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Sweet Dreams

Shape your bedroom for a better night's sleep--including mattress shopping tips.

A survey by the Better Sleep Council (2004) reports that 66 percent of Americans are too stressed out to sleep well at night. We stay up worrying about family matters, jobs, and money-in that order. But stress isn't the only cause of sleeplessness. Uncomfortable pillows and bedding, problems in the environment (such as too much light, noise, and heat or cold), and exhausted mattresses keep us awake, as well. Most of these bedroom design quandaries are easy to remedy.

Buy a better mattress.
Traditional mattresses are still made with three basic components: padding for the mattress, tempered metal coils, and a foundation or box spring. Construction varies by manufacturer (as does price; expect to pay $1,200 to $2,000 for a quality mattress/box spring combo). When it comes to mattress coils, more are better; 400 is a minimum. And the deeper the upholstery, the more softly supportive the mattress.

Alternative bedding materials include high-density viscoelastic foam, also known as memory foam or slow-recovery foam, which was first created to absorb the force exerted on astronauts blasting away from Earth's gravity. Swedish technicians spent a decade domesticating the technology, now best known by the brand name Tempur-as in the Tempur-Pedic Swedish Sleep System ($999 to $1,999). Tempur-Pedic also offers pillows and overlays for your current mattress (starting at $532 for a twin) if you want to test the technology before investing in an entire bed.

Whether you choose a standard coil mattress or a foam model, "Contents and construction matter less than how the mattress feels," McLean says. When shopping for a mattress, wear comfortable clothes. Take your sleep partner, too, if you have one, so each of you gets a vote. First, lie down on your back with no shoes and no pillows. Testing for good support, see if you can lie still-with no urge to move-for 7 to 10 minutes. Next, test for pressure: Roll on your side, legs stacked and back curved. Stay for another 10 minutes, then check for numbness at any pressure point. If a mattress passes this test, it's neither too soft nor too firm, but just right.

Tame sound and light. Although most bedrooms' light and sound qualities are given scant attention, Tom McLean, vice-chairperson of the Better Sleep Council, prescribes a total bedroom blackout. At night, with the lights out and curtains closed, "if you can see anything, it's too light in your bedroom," he says. In New York, where high decibels come with the territory, interior designer Michael Amendolara practices "acoustical design." He sometimes covers bedroom walls in thick, ribbed fabric to help absorb sound. (An example of such material is Silence FR, which is 3/8-inch thick and available through architects or interior designers.) And he also has insulating glass layers added over the old windowpanes. (CitiQuiet Windows' custom-made soundproof windows, $700 to $1,000, eliminate 95 percent of outside sounds.) In addition, Amendolara uses honeycomb shades with blackout linings (like those from Hunter Douglas, $325) and plush, noise-absorbing carpets installed over thick padding.

Choose the latest linens. Many manufacturers are weaving Lycra and other stretchable fibers into bedding so sheets fit snugly and stay put. Adaptive Comfort technology-first applied to ski and outdoor clothing-is now available in Wamsutta's EvenTemp 100 percent cotton mattress pads, comforters, and pillows ($29.99 queen pillow, $79.99 mattress pad, $149.99 comforter). This technology creates a "microclimate" around your body. The bedding absorbs, stores, and releases excess body heat throughout the night to prevent you from becoming too hot or cold.

Make commonsense corrections. Another factor to consider is the overall comfort of your bedroom's design, says Irish-born New York designer Clodagh. She has painted bed alcove walls midnight blue in an otherwise neutral bedroom so the dark hue "invites sleep" without turning the whole room into a cave. Calm is also important, so banish everyday clutter. "And try never to locate your office in your bedroom unless you can hide it in an armoire or behind a screen. You want the last thing you see at night and the first thing you see in the morning to be something beautiful, not a stack of bills. That only causes stress."

Resource Guide
Better Sleep Council:
Chiroflow: 888-763-3435,
CitiQuiet Windows: 212-874-5362,
Hunter Douglas: 800-327-8953,
Relax the Back: 800-222-5728,
Tempur-Pedic: 800-249-9700,
SelfCare: 877-989-6321,
Sealy: 866-233-5422,
Wamsutta: 888-926-7888,