The big business of sleep
Gone are the days of "I'll sleep when I'm dead." It's cool to prioritize bedtime now.
Why it matters: Sleep is trending at companies, at colleges and in the media — and there's a growing sleep economy worth billions of dollars, as new gadgets, mattresses, trackers and alarm clocks flood the market.
- Venture capital funding for sleep tech has been steadily rising, from around $400 million in 2017 to close to $800 million in 2021, per Crunchbase.
What's happening: Sleep is a bonanza."You see a lot of companies jumping into this market and claiming to improve your sleep," says Els van der Helm, a sleep neuroscientist. "A lot of it is marketing, but there is more money going into science-based products than there ever has been before."
- There's an influx of wearables. More than one-third of Americans have used an electronic sleep-tracking device, and most of those people found the tracker data helpful and changed their behavior because of it, according to a 2023 American Academy of Sleep Medicine survey.
- Fancy bedding — like mattresses with sensors, weighted blankets and adjustable pillows in a range of shapes — is meant to offer individualized support. The U.S. mattress industry doubled in value from 2015 to 2020, swelling from $8 billion to $16 billion, Time reports.
- Timed lights, eye masks and smart thermostats are big, Bedtime headbands promise higher-sleep quality, and there are shelves upon shelves of supplements and teas that claim to help.
Zoom out: Sleep is a key factor in our health and longevity — but it was among the last elements to enter the global conversation around wellness, says van der Helm, who advises workforces around the world. "We've been talking about diet and exercise for much longer."
- There's been a cultural shift from a national "bravado" about being too busy to sleep, to people's "acceptance and really prioritization of sleep," says Seema Khosla, the medical director of the North Dakota Center for Sleep.
Reality check: Keeping your bedroom cool, dark and quiet is important for good sleep hygiene. Expensive devices are not necessarily required.
- It's key to expose yourself to bright light right after you wake up to signal to your body that it's the day, says van der Helm, but you could do that by standing next to a window or going outside instead of buying an alarm clock with a timed light.
- And while sleep gadgets can be helpful in certain cases, they can also "induce insomnia by creating an anxiety [around sleep]," says Karin Johnson, a sleep medicine specialist and professor of neurology.
The "cheap way" to improve your sleep quality, Johnson says: Keep a sleep diary and track the number of times you get up and whether there are any factors that lead to better or worse sleep.