Dream Ticket: How Sleep Became A Billion-Dollar Business
Tiredness is the new norm – no wonder companies are selling sleep aids from spooning robots to cuddle blankets. How did a restful night become a luxury item?
Rockwell Shah speaks with almost evangelical zeal about sleep. He is the CEO of Pzizz, an app that “designs dynamic audio” to get you to “sleep at the push of a button”; for him, bedtime is a “sleep experience”. Does he use his own app? “Oh my God! All the time.” As a sleep entrepreneur, what is his bedtime routine like – does he swear by camomile tea or special pyjamas? “I have a Purple mattress. I love the darn thing; it’s not like anything you’ve ever experienced with a mattress before, you basically float on top of it.” He does not, he clarifies, have any affiliation to the company. He is just truly that excited about shuteye.
Who can blame him? A good night’s sleep helps our memory, learning and mood. So it is no wonder that an industry of bright-eyed sleep entrepreneurs has awoken around our quest for better, deeper, longer sleep. They are offering everything from sleep trackers to white noise machines and hi-tech pyjamas that claim to create “an advanced sleep system for better rest and recovery”, made from bioceramic material that “absorbs the body’s natural heat and reflects that energy back into the skin”. Then there is a new robot, versed in “thousands of years of Buddhist breathing techniques”, that promises to soothe you to sleep, if only you spoon it. Yours to order for €539 ($666).
In the world of sleep, business is booming: according to a 2017 McKinsey report, the sleep-health industry – anything from bedding and sound control to sleep consultants and prescription sleep aids – “is collectively estimated to be worth between $30bn and $40bn and has historically grown by more than 8% a year, with few signs of slowing down”.
At a time when our innate ability to sleep is being kiboshed by work, life and disruptive partners – one recent study found that 30% of Americans wanted a “sleep divorce” – capitalism is, for better or worse, finding a way to sell it back to us.
Just look at the mattress market. In recent years, mattresses have become a highly desirable commodity, sold by companies that increasingly behave like tech startups, putting growth at their core and accessing venture capital markets more usually associated with Silicon Valley. The New York-based online mattress retailer Casper reached $100m in sales in 2015, the year after it launched; British company Simba expects sales of £100m by next year, having launched in 2016.