By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Accustomed to sleeping on a queen-size, 60-by-80-inch water bed at home, Elissa Robinson got a rude awakening when she headed off to college: a twin-size bed, somewhere around 38-by-75 inches, with a mattress that had seen better days.
This fall, three years after living with a very used, somewhat stained mattress, the 21-year-old senior got a new bed from officials at American University: a double bed, 54-by-80 inches.
"If I had a twin bed, I'd have more space" in the room, "but this is much, much better," said Robinson, who grew up in Oakton. "It's where I sleep, do my homework and everything else. It's just more of an adult thing to have a bigger bed."
University officials hoping to keep students on campus and compete with off-campus housing are trying new room designs and all manner of amenities to appeal to the millennial generation, especially those seeking the comforts of home while in school. Some have given single rooms to students not used to sharing. Others have offered maid service and microwaves. Now they're giving them a larger space on which to lay their heads.
"The trend seems to be that there is more competition among different schools for the student body -- I guess literally -- with larger beds," said Ryan Trainer, executive vice president of the nonprofit International Sleep Products Association.
Once, everyone got a twin bed (although some schlepped larger mattresses from home to squeeze into their rooms). Not anymore, said Nancy Shark, executive director of the Better Sleep Council, the nonprofit consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association.
Trainer said some manufacturers have noticed a change in orders, with universities ordering the bigger beds when space permits.
"It's amazing," 20-year-old AU sophomore Matt Valdivia, used to sleeping in twins at home in Seattle and at school, said of his new double bed. "Now I can be alive and fit on the bed in every direction. . . . And it is easier to fit multiple people."
At AU, the move toward double beds came after complaints by students that the twins were too small and too childish, said Rick Treter, director of residence life. When a dorm designed with suites of larger single bedrooms was built, the double beds were the ticket. They went to about 115 upperclassmen through a room lottery. Whenever renovation and new construction allow, more double beds will be ordered.
"Our students are constantly giving feedback about having to sleep on a single bed," Treter said. "Many of them are not coming from single beds. Many come from doubles and queens, so they have to readjust to living on the single bed."
The first doubles arrived at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro this school year in response to student requests and focus groups, said Mary L. Hummel, director of housing and residence life. Some students, used to larger beds at home, thought the twins were "too small and uncomfortable." The larger beds "accommodate students more comfortably, especially taller students, and better meet student needs," she added.
Treter said students also indicated "that sometimes they are not in the bed alone." And, he added, "people are larger now."
Students entering college today are heavier than their counterparts 20 years ago. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of adolescents 12 to 19 listed as overweight more than tripled between 1980 and 2004. And studies show that college students actually get larger while in school. Seventy percent of students gain an average of nine pounds by the end of sophomore year, according to one study.
Many universities moved from standard twin beds to longer versions several years ago because students complained they were uncomfortable. But the extra-long beds have not been without controversy. For one thing, they're not all the same dimensions. Some beds at the University of Southern California are 36 inches wide, while other twins are 38 or 39 inches. USC's extended twins are 80 inches long. AU's are 84. Those at Pitzer College, a liberal-arts college in Claremont, Calif., are 78.
At AU, extended twins are reserved for students 6-foot-5 and taller, said Prakash Karnani, an operations and facilities official. That left 20-year-old Matt Manopoli, a 6-3 junior, with a regular twin. "It works," he said, "but I have to put my pillow to the very top and make sure my head is up there, too. Otherwise, my feet hang off."
Now that Robinson has a double, she has brought from home a large quilt her mother made for her years ago from her old T-shirts. It was too big for a twin, but it works well on the double.
"I think I do sleep better now," she said. "And it's definitely much easier to have another person in the bed if the occasion arises."
Although the double bed takes up more space in her room, she said it is well worth it.
AU students unable to get a new double bed can rent new mattresses or buy foam-mattress pads, which cover mattresses that are often "used and gross," said junior Stacy Picking, 20.
Sam Gilbert, an 18-year-old AU freshman from Boston, chose the mattress-pad option when he came to campus, and he is glad he did. He got to pick his bed in his dorm room, which is built for two students but temporarily has three, and added a bit more cushiness to it.
"I always get jealous of him . . . because it is so comfortable," roommate Elliot Borg, 18, of Chicago joked. As for the unadorned mattresses, he said, "They are not great by any stretch of the imagination."