,000 beds per year across its workshops in north London and Wales to maintain the highest standards through traditional craftsmanship with an unashamedly luxurious aesthetic.

From start to finish, making a Savoir bed is a true labour of love. The company produces four distinct models (including the No.2) and each one, just like a Savile Row suit, is tailor-made to the customer’s unique sleep requirements and home environment.

Savoir Beds

Savoir beds are undoubtedly beautiful objects, but the company’s obsession with premium materials amounts to more than just looking good. Horsetail hair is Savoir’s secret ingredient – and the company’s single biggest expense. Superior South American horsetail hair is ‘carded’ through the workshop’s 100-year-old machine to create tiny natural springs, which form the basis of every mattress. Horsetail hair is smooth and soft, yet eminently sturdy. Not only does it provide ample support and comfort, it also regulates body temperature through its moisture-wicking properties. During sleep, the body’s temperature fluctuates. Natural materials are superior to synthetic fabrics and foam, which can cause overheating and deteriorate over time.

It also helps that Savoir beds certainly look the part. We all know the joy of walking into a hotel room and making a beeline for the sumptuous marshmallow-soft bed. Hughes compares Savoir beds to a Ferrari or a Hermès handbag, acknowledging that, when it comes to sumptuous sleep, looks really do matter.

‘When we bought this business I thought we could do something really different and interesting based on a comfort and style point of view. Our goal is to make a beautiful bed that you will sleep beautifully in.’

Alistair Hughes, Managing Director of Savoir Beds


Alistair Hughes’ top tips on getting a good night’s sleep


The one-hour wind down

‘That hour before you go to bed should be a relaxing time, whether it’s watching a bit of lightweight TV, drinking chamomile tea or reading a book. It’s healthy to have a phone detox before going to bed as phones keep your mind whirring. Exercise is great for sleep but not just before you to go to bed.’

No feasts before 40 winks

‘Don’t eat a big meal just before bedtime. It’s not great for sleep because your body hasn’t had time to digest properly. Your body shouldn’t be doing that while sleeping, therefore you want to have a few hours’ gap between eating and going to bed.’

Booze ban

‘Alcohol negatively affects your sleep because it both stimulates and dehydrates you. Drink lots of water to compensate.’

Get in formation

‘Ideally you should sleep on your back as your breathing is better and it’s easier to get your spine in a better position. The spine should be absolutely straight and hips and shoulders need to sink into the bed. You can get used to the wrong position, which may lead to problems with sleep.’