Can Anyone Conquer the Big Business of Sleep?


NEW YORK — Every night, millions of people tape their mouths shut before dozing off, hoping they’ve discovered the secret to deeper, uninterrupted sleep – and potentially a more defined jawline.

As bizarre as this may sound – and despite scepticism from many scientists who study sleep – #mouthtape has over 200 million views on TikTok. The wellness influencer and podcaster Lauren Bosstick has launched a $38-a-pack, lip-shaped pink mouth tape on her website, The Skinny Confidential. The item sold out within 48 hours, and three more restocks sold out within one hour, according to the brand. Now with a 100,000-person waiting list for the next drop, Bosstick said the product alone is projected to generate “eight figures” in revenue this year.

Mouth tape is just one product in the booming sleep economy, which includes everything from skin serums and supplements and temperature-controlled mattresses. It’s all part of a mindset shift away from the hustle culture of the 2010s when getting as little sleep as possible was a badge of honour. Today, health is considered a status symbol and being well-rested is a priority.

“I think today being sleep deprived is the new smoking,” said Matteo Franceschetti, chief executive officer of the temperature-controlled mattress start-up Eight Sleep.

Data That Will Keep You Up at Night

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one-third of adult Americans, roughly 70 million people, get an insufficient amount of sleep. And a bad night’s sleep can lead to more than grogginess, dull skin and dark under-eye circles. Chronic poor sleep can lead to increased signs of skin ageing and life-threatening diseases, including Type-2 diabetes, heart disease, depression and Alzheimer’s.

Scientists and physicians have formally observed sleep patterns for nearly a century, but it was the advent of wearables like the FitBit, which hit the market in 2009, that allowed for anyone to keep tabs on their circadian rhythms from the comfort of their own home.

Tim Rosa, former chief marketing officer at FitBit and chief executive of Somnee, which sells a headband that uses “personalised closed-loop neurostimulation” to improve sleep, said the FitBit’s sleep tracker was one of its most popular features from the beginning.

In the 2010s, the Apple Watch, Whoop and the Oura ring followed, and made sleep performance a key part of their pitch too.

“I think this is why the market is so big, because there is this generation of people who want to be optimised,” said Jeff Byers, CEO of Momentous, an athletic supplements and nutrition company. The brand’s “sleep bundle” of inositol, magnesium, magnesium threonate and L-theanine makes up about 25 percent of sales.

The pandemic supercharged interest in all things health, fitness and wellness, sleep included, Byers said. Soon, health podcasters like Stanford neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman, who has partnered with Momentous, and sleep scientists like Matthew Walker — whose “Sleep Is Your Superpower” Ted Talk has 12 million views — became wildly popular for translating the complexity of sleep science into digestible and actionable information.

Want Better Sleep? There’s a Product for That

The solution for sleep deprivation is deceptively straightforward: get more sleep. Robert McNight, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California at Berkeley, and chief medical officer at Somnee, said six to eight hours does the trick, encompassing three or four cycles of light, deep and REM sleep.

But that hasn’t stopped brands from coming up with ways to commercialise the practice.

For decades, prescription drugs like Ambien and over-the-counter melatonin have been the most common sleep aids. But with little regulatory oversight, new supplement formulations have been flooding the market, from Momentous’s performance-driven products to Moon Juice’s adaptogen-infused magnesium powders and Barbara Strum’s Good Night ingestibles.

Beauty sleep also extends to skincare and mattresses. Since 2018, however, Aurelian Lis, the CEO of premium skincare brand Dermalogica began noticing how skincare started to converge with wellness, prompting the launch of the line’s Sound Sleep Skin Cocoon night gel cream, which claims to help the skin recover overnight and reduce tossing and turning with motion-activated essential oils that promote relaxation. It’s now one of the Unilever-owned brand’s biggest hits, representing one-third of its overall business.

Although not the first to enter the mattress market, Eight Sleep’s smart toppers, which it calls “pods” dynamically adjust to an individual’s body temperature at rest and have been popular amongst high-achieving entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg and athletes like the Crossfit champion Justin Medeiros and racing star Lewis Hamilton. The company is now valued at $500 million.

But wearables in the venture capital favourite “sleep tech” and “digital therapeutics” industry are also evolving from providers of sleep -racking data to providers of actual solutions. On top of Somnee, there’s now the Muse headband designed to be a “real-time meditation coach” and the AI-powered Earable’s Frenz Brainband that stimulates the brain with audio therapy; it just won the Consumer Electronics Show 2024 Innovation Award.

Results May Vary

Many brands signal their efficacy with studies, or endorsements from doctors. But a lack of regulation and an overwhelming array of options making a broad variety of promises can make it difficult for consumers to separate the gimmicks from the genuine solutions.

A healthy diet, working out and limiting screen time before bed are all effective to having a good night sleep, McNight said. Even though he is affiliated with Somnee, he believes that for individuals without underlying medical conditions or chronic sleep disorders, the key to achieving a restful night’s sleep may not require purchasing any tools or devices. “Read a book for about ten minutes [at bedtime],” he said. “You’re setting up a slow rhythm, which is the key feature of your second stage of sleep.”

Still, entrepreneurs won’t stop launching new products in the booming sleep economy.

Dermalogica will be launching another sleep-centric product in August, which it predicts to generate “double-digit millions” in sales in its first year. Franceschetti expects that in the next three to five years, it “will become a preventative health platform.”

However, Rosa cautions that shoppers should proceed with caution. “In America, anytime there’s a business opportunity, you’re going to have a lot of companies chasing it. But a lot of them are going to fail because they don’t deliver what consumers ultimately want.”

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