Not too long ago, sleep was barely on the radar of concerns for the vast majority of businesses, neither in regards to employee wellness nor as a way to reach consumers. Typically, the issue of sleep was treated as an afterthought or inconvenience.
And while bragging about perpetual sleep deprivation and burning the candle at both ends is still a commonplace for many, in the past few years, perspectives have started to shift. A growing body of research and increased public awareness of sleep has led this trend.
In turn, the new awareness of sleep has awakened industries both old and new on several fronts.
1. The elevated awareness of sleep’s benefits and necessity
In the past decade, science has made significant headway into understanding sleep. While it may seem like a basic function, shuteye is actually quite complex and interconnected with several other aspects of mental and physical health.
The truth is, sleep can speak to just about everyone in some way, whether a person’s goal is to be smarter, lose weight, keep his or her brain young, avoid chronic illnesses, minimize pain, reduce stress, boost mood or simply have more energy. Given sleep's many benefits, what’s not to love?
Yet despite these compelling revelations, Americans are more sleep deprived than ever before. Between demanding schedules, longer work hours, all types of stress and perhaps due even to the rise of handheld electronics, millions of people are eking by on less than optimal levels of rest.
The prevalence of many sleep disorders is also on the rise. Up to 10 percent of the U.S. population experiences chronic insomnia, and around 30 percent experiences insomnia symptoms in any given year. Sleep apnea has also seen a marked increase over the past 20 years, which researchers link in part to the concurrent rise in obesity. Nor is slumber taking a hit just in America: Studies from the UK, Norway, Finland, and the developing world have shown that people in other countries are also sleeping less and experiencing more sleep complaints than in the past.
In an effort to balance modern lifestyles with the desire (and need) to benefit from better rest, sleepy people are turning to sleep and sleep-deprivation aids of all types. Use of pharmaceutical aids and energy drinks remains on an upward trajectory, but because of concern about potential side effects, the demand for alternative ways to improve rest and increase daytime energy is also growing.
2. The rise of an industry
Enter the burgeoning business of sleep. From high-tech apps to reinvented beds, entrepreneurs and established companies are working to provide solutions and meet the desire for products and services that support better rest.
Technology and screen time are typically associated with negative effects on sleep, but some developers are finding ways our smartphones and tablets can be beneficial. White-noise apps like Sleep Pillow Sounds and Relax Melodies are proving quite popular, and are much easier to carry around than a traditional sound machine. Others, like the Sleep Cycle alarm clock, and Sleepbot, take a deeper approach, actually tracking and monitoring sleep habits with a phone’s accelerometer and microphone, providing users with helpful data and tools to better understand their personal sleep patterns.
Wearable activity trackers like the Fitbit go even further, tracking sleep time, waking activity, vital signs and more with precision. For users, wearable devices that track activities and schedules provide interesting insight into what helps and hurts sleep on an individual level.
Today’s mattress brands are also waking up to the power of selling functional benefits, focusing more on how a mattress impacts sleep, comfort and wellness. In the past, ads focused primarily on the product, its price, warranties and other aesthetics, rather than the bed’s main job -- comfortable sleep.
Technology in beds themselves is also developing at a rapid pace, particularly with regard to new types of foams, and adjustable beds that aim to manage sleep and at the same time integrate into decor and even entertainment.
Performance items related to rest are another booming category, ranging from temperature control devices like the Chilipad, which lets couples sleep together peacefully, to smarter alarm clocks, like Lark and Sense, that track sleep cycles. The market is even seeing “smart textiles” like Celliant that can respond to body heat, as well as potential hi-tech bedding that will provide sleep tracking data.
Further, sleep clinics and treatments are on the rise. On the medical side, a better understanding of sleep is spurring many innovative therapies for sleep disorders, ranging from new devices and procedures to behavioral therapy and lifestyle changes. Sleep professionals have more tools than ever at their disposal, to help people achieve sweeter dreams.
An interesting trend here is the growth of sleep spas like YeloSpa, and nap pods like those from Metronaps, designed to let people catch 40 winks and relax away from home. In bustling metros and resorts alike, sleep spas are targeting overworked professionals with the promise of pampering and power naps. Private, rentable spaces for naps can be seen in places like international airports and corporate offices, encouraging people to pause and relax. As awareness rises, innovation is accelerating in an effort to improve people’s lives and offer an antidote to energy drinks.
3. Why shining a light on sleep helps everyone.
While the focus on sleep can serve as an impetus for sales, a broader cultural focus on wellness and healthy habits offers benefits beyond the boardroom. Making sleep a priority rather than an afterthought helps everyone, because everyone needs it.
Starting public conversations on sleep helps by boosting awareness of what people can do to achieve better rest. Increased public awareness of disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia is also crucial; and while the medical community takes the lead, business can play a supporting role in getting the word out.
Prioritizing sleep benefits business in a different way, too -- after all, well-rested employees are better thinkers, more positive, more adept at managing stress and less likely to make errors. As companies begin to take note of the ways sleep relates to their workforce, more and more are implementing things like nap rooms, flexible schedules and other sleep-supporting perks.
Overall, the more we know about sleep, the better equipped we are to manage our own health. We make wiser choices, are better friends and coworkers and safer drivers. We reduce our risk for life-altering and costly chronic illnesses. In a broader sense, this may mean a smarter, less-stressed, more productive, healthier and safer society.
So, while shifting the prevailing cultural and corporate trend away from the glorification of sleep deprivation to healthy habits may be a slow process, it is a worthwhile endeavor for businesses, both now and for upcoming generations.