Sleep, our consistently two-faced mate, is now a bone fide cultural obsession so nuanced that we’re even seeing the rise of Insomnia Identity – believing you have poor sleep whether you do or not. While the desire for a good night’s kip is hardly new, amid an epic rise in the ever-elasticizing world of wellness – globally the industry is now worth $3.72trn – sleep, driven by its fundamental capacity to improve health and performance of every variety has become the near-peerless contender for wellbeing’s ultimate crown. McKinsey reports that the sleep-health industry is collectively worth $30-40bn of that wellness dollar and is growing 8% per year, minimum. From flagships selling fast track naps and bespoke sleep services sliding into mainstream to the beguiling prospect of sleep interfacing, it’s the near-bottomless list of overlapping relevancies – health, sports, beauty and now even creativity – on which sleep’s rising kudos is set to continue growing. Indelibly connected to the age of brands as service providers, sleep is about to get its own splinter sectors.
As Mark Tungate, journalist and author of brand culture analyzing bibles including Branded Beauty and travel focused The Escape Industry says: “Our addiction to screens, the daily horror of the news, Fear of Missing Out [FOMO], the perpetual daytime of electric light – all of these and more have added up to a serious sleep deficit. Experts agree that we need seven or eight hours per night, but most of us average about 6.1. For years, nobody seemed to lose much sleep over this. But when health and peace of mind got hitched and gave birth to the concept of wellness, a closer look at our sleep patterns inevitably followed.”
The somewhat pedestrian, or so you might think, realm of mattress retail has been quick to cash in. This month, American sleep-centric (bedding) brand Parachute launched a flagship in NYC for which it developed an accompanying, sleep-boosting lavender linen spray – tailing the more remarkable launch of US brand Casper’s first permanent store, the Casper Sleep Shop. The latter’s 3,000sqft destination, also in New York, features six mini try-before-you-buy vignettes, representative of a specific sleep zone from falling asleep to daybreak, where visitors are invited to take twenty-minute nap slots. It’s a concept that’s since been next-level commoditized via the nearby Dreamery – a separate destination solely dedicated to fast track napping in individual, cocoon-esque nap nooks.
The fully serviced sessions are staggered for privacy, run from 11:30am to 7:00pm daily and cost $25 for 45 minutes, with no extra charge for the use of a satisfyingly expensive pair of pajamas and a goody bag of cosmetic creams. A lounge area has been designed to transition guests smoothly into the wind down, upgrading the existing airport-style sleep pod experience. People with jet-lag or seeking out a pre-party disco nap are its core targets. Eleanor Morgan, Casper’s SVP of experience has previously referred to it as part of a mission to, “destigmatize sleep and napping,” presumably referencing the city-slickers mantra that sleep is for wimps.
The Dreamery is well-considered and practically relevant and most certainly also talks to a not-that-latent sense of narcissism abundant in contemporary culture. As Tungate says, “The vogue for sleep improvement may be a tangent of the growing interest in meditation, deep breathing exercises and mindfulness. Or it may simply be that in our selfie-obsessed, narcissistic world, sleep has become more important to us. After all, a nap is the ultimate ‘me time’. “
Beauty brands, similarly obvious paramours for the sleep economy, are also early to this table. Last year British skincare business Neom Organics launched a series of free wellbeing classes in UK stores including the Sleep School in which staff dispensed semi-personalized half hour tutorials in basic dozing skills. In March 2018, British lifestyle retailer Bamford hosted a wellness week at its English countryside spa residence focusing on what it considers to be the three core, interdependent strands of contemporary wellness – gut health, unplugging (mind-quietening) and sleep. The latter deployed a mash-up of expertise in yoga, psychology and nutrition plus crystal bowl sound healing and reiki.
So far, so pseudo spiritual – intrinsically valuable but potentially preaching to the already semi converted. Sports brands’ adoption of sleep as a hardcore tool to propel physical prowess is likely to push it mainstream faster. For instance, US brand
And then there’s the constant imagineering of Scandinavian homewares superbrand, Ikea. Last year, its long-running Wonderful Everyday campaign subtly morphed into the Wonderful Everynight via TV ads focused on winning at sleeping – equating the rituals of getting ready for bed with how elite athletes prepare to compete. It followed up just two months ago with a print ad infused with lavender ink that could be torn out and converted into a beside sleep assistant. When assembled – it was flat-pack, of course – it emitted a soothing white noise and light floral aroma. Extending the life of the ad it came with a USB cable and charging port for re-use.
Dr. Guy Meadows, cofounder and clinical director of London-based The Sleep School – a business which treats both individual patients with chronic insomnia but also, increasingly, works with corporations including those in the legal, financial and FMCG sectors, affirms the rise of a serious mainstream appetite for unlocking the power of sleep. “What are people willing to pay? The issue is more that they are now willing to pay. What started as a trickle became a raging torrent due to rising levels of workplace stress affecting both performance and health. It used to be all about what to eat, but the research shows that sleep is most important to improving overall health.”
The Sleep School’s professional program is based on the 36-year-old practice of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) where clients are taught to embrace negative thoughts as opposed to the rebuttal or change generally associated with conventional cognitive behavioral therapy, something that according to Meadows makes it more helpful in practice: “The types of thoughts that tend to swell to unmanageable proportions when you can’t sleep at night are better dealt with by ACT because after the acceptance there’s an easier capacity to move on.” It’s an especially salient point because of ACT’s inherently close relationship to the wider, growing cultural trend towards mindfulness, rendering it more logical and palatable for a general audience, including shoppers – as per Bamford et al.
Its programs involve live sessions plus follow-up digital support via an app that helps users to monitor their progress and compare themselves against national, industry and even department averages. The programs are also tailored to different sleep concerns such as how to overcome jet-lag, handling shift work or managing the sleep deprivation involved in becoming a new parent or even dealing with a teenager. That splintering of the sleep world into micro sectors, combined with The Sleep School’s strategic segue from private clinical work (which it still does) into semi-personalized mass treatments offers a prime cue for retail as the commercial necessity of becoming a service provider – selling advice, skills, coaching and assistance – gets ever more real.
“As people become attuned to the fact that sleep is most powerful personal enhancer known to mankind, it will start to become normalized,” says Meadows – paving the way for a sleep economy where sleep sessions, which could conducted by anyone from beauty brands to sports retailers to any hybrids you can possibly think of, will be as standard as getting a massage.
As for where else this will go, unlocking creativity is another key space to watch, especially considering the predictions suggesting that when automation comes of age in full it will be the caring and creative professions that are the most valuable; creativity will no longer be framed as a lauded but mercurial commercial landscape to gamble on but a hardcore commodity to actively crack. Somewhat inadvertently tapping that sentiment, this year MIT student Adam Horowitz and fellow researchers including Ishaan Grover and Pedro Reynolds-Cueller plus a team of engineers launched a concept (still very much in beta) called Dormio – a glove-like wearable device that intercepts sleep in order to allow users to observe and even steer it.
It works by tapping into the hypnagogic state – the subconscious limbo between wakefulness and slumber – where the borders between reality, memory and various other cognitive processes become blurred, effectively unshackling us from the constraining logic of everyday life. During that dream state small signals are sent to keep the wearer in the hallucinatory space for longer, allowing them to experience the kind of wakeful dreaming experienced when nodding off on a long car journey. Alternatively, slices of audio can be used to puncture the reverie – subtle suggestions designed to reroute the thought streams should, for example, you be experiencing a recurring nightmare you want to disrupt.
According to Horowitz this is possible because bio signals are uniquely universal in sleep, meaning it’s possible to plug into specific sleep states or layers – the parts optimized for creativity/fantasy, the parts for motor-memory and rehearsal, the parts dealing with what occurred in the last 24 hours: “If you want to experience your dreams or rehearse your day, it’s incredibly easy to tell when people will be in the relevant state. The important thing here is that you can’t control your mind from wandering but you can observe it. Sleep gets interesting when you can interface with it , especially when there’s a unique sense of cognition.”
Affirming creativity’s rich new horizons Horowitz is keen to emphasize that this work on sleep is focused on the notion of the optimized (future) human as being something more than purely task driven – counter to so much of the discussion around supercharging the human race to be more mentally efficient or physically devastating. The elastic, uncharted cognitive areas of self-discovery are more his bag. “We, as humans, are constantly discerning, describing and analyzing but sleep is about intense inattention, hence the relationship to optimizing creativity. The notion of being both in and out of control, is a very interesting space.”
Circling back to the nascent commercial opportunities it’s notable that the Dormio project, with its inherent grounding in the individual, ultimately still connects to the notion of the quantified self and therefore initiatives such as the aforementioned Under Armour tracker where cognitive nudges and the unearthing of personal truths are the key currency. As Horowitz himself says, “So much research on sleep hasn’t been transferred out of the lab. What we’re effectively doing is giving people an interface to themselves.” Start the bidding now.