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A good night’s sleep is our most important phase of recovery. For more than 30 years, the renowned ergonomics institute Ergonomie Institut München (EIM) has been doing scientific research on the human body – and the ideal conditions of work and recovery. Dr. Florian Heidinger, director of the EIM, explains what to keep in mind for a healthy and restful sleep.



The findings of the field of ergonomics for a healthy body.

Long days at the office. Long periods of sitting and standing. All of that puts a strain on our bodies. And if we don’t have the time for exercising, the consequences are inevitable: a stiff neck, sore back and tense muscles in the evening. If you want to live a healthy lifestyle also from an ergonomic perspective, not only the correct working conditions are important but also, and especially, a restful night’s sleep.

Why is the ergonomics of working and lying so important?

Historically, the field of ergonomics was initially concerned with the optimization of working conditions. More recently, it was especially concerned with the optimization of the sitting position and the set-up of office workplaces. The combination of long periods of mostly static sitting, usually in an unphysiological posture (“hunched back”), on the one hand and little to no physical activity on the other hand is the most common cause for complaints of the musculoskeletal system. The back, i.e. the spine, the intervertebral discs and the muscular system are particularly affected.

“From an ergonomics perspective, one should not only focus on an optimization of the working conditions but should also ensure that people can recover in the best possible way. The most important phase of our daily rest and recovery is sleep and thus lying down in a relaxed position in bed”, explains Dr. Florian Heidinger.

How can ergonomically correct bedding systems counteract such complaints?

We are spoiled for choice when it comes to beds and mattresses. But the key to a good night’s sleep is a precise alignment of the sleep system to the personal needs. In case of classic bedding systems, the mattress is the first point of contact with the sleeper. It is responsible for the most important function, i.e. pressure relief and a natural positioning of the spine. An adjustable slatted frame can also help support the individual positioning of the body.

“A survey conducted by with 1000 participants showed that around 68% of respondents complain of a more or less pronounced strain caused by pressure during the night”, explains Dr. Heidinger. “It is thus crucial that a bedding system also has distinct pressure-relieving characteristics”.

The basic adjustments are made by the mattress itself while the slatted frame is responsible for the fine tuning – ideally complemented by additional functions, for example an adjustable firmness. Ergonomic sleep systems ensure that the spine is perfectly aligned in a horizontal position from the pelvis upwards to the head: the mattresses are softer in the shoulder area so that the shoulder can sink into the mattress. The area under the lumber and pelvis, on the other hand, should be firmer to provide more support and prevent sagging. This ensures a particularly relaxed position when lying down.

Dr. Heidinger: “In case of mattresses divided into zones, it is very important that the individual zones are positioned correctly and that the degree of firmness or softness is perfectly aligned with the corresponding body part. Mattresses divided into zones should adapt their level of firmness or softness to the respective sleeper which then results in an improved positioning of the body.”

Is there something that different types of sleepers should keep in mind?

There are three main sleeping positions: side, back and stomach. Dr. Florian Heidinger: “As regards the central requirements for a relaxed sleeping position during the night for stomach sleepers, one must keep in mind that the strain on the spine in this sleeping position is often increased: the cervical spine is often twisted and a so-called hyperlordosis, i.e. an intensified hollow back, may occur in the area of the lumbar spine. Stomach sleepers should therefore attempt to switch to another sleeping position in the long term and either sleep on their back or on their side.

Side sleepers should ensure that their shoulder can sufficiently sink into the bedding system. That guarantees that the spine from the pelvis upwards via all sections of the spine to the head is in a straight horizontal position. Such a straight horizontal position prevents that the cervical spine is bent upwards (for example because the pillow is too thick) or downwards (for example because the shoulder cannot sink in properly or because the pillow is too thin).

Back sleepers should ensure that their body is positioned as level as possible. This means that the pelvis should not be supported (lifted) too much as this would result in a hyperflexion of the body. However, the mattress should also not cause the pelvis to sink in too much (“hammock effect”) as this would result in an hyperextension of the body.”

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