When slumber’s no party
RANDY Robinson of Simi Valley always knew that he snored, but he had no idea how heavily until he married Angel three years ago. “It was getting so bad that she either had to sleep with earplugs or outside on the couch,” he says.
For her part, Angel didn’t complain. She just stuck earplugs in and sometimes slept in the living room. Then she started waking up with bruises from his involuntary, nighttime kicks.
The Robinsons are hardly alone. A survey of American couples last year by the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit partially underwritten by sleep-products companies, found that one in four people complains of a partner interfering with a good night’s rest.
The most common gripe, not surprisingly, is snoring. But tossing and turning ranks up there too, as do blanket stealing, twitching, teeth gnashing and monopolizing the mattress. She’s cold when he’s warm. She prefers a soft mattress, but he likes it firm. No wonder more than 20% of the survey respondents indicated that they have tried sleeping apart to ensure a restful night.
And no wonder a whole industry has sprung up in response to their problems, churning out an increasing number of products -- adjustable mattresses, “dual-comfort” linens, even a pillow that discourages prospective space hogs from encroaching onto their mate’s turf. The express purpose for these inventions: establishing detente for couples mired in a battle of the bed.
Since the sleep industry started to roll out merchandise targeting less-than-rested couples like the Robinsons, business has boomed, says Dany Sfeir, senior vice president of memory-foam mattress maker Tempur-Pedic. He says the 14-year-old company has logged a 45% rise in sales since 1998.
“We believe that people spend over $14 billion annually on retail sleep products,” Sfeir says, adding that couples with clashing bed preferences are driving a king-sized portion of the sales.
Among the best known products is Select Comfort’s Sleep Number bed, which comes with remote controls that inflate and deflate air chambers on both sides. Each partner can choose a number between zero and 100 to represent his or her firmness preference.
“When it comes to sleep, no two people are alike,” says Select Comfort’s Pete Bils, whose fanciful title is senior director of sleep innovation. “They’re like snowflakes.”
Having a bed that pleases both partners reduces tossing and turning. That’s important, Bils says, citing studies that indicate when one partner moves in bed, there’s a 75% chance that within 30 seconds the other partner will be disturbed enough to move too.
Serta’s top-of-the-line Perfect Day mattress with Air Rest also has individually controlled air chambers as well as a memory foam that conforms to the body without getting stiflingly hot.
Temperature is a common subject of debate, which explains the existence of a company called Split the Sheets, the brainchild of entrepreneur David. W. Haggerty in Tacoma, Wash. It makes flat and fitted sheets that are divided down the middle: polar fleece on one side, light cotton on the other. Matching reversible pillowcases are lined with the same two fabrics on opposing sides.
On the company’s website, a customer identified only as Martha enthuses, “You have saved our marriage. You are my hero!”
Haggerty says the concept was born out of a truce with his wife in 2003. “Virtually year-round she likes a warm bed, while I prefer a cool bed,” says Haggerty, who closes his e-mails with “Warm (or cool!) regards.”
Along the same vein, Select Comfort makes a comforter that’s thick on one half and thin on the other. Sunbeam’s heated mattress pad has 20 temperature settings for each side.
But even if you solve the dispute over temperature, there’s always the tossing and turning to contend with.
Tempur-Pedic says its movement-absorbing mattresses eliminate the problem. (One side effect: The technology eliminates a bed’s bounciness, making it unpopular with kids.) Other manufacturers’ mattresses, including the Simmons Beautyrest line, have individually wrapped coils that also reduce the transfer of motion. If that doesn’t work, there’s the hook-shaped Sleep Posture Pillow, which cradles sleepers in a semifetal position that decreases wriggling.
Does your better half set the alarm clock too early or at a wake-the-dead volume? Atlanta-based Innovative Sleep Solutions developed a device called Sleeptracker, which is worn like a wristwatch. Inventor Lee Loree came up with the idea by observing fluctuations in his wife’s sleep. Fascinated, he began waking her up in the middle of the night to determine her levels of alertness. The result? She got annoyed, of course. So Loree gave up his makeshift research method and devised a product that could do the same thing without waking the sleeper.
The device, named one of the best inventions of 2005 by Time magazine, has sensors that supposedly can monitor a body’s sleep stages. Users program it so that during any given window (say, 7 to 7:30 a.m.), the alarm goes off when the wearer enters “almost-awake moments” in the sleep cycle. Loree says the alarm is quiet enough to wake only the person wearing it.
Capitalism certainly has responded to the battle of the bed, but not everyone finds a solution in a specialty boutique or gizmo store. After Randy Robinson discovered he was the source of his wife’s bruises, the couple sought help at Sunset Sleep Labs in Simi Valley, where tests revealed that Randy’s restlessness was triggered by sleep apnea, or the interruption of normal breathing.
“Snoring may be the tip of the iceberg,” says Dr. Omar Tirmizi, Sunset Sleep Labs’ medical director. “There might be underlying problems, and medical consequences of poor sleep need to get resolved by a physician.”
Whether or not medical problems are involved, bad sleep can chip away at otherwise healthy relationships. Kathryn Alice, a Venice-based couples’ counselor, says about a third of her clients come in because their mate’s sleeping habits are anything but a dream.
“By the time they come see me, they’re pretty desperate,” she says. “The first thing I tell them is that there’s hope. This doesn’t have to be a relationship killer.”
Alice says that people feel reassured when they find out how many others share this predicament -- and that she knows exactly where they’re coming from. In terms of sleeping preferences, she was completely incompatible with a now ex-boyfriend. “It was really, really hard,” she says. “There was a lot of despair.”
Now happily married, she uses her trial-and-error struggles to shape the advice she doles out. First, she says, both partners need to acknowledge the problem and admit that something needs to change -- without pointing fingers.
“It doesn’t help to blame,” she says. “Both sides need to own up to their part in it, even if it’s just: ‘Well, I’m a light sleeper.’ ”
Alice focuses couples on the fact that they want to stay together. “People don’t realize how solvable this is,” she said.
Joyce Walsleben, coauthor of “A Woman’s Guide to Sleep: Guaranteed Solutions for a Good Night’s Rest,” also counsels sleep-incompatible couples.
Her advice: “If someone reports that sleeping with you is an issue, you should value that statement and listen rather than just saying, ‘Tough.’ ” Women, she says, are more likely to report sleep complaints to men, who are apt to respond with, “What can I do?” -- often because they really don’t know what to do.
Walsleben emphasizes solutions. If you’re squabbling over the bedroom temperature, bundle up or strip down. If you’re dealing with a blanket hog, get a separate comforter. If one spouse squirms, the other should push for a bigger bed. This is, after all, the birthplace of the California king. And if size proves not to matter?
“Therapy is a nice thing,” she says.
The boom in new products is a positive development, Walsleben says. If couples grumble over their differences in bedding opinion, “we send them off shopping.”
Lissa Coffey, a Westlake-based ayurvedic specialist, found alternative ways of coping with her husband’s differences. Because she gets cold, she takes a bath before bedtime so she’s already warm when getting under the covers. When her husband overheats, she cools him with a coconut oil massage. Coffey also recommends lavender aromatherapy to create calmness.
“We accommodate each other because we understand how important good sleep is,” Coffey says. “We know we can’t change the other person, so we love ‘what is’ and enjoy our differences rather than let them annoy us.”
What if a couple has exhausted what seems like all their options? A last remedy is to sleep separately. But if it comes to that, Walsleben says, avoid resentment by understanding that the arrangement is a good-faith compromise. Then make concerted efforts to create intimacy in other ways.
The Robinsons never had to resort to sleeping apart as a permanent solution. A doctorprescribed air mask stopped Randy’s snoring and kicking, and he’s glad that he followed his wife’s suggestion to seek help. “She appreciates it, I know that,” he says. “And I like knowing for myself that she’s sleeping better.”
Avital Binshtock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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You’re getting sleepy ...
The bedding industry has woken up to the fact that many couples have clashing sleep preferences. Select Comfort’s Sleep Number mattress, which allows couples to set different levels of firmness, is one of the best known products. Among the others:
Mattress: Several mattress manufacturers make beds with open-cell or independent coil designs, which supposedly mute the effects of a restless sleeper’s tossing and turning.
Sheets: Split the Sheets’ products have insulating polar fleece on one side and cool, breathable cotton on the other. The dual materials also are used in reversible pillowcases. Target’s website (www.target.com) has a white king set on sale for $67.99. For a different size or color, or for more information, call (253) 219-7306 or go to www.splitthesheets.com.
Comforter: Select Comfort’s Dual Warmth Down Comforter is thick on one side, thin on the other, with stitching that stops down from shifting. The queen size is $229.99, and the king is $249.99. Information: (800) 548-7231, www.selectcomfort.com.
Pillow: The Sleep Posture Pillow is designed for people who sleep on their side. The hook shape cradles the face and spine, theoretically reducing wiggling and rolling. It sells for $59.95 at www.sleepposture.com. Phone inquiries: (901) 767-8824.
Alarm: Innovative Sleep Solutions’ Sleeptracker is an alarm that’s worn like a wristwatch. The company says the alarm is quiet enough to wake only the person wearing it. With a suggested retail of $149, let’s hope so. Information: (800) 617-4509, www.sleeptracker.com.