These past several weeks I have been alternating between prototype sleepwear that I’ve made with wicking fabric and Phase Change Material (PCM) or my Outlast fabric. WOW oh WOW….have I noticed a difference in my night sweats. Until starting alvöru, I would never have realized 1) how technology plays a huge role in fabric; 2) the difference between reactive and proactive fabrics; 3) the various causes of discomfort with body temperature and so much more.
So, let me tell you a tale of two high-performance fabrics and the benefits and characteristics they offer.
Wicking – Moisture-wicking fabric was originally developed to boost athletes’ performance in extreme outdoor situations by keeping them drier and cooler in hot conditions and warmer in cold weather.
When these fabrics first appeared in the market nearly 30 years ago, they were synthetic (polyester) with a moisture-wicking finish applied. With each machine washing, unfortunately these chemically treated fabrics lost their ability to wick moisture. Continued development and testing found that combining hydrophobic (water-hating) fibers and hydrophilic (water-loving) fibers would work to pull moisture to the outside of the fabric and cause quick drying.
Standardized testing began to scientifically measure the wicking time of fabrics in minutes, seconds and inches as it is important to know how fast fabrics wick and dry. When fabrics don’t wick moisture will be trapped against the skin, retaining heat and encouraging heat rash. Fabrics that wick but don’t dry as fast will be less comfortable as the fabric tends to hold the moisture longer. The drying time is one of the most important attributes of performance because it is key to effective thermoregulation.
Side note on thermoregulation.
Our bodies work to maintain a constant internal temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The hypothalamus is a section of your brain that controls thermoregulation. When it senses your internal temperature becoming too low or high, it sends signals to your muscles, organs, glands and nervous system to respond to help return your temperature to normal.
To cool down two responses occur:
Sweating – Your sweat glands release sweat which cools your skin as it evaporates. This helps to lower your internal temperature.
Vasodilation – The blood vessels under your skin get wider. This increases blood flow to your skin where it is cooler – away from your warm inner body. This lets your body release heat through heat radiation.
Phase Change Material – Also called PCMs are substances that undergo a process of phase change – materials that store, release or absorb heat as they fluctuate between solid and liquid form, giving off heat as they change to a solid state and absorbing it as they return to a liquid state.
Utilizing Phase Change Material (PCM) technology, in textiles provides a proactive way to manage and adapt to body temperature. Think of it with this analogy – ice cubes in a glass of water; the ice changes phases in order to cool the drink. The exact same thing is happening with this fabric while it is on your body. As your body heats up, the fabric absorbs the heat, it stores the heat and then re-releases that heat when you start to cool down.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) space research program in the late 1970s and early 1980s did considerable research and development on new materials that could protect delicate instruments in space from the temperature extremes they encountered. NASA used PCMs on the Lunar Rover and Skylab projects in the 1970s.
In 1987, researchers of Triangle Research and Development Corp., Raleigh, NC, demonstrated the feasibility of incorporating PCMs within textile fibers, and were issued a patent in 1994. These patent rights were later licensed to Outlast Technologies Inc., Golden, CO that is used in alvöru clothing.
What’s the moral to this tale? My simple answer is that alvöru clothing and bedding uses better technology in fabric to provide continual comfort during the day or at night. Personally, I have made myself be more aware of the clothing that I am wearing and the fluctuations that my body temperature is going through. What originally began as a way to bring relief to myself and other women suffering with hot flashes and night sweats has become what I view as lifestyle products that anyone can benefit from but even more so if body temperature (too cold, too hot) is a regular way of life.
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