Boomers in search of a good night's sleep are willing to splurge on beds fit for a queen

Posted: Friday, January 09, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) Don and Edna Kaplan are usually frugal people. They're careful shoppers who keep an eye out for bargains. But they didn't hesitate to plunk down $6,000 for a luxurious, handcrafted mattress from Sweden when they started having trouble sleeping.

Their decision to treat themselves to a bed from Hastens, mattress purveyor to the royal Swedish court, reflects a broader trend. Americans, particularly baby boomers with aching backs, are increasingly willing to pay a premium for a bed that will give them a good night's sleep.

''I know the price seems ridiculous,'' said Edna Kaplan, 55, a public relations executive in Marblehead, Mass. ''We don't normally spend money like that. But we just decided to do it, and we're so glad we did. I love it so much, I look forward to getting in it every night.''

She credits the mattress, a queen-size cloud of horsehair, cotton, flax and pure new wool designed to limit the transfer of movement, with easing her 56-year-old husband's back pain and helping her sleep through the night.

Sleep experts say the average person needs between seven and nine hours of rest a night, but most Americans get only six or seven. Some workaholic baby boomers people born between 1946 and 1964 sleep even less. And while there is a general belief that older adults require less rest than younger people, research has shown that's simply not true, said Marcia Stein, spokeswoman for the National Sleep Foundation, an independent nonprofit group.

''We know that a third of Americans are walking around so sleepy, it impacts their performance in their daily activities,'' Stein said.

So every year, more people decide to invest in higher-end mattresses to help them sleep.

The average mattress costs about $600, but sales of beds that cost $1,000 or more are on the rise. Higher-end beds made up 17.3 percent of all U.S. mattress sales in 2002, up from 13.5 percent in 2000, according to the Better Sleep Council, a nonprofit sleep education group funded by mattress makers. Queen-size mattresses remain the best sellers, but king-size beds are gaining in popularity as people trade up.

''As you age, higher quality bedding becomes even more important because your body is changing,'' said Nancy Blatt, the council's executive director. ''People tend to gain weight, they develop aches and pains, so what you're looking for in a mattress changes, too.''

At Stearns & Foster, the luxury brand of mattress maker Sealy Inc., annual sales went from about $35 million in 1994 to $250 million in 2003, said Jim Ross, vice president of marketing. Affluent, health-conscious baby boomers have driven the trend, he said.

''There is a new luxury customer out there, and they are willing to spend as much money as they can afford on the items that are important to them,'' Ross said. ''The boomer mentality is, 'I've worked hard and I don't want to compromise.'''

That was just how Greg Godek felt when he and his wife decided to trade their queen-sized mattress for a super-plush California king bed following the birth of their son. Godek, 48, a publishing consultant and author of self-help books, said they both felt it was time to get the bed they'd always wanted.

''There are places in your life where you compromise and there are places where you shouldn't, and for us, this is one of them,'' said Godek, of San Diego. ''You spend a third of your life in bed! Sleeping is just ... one of life's joys. So it's a bit of an indulgence, but we deserve it.''

Boomers have always looked for ways to improve their lives, seeking out natural products, organic foods and holistic remedies; that might be part of the fascination with ever-more-luxurious bedding, said Mario Almonte, 43, an account manager in New York. Almonte's first major purchase as an adult was a waterbed, which he hated, and he's never stopped searching for the perfect mattress.

He's been fairly happy with his queen-size, which rests sans box spring on a platform bed, but it's almost 10 years old now and his wife has started to complain she's not getting a good night's sleep. So he's shopping again.

''Every now and then I see an ad for a new 'heavenly comfort' mattress using revolutionary new spring technology that conforms to every single nook and cranny of my body and helps me get the best sleep of my life,'' he said. ''And I think, 'Maybe that's the one!'''

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