Entrepreneurs and artists are responding to our culture’s chronic devaluation of sleep.
Sleep may be older than humanity itself, but this most inevitable of activities nonetheless has become the focus of a recent surge of entrepreneurship and cultural interest. Brands, startups and artists are all tuning in to the power of dozing off.
As technology has invaded our bedrooms and workers feel pressure to be “on” 24/7, an epidemic of sleeplessness has struck. Consumers, it seems, are trying to spend their way out of the problem: sleep-related spending increased 8.8% annually from 2008 through 2012, hitting the $32 billion mark in 2012, according to Time magazine. A recent study by IBIS World confirms that only 44% of Americans report a good night’s sleep on a regular basis—no surprise, then, that sleep disorder clinics have exploded into an industry worth an annual $7 billion.
Media mogul Arianna Huffington agrees that we’re in the midst of a massive sleep deprivation crisis. In 2007, she suffered a head injury caused by passing out from sleep deprivation, an experience that led her to transform her life. Her new book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, champions sleep as a basic human right that is being violated, and makes a compelling case for powering down.
Following suit, many large corporations are trying to boost productivity by encouraging employees to get their shut-eye. Insurance behemoth Aetna is paying employees for every night they get more than seven hours, while Uber, Google and Zappos boast dedicated nap rooms and on-site nap pods.
The “sleep space” has even gotten the Silicon Valley makeover in recent years, with the rise of hip online startups including Casper, Tuft & Needle and Yogabed. These direct-to-consumer brands aren’t just shaking up the old-school bedding business by making mattresses more compact, affordable, and easier to transport; they’re also turning the pro-sleep lifestyle into an art form, with bedroom design hacks, napping tours and more.
Casper, poised to become the “Amazon of sleep,” has already added pillows and sheets to its product line, hosted a sleep symposium in New York with Huffington as a keynote speaker, published a trend report on sleep in partnership with Sean Monahan of trend forecasting agency K-Hole, and hosted free sleep-themed pop-up shops across the US, complete with waffle stations and pillowcase screen printers. But the company aspires to offer more than just a place to rest your head. To quote the report, “a bed is no longer furniture—it’s a content platform.”
Casper means this quite literally—it has even created Van Winkles, a website that publishes sleep-related news and features. Editor-in-chief Michael McCutcheon says that Casper started out trying to create pro-sleep products, but soon shifted focus. “It became clear to everyone (through feedback with customers, social media and reporters’ questions) that people cared much more deeply about sleep than the products that help us get it,” he says.
McCutcheon says that lack of information around sleep is one of the many barriers to improving it. This is where sleep-related content comes in. “Content that explores the relationship between sleep and well-being gives people the information they’re looking for,” McCutcheon explains. “But we don’t just talk about sleep all the time. We talk about all the things sleep impacts, too, like our moods, behavior, performance, productivity, friendships and more.”
Sleepwear is also experiencing an awakening, with labels Sleepy Jones and For Restless Sleepers elevating the formerly tired category—not only modernizing how we dress for bed, but popularizing the Man Repeller–approved “SleepCorp” trend of sporting silk pajamas in public, to parties, and even to the office. On the new chic sleepwear frontier, anything goes: even these $1,500 hotel slippers seen on Balenciaga’s S/S 16 runway.
Lunya, founded by entrepreneur Ashley Merrill, makes luxury, technical sleepwear that promotes healthy slumber without compromising style. Conceived as an alternative to uninspiring nighttime options for women—sexy but impractical lingerie, or comfy but frumpy oversized men’s tees and boxers—Lunya offers eco-friendly, “sleep-intelligent” garments designed with attention to sleep-savvy details, such as breathable fabrics that are soft yet easy to wash, and straps that don’t twist.
“With the rise of millennial tech and banking companies making ‘grinding’ out 100-hour weeks a badge of honor, there has been a lot more attention to the dangers of sleep deficiency,” explains Merrill. “As we better understand human bodies, we are starting to learn that sleep is more vital to performance than we ever before realized.”
Lunya’s newest proprietary fabric, called Meneya, is made from Supima cotton and Celliant®, a technical fiber that Lunya says increases circulation and oxygen levels in the body by 7%. “Higher oxygen levels are good for your beauty routine, and for your health: cells grow stronger, injuries heal quicker, your endurance increases and areas of pain are minimized,” Merrill says.
And it isn’t just brands that are participating in the soporific renaissance. Composer Max Richter partnered with a neurologist on Sleep, an eight-hour sedative opus that will lull 400 pajama-wearing audience members to rest overnight at the Sydney Opera House in June 2016. Last year, the actor Jeff Bridges released a dreamy bedtime soundtrack, aptly titled Sleeping Tapes, in partnership with Squarespace, writing, “The world is filled with too many restless people in need of rest—that’s why I filled my sleeping tapes with intriguing sounds, noises and other things to help you get a good night’s rest.”
With so much sleep-related activity going on, sleep is no longer being neglected as the ugly stepsister of wakefulness—we never realized our eight hours were so precious until technology and life demands began to take them away. As a result, bedtime has transitioned from a “no brand’s land” to a lucrative and growing market. Getting a little shuteye may never have been so profitable, deliberate and active.