Business: "Modern Lullabies"; the billion-dollar business of helping people sleep
In the modern world, where people are plagued with sleeplessness, this–the simple experience of falling, and staying, asleep–has become something of a luxury. A third of Americans experience brief stretches of insomnia, and a tenth experience three sleepless nights a week for months on end. This sleeplessness is responsible for an estimated $63 billion in lost productivity every year in the United States.
The good news for the sleep-deprived is that we’re living through a golden age of sleep aids. A decade ago, “sleep aid” was synonymous with sleeping pills, but these days, medication only makes up 65% of the market. The last three years have seen an explosion of other types of products designed to help people to fall asleep more easily and stay asleep longer. Initially, many of these sleep tools were tech gadgets, including sleep trackers, apps, lights, and noisemakers, many of which I tested for a story in 2017. But more recently, the trend has shifted toward low-tech products like weighted blankets, temperature-regulating duvets, and pillows with built-in hoods to block out light and keep the sleeper’s head warm. “I think we’re increasingly coming to understand that technology is partly what is causing us stress and insomnia,” says Kathrin Hamm, Bearaby’s founder. “Consumers seem to be gravitating toward products that take them away from all of this blue light.”
Sleep aids are big money. In 2017, they generated $69.5 billion in revenue worldwide and analysts say the industry is on track to hit $101.9 billion by 2023. And given what we now know about how sleep impacts our quality of life, it is perhaps unsurprising that consumers are willing to shell out a lot of money for these products. Case in point: The Bearaby blanket costs $259. That’s on par with other weighted blankets on the market, including the Gravity Blanket and Coolmax. “People are setting aside a budget for self-care,” says Hamm. “It’s really hard to put a price on getting a good night’s sleep.”
An increasing amount of research suggests that not getting enough sleep (defined by the Centers for Disease Control as seven hours a night) increases our risk of diseases including obesity and diabetes. Sleeplessness also can also trigger mental illnesses, including depression, ADHD, anxiety disorders, and even suicide. Doctors have long suspected that insomnia may be related to the onset of Alzheimer’s, and medical researchers in the U.K. are currently conducting a study to see if there is indeed a link.
Part of the reason today’s consumers are so eager to buy sleep aids is that they appear to be more willing than generations past to acknowledge their own mental health, and take charge of it. “There are brands like Casper and Brooklinen that are creating products for you to sleep on, but there’s this separate market of sleep aids which are really part of the anxiety economy,” says Hamm. “In some ways, the sleep aids industry springs out of the mental health industry, and more consumers are willing to acknowledge that they struggle with psychological issues like stress.”
Americans are very stressed out. A newly released Gallup poll found that 55% of adults in the United States describe feeling stressed, which is 20% higher than the global average. And since there is a clear linkbetween stress and insomnia, it makes sense that this anxiety is keeping Americans up at night. PS Market Research found that North America dominated the sleep-aids market, contributing 49.3% of total revenue. In its report, the firm made the case that this was because of two factors: “the growing incidence of sleep disorders and rising initiatives by several government and non-government organizations for increasing awareness about sleep disorders and sleep hygiene.”
Consumers seem to have a limitless appetite for trying products that will help them sleep–and startups are taking note.