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When slumber's no party

Tired of the snoring, the twitching or the too-warm bedding? If your partner's sleeping habits are keeping you awake, there's a growing industry that's ready to see to your every need.

January 12, 2006|Avital Binshtock | Special to The Times

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.

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