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Hotels' New Focus: Comfortable Beds

© Courtesy of Grand Hyatt Denver

A good night's sleep is critical to the success of a business trip, so hotels are putting new emphasis on the bed.

Perhaps more than anyone, executives on the road understand that, as the saying goes, showing up is half the battle. The other half increasingly appears dependent on something else at which road warriors are less adept: getting a good night’s sleep. “America’s a nation of walking zombies, and this is especially true of executives: 71 percent of us are not meeting the daily suggested requirement of 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep,” says James B. Maas, a Cornell University professor of psychology who specializes in sleep and has consulted with Marriott, Wyndham and Starwood. Recent studies by Maas and others show that sleep improves memory and performance, while lack of it erodes productivity, coordination, judgment and attention to detail. “More than once people have signed contracts with not enough zeros!” says Maas. Beyond that, there appears to be a direct link between sleep deprivation and type 2 diabetes, strokes and some cancers.

Increasingly travelers are getting the message and putting a good bed high on their list of priorities. According to J. D. Power & Associates, a comfortable bed and pillow choices are must-haves for travelers. Remarkably, that has been the case only for the past two years—in the prior 22 years of Powers’ survey of hotel satisfaction, a good bed and pillow have never cracked the top five of necessities.

Hotels are paying attention, offering an increasing array of upgraded beds along with choices of linens and pillows. According to the latest American Hotel & Lodging Association annual survey, 57 percent of four- and five-star hotels upgraded their bedding last year. That percentage actually has declined in recent years, but only because the industry leapt into luxury beds with abandon starting in 2005, when the AH&LA reported well over 70 percent of hotels updated their beds, spending an astounding $1.4 billion on mattresses, more than double the total of the previous five years combined, according to an analysis at that time by consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The trend began in 1999, when Starwood’s Westin brand introduced its Heavenly Bed. Billed as an “oasis for the weary traveler,” it earned credit for a significant gain in Westin’s occupancy rate as well as for being a feature that allowed hotels to stand firm on room rates. Today the trend has gone beyond higher coil counts in mattresses to no coils at all. A number of chains, including Marriott, feature coil-less beds made of latex or polyurethane that once were available to those willing to take a flier on mail orders of Tempur-Pedic beds. At some hotels, guests can even request a whole new bed be brought in and set up if, for instance, a four-poster bed feels uncomfortably high. Beyond the mattress itself, high-end hotels now offer the ability to request alternative linens and blankets, custom adjustments to the stiffness of a mattress and, Goldilocks-like, a menu of pillows of various firmness.

All of this costs money. According to the AH&LA, the average full-service hotel will spend $550 per king-size mattress set, which it will schedule to replace every six to eight years. The bed linens and associated treatments cost $245 per bed, replaced every three years. At a luxury hotel, the king set typically costs $600 and is replaced every eight years, while the treatments cost much more—an average of $390 per bed, replaced every five to six years, under ideal conditions. Then they are recycled, in a way. “We ‘rag out’ all bed linens that have been set aside with snags, pulled threads, tears, stains or shrinkage, keeping a small supply to tear into rags for window cleaning,” explains Fanny Kienitz, director of housekeeping for the Taj Boston Hotel (the city’s original Ritz-Carlton) and a veteran of several Westin properties. “In general, sheets, pillowcases and duvet covers must be replaced after 75 to 95 washings.... All beds must appear crisp, neat and carefully manicured.” Kienitz also oversees the hotel’s pillow menu, which allows guests to choose from six types, from anti-snoring to down-alternative microfiber, hand-delivered to the room. Such luxurious touches are fast becoming a basic service: The AH&LA says a commanding 93 percent of luxury hotels now offer some selection of pillows, while 69 percent of all hotels offer a choice.

Chains from Hilton’s Conrad Hotels to Hyatt offer pillow-top mattresses and pillow menus as standards now too, meaning the level of sleep luxury has to be ratcheted up even more. At New York’s Benjamin Hotel, a luxury property of boutique hotel operator Denihan Hospitality Group, travelers now can choose to have sleep-time aromatherapy treatments and sleep-inducing snacks sent up to their rooms, according to the hotel’s sleep concierge, Anya Orlansika.

Upgrading mattresses is one way hotels appeal to sleepy travelers. Another is the bedding itself. And the buzz in linens is something you’ve probably heard before: thread count! “The higher the thread count, the softer and more durable [sheets] are,” says Abhinav Anand, operations manager of the Nadesar Palace, a Taj hotel in Varanasi, India. “Hold up a sheet to the light to determine its quality. Light will not shine through a high-thread-count sheet.” Higher thread count is a good thing with cotton, but not necessarily with other fabrics. For instance, flannel (admittedly not common in hotels) loses its softness at a higher thread count. Superior thread count or not, the undisputed king of luxury bedding is Frette, an Italian brand that typically uses 200-thread-count Egyptian cotton, which it claims has softness superior to that of other cottons. Frette has come to dominate the U.S. market since it first came stateside in 1978, but other brands are slipping in, too: Another Italian brand, Pratesi, is featured in some St. Regis locations, while up-and-coming Vermont brand Anichini is in the Waldorf Astoria properties, along with many luxury cruise ships.

From linens to pillows to mattresses, consider your bed as you check into your next hotel room. While it may serve as your workstation and a comfortable spot for viewing the TV, it may also be singularly responsible for your state of mind when you sit across the table from a client, give a presentation or meet with colleagues...whatever the purpose of your trip. A moment of reverence, please, for the bed.

  • 71% of executives do not meet the daily suggested requirement of 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep.

  • 57% of four- and five-star hotels upgraded their bedding last year.

  • $1.4 billion was spent by hotels on mattresses in 2005.

  • $550 is the average cost of a king-size mattress set in full-service hotels, replaced every six to eight years.

  • $245 is the average cost of bed linens and associated treatments (per bed) in full-service hotels, replaced every three years.

  • 93% of luxury hotels offer some selection of pillows.

  • 60% of people get less than six hours of sleep regularly.

Sleep deprived?

For all the piling on of pillows and comforters, hotels can do only so much to help travelers to enjoy a good night’s sleep—you have to get yourself into bed, says Cornell’s James Maas, whose latest book is Sleep for Success: Everything You Must Know About Sleep But Are Too Tired to Ask (Author Solutions, 2010). “If we operated machinery like we operate the human body, we’d be accused of reckless endangerment,” he says. As many as 60 percent of people now get less than six hours of sleep regularly. And unless both your parents naturally slept only a handful of hours, you’re not one of the less than 1 percent of the population that naturally needs fewer hours. To make the best of your sleep in a hotel, Maas does have some tips: Avoid iPads before bed, since they emit a lot of blue spectrum light that makes you alert (or else buy special glasses that will screen away that spectrum of light). Avoid late-night food and alcohol, too. Block out as much hallway and street light as you can. And plan to get eight hours: “A sleep debt does not dissipate into thin air any more than the balance on your Visa does because you haven’t spent any money lately. You have to pay it back.” Even if you pay up for the luxurious bed.

The must-have mattress

Had a great night’s sleep in a hotel and have to have the bed? You’re not alone—summer mattress buying is driven in large part by travelers hunting down beds like the ones they had in hotels, says Peter J. Cancelli, who blogs on mattresses and is co-owner of The Mattress Experts, a Delaware mattress chain. “If you buy it through the hotel, you’ll pay two or three times more for it than you could at retail for the same specifications,” Cancelli says. Want to save some money? You’ll have to do a little bit of research to find out the hotel bed’s features (and don’t bother asking mattress salesmen; they’ll say anything for a sale, says Cancelli). One place to start: Nearly every high-end hotel mattress is made by either Stearns & Foster, Sealy or Simmons. Just keep in mind: You’ll sleep on your home bed more often than a hotel bed gets used, so plan to replace every five years.

Want to be sure you get that hotel bed you sleep like a dream in? The hotels sell them directly, too:

FOUR SEASONS: The bed is available, but not in stores or online. Call the concierge of the nearest Four Seasons, the hotel advises.

HILTON’S SUITE DREAMS BED: hiltontohome.com

HYATT’S GRAND BED: hyattathome.com

MARRIOTT: shopmarriott.com

WESTIN HEAVENLY BED: westin-hotelsathome.com

WALDORF ASTORIA: distinctlywaldorf.com

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