The Billion Dollar Business of Sleep
If the headlines are true, we’re living in the age of anxiety. Beset by burnout, wellness has emerged as the antidote to modern times. And now, more than ever, a good night’s sleep is critical to any self-care routine. As a result, selling sleep has become a billion-dollar business.
Whether it’s falling asleep, staying asleep, or improving sleep quality, getting some shut-eye can be a serious problem. In fact, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said sleeplessness is a public health concern.
“As a nation, we are not getting enough sleep.”
– Wayne Giles, MD, CDC
It’s true that a third of Americans battle some form of insomnia and, diagnosed sleep disorder or not, poor sleep costs US businesses $411B/year, but next to prominently displaying your Peloton bike, the quest for high-quality sleep has become a status symbol of sorts. From bedtime elixirs and sleep tracking tech to comfy bedding, the global market for sleep aids is valued at $69.5B, a number that could reach $101.9B by 2023.
For a time, sleep aid meant sleeping pills. But as the number of startups shipping mattresses in boxes grew, our interest in and accompanying spending on sleep ticked up. Of course, that’s no accident. With $340M in funding and hopes of taking over the $39B global mattress market, Casper helped build the sleep economy. Now, the mattress is just one item in Casper’s ever-expanding sleep suite that includes bedding, pillows, bed frames, and sleep-enhancing night light. And Casper is just one name in the business of selling every aspect of the sleep experience.
“It’s really hard to put a price on getting a good night’s sleep.”
– Kathrin Hamm, founder Bearaby
Brands like Parachute, Brooklinen, Buffy, Doris Sleep, and Lunya are cornering the market on comfort. Weighted blankets like Gravity and Bearaby are selling for upwards of $250. Equinox recently unveiled “sleep coaching” to help members optimize sleep and achieve their fitness goals. Tim Ferriss has raved about the ChiliPad — a temperature controlled mattress pad. And there’s an abundance of sleep apps, including Calm and Headspace, the popular meditation apps, as well as options like Pillow and Pzizz.
Predictably, supplement manufacturers are trying to capitalize on this trend. Brands like HUM and OLLY offer “sleep” versions of their vitamin-packs. The same goes for collagen protein maker Vital Proteins and Moon Juice’s Dream Dust. But the practice has also spread to the functional beverage space, with Dirty Lemon, Som, Neuro Drinks, and many others slinging sleep-enhancing drinks. Whether or not the products deliver results is debatable, but there’s no denying the success of their marketing tactics — sleep sells.
More compelling, though, are the high-tech sleep solutions. In 2017, TechCrunch reported some $700M of investment flowing to sleep-related startups. In the time since, sleep-tracking mattress pads and wearables have emerged as the go-to devices. Beddit, a Finnish company acquired by Apple in 2017, offers pads that slip under the sheets, where they collect data like sleep time, heart rate, breathing, and snoring.
When it comes to wearables, Fitbit tracks sleep stages and duration. Meanwhile, Motiv and Oura have introduced rings that track robust health data, with Oura offering a more expansive look at sleep — including total sleep, sleep efficiency, latency, heart rate variability, and more. But it’s WHOOP, a wrist-worn tracker, that has done the most to shape the sleep narrative and reframe recovery in popular culture.
Instead of simply tracking activity, WHOOP measures Recovery, Strain, and Sleep to determine “personal readiness to perform each day.” More specifically, by analyzing heart rate variability, resting heart rate, and sleep, WHOOP provides users with a green, yellow, or red recovery score each day. And here’s where things get interesting.
Whether it’s professional athletes, venture capitalists, or weekend warriors, WHOOP users are sharing screenshots of their personalized recovery score across social media. The goal is to stay in the optimal green zone, and posting your recovery score is a humble brag that you slept eight or nine hours last night.
That anecdote explains why WHOOP is winning, at least among a highly competitive class. They’re replacing bragging about pulling an all-nighter with sharing social proof that you’re actually sleeping. It’s a shift that’s representative of the broader trend and the same one that explains why we’re spending billions: sleep has become a competitive advantage in everyday life and, damn, do we want to win.