The quest for a good night’s rest is keeping a lot of entrepreneurs up. Maddeaux,
Sleep, once a basic part of human life, is now a cultural obsession. We talk about it over lunch, track it on our phones, and concoct elaborate winddown routines. Many people try to buy their way to a better night’s rest — and who can blame them? Insufficient sleep is a global problem that’s only gotten worse during the stressful COVID era, birthing a new type of sleep disorder: “coronasomnia.”
As a result, bedtime is a booming business. In 2019, the global sleep economy was estimated at US$432 billion and is expected to be worth $532 billion by 2026. Whether it’s weighted blankets, cooling mattresses, smart lighting, pillows that analyze dream patterns, or futuristic sleep suits, there’s no shortage of innovative designs fighting for a slice of the market. The competition can be fierce, with mattress startups accusing review websites of shady practices and meditation apps funding dozens of clinical studies to prove their effectiveness.
Yet, for all the money spent on sleep, are most people sleeping any better? Where’s the evidence to back up all these promises of a more restful slumber? Like most wellness categories, the sector can fall victim to dubious claims and magical thinking, but, somewhat surprisingly, many sleep products’ claims check out. From wearables and smart furniture to bedtime accessories, the latest design advances really can help you get to sleep, stay asleep and wake up ready to take on the day.
When it comes to accessorizing sleep, little changes can make a big difference. Weighted blankets, which typically clock in between five and 30 pounds, may sound like something Gwyneth Paltrow coaxed out of thin air, but they actually have therapeutic street cred. Their effectiveness is rooted in a technique called deep pressure simulation, used for years in the autism community. Weighted blankets went mainstream when parents of children with sensory processing disorders realized the blankets helped them sleep, too.
Now, a new generation of weighted blankets is on the market, some with cooling technology, organic materials, or customized softness for those sensitive to touch. Companies like Truhugs boast “ridiculous engineering,” including effective swaddling for equal weight distribution and unique quilting patterns for diagonal flexibility. Some brands, like Gravity Blankets, now design additional weighted accessories, like sleep masks and robes.
Smart lighting is a billion-dollar industry all on its own, in part propelled by the desire for better wind-down and wake-up routines. Even Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg buys into the hype. He made headlines in 2019 when he somehow found the time to create a wooden “sleep box” for his wife that emits a faint light to peacefully rouse her without looking at her phone (yes, the irony is real).
These types of wake-up lights are based on the principle of dawn simulation, or mechanical sunrise. The idea is that gradual light simulates sunrise conditions, which allows your biological clock to get in sync for the day ahead rather than being rudely awakened by a buzzing alarm. While dawn simulators have been around since the 90s, they used to be clunky and aesthetically unappealing.
Not anymore. Toronto-headquartered tech company Nanoleaf’s smart light panels, which offer particularly convincing sunrise and sleep modes, could pass as art installations. They’re also completely customizable.
The sleep industry only gets more futuristic from there. Dreampad pillows incorporate vibrational sounds that interact with your nervous system to help regulate stress. The best part? Only you can hear them, so no one else is disturbed. Meanwhile, high-tech beds that range from $20,000 to $50,000 offer features like anti-snore mechanisms, hi-fi sound systems, thermoregulation, sleep diagnostics, integrated massage systems, and more.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the world’s leaders in sleep design happen to be hotels. Four Seasons prides itself on researching the “science of sleep” and goes so far as to design its own signature Four Seasons mattress. Key features include a unique topper system to maximize comfort and a proprietary “aircool” system of gel and memory foam that regulates temperature. The mattresses have become so popular, the chain now sells them direct-to-consumers alongside its in-house pillows, duvets, and linens.
Four Seasons has even researched the best foot fold for turndown service. Coined the “Issy fold” after brand founder Isadore “Issy” Sharp, the technique allows maximal foot movement while remaining tucked in. When designing new hotels, Four Seasons also considers how windows affect circadian rhythms and optimizes everything from door hinges to light switches and pipe insulation for sleep acoustics.
The pursuit of a better night’s rest has turned into a rat race to capture billions in consumer spending across the tech, homeware and hospitality industries. While there are certainly some cash grabs out there, many sleep products, from light systems to mattresses, are backed by science and solid design principles. There’s ultimately no guarantee you can buy your way to a better sleep, but, these days, you can certainly spend an infinite amount trying.