Is It Just Us, or Are We Suddenly Obsessed With Sleep?
How our need for unwinding spawned an entire industry.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:16 AM
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We have a sleep fetish. Instagram is populated with advertisements of neatly packaged products promising to cure bedtime woes with the click of a button. One of the buzziest products of the last year was not some new-fangled tech product—it was a blanket. In fashion, “sleepleisure” is replacing athleisure. Subway adverts are littered with beds featuring well-rested-looking models taunting morning commuters with their superior sleep situation. The last few years have seen a change in the way we think about sleep and the conversation surrounding it. We’re a generation obsessed, perhaps to the point that we’re actually losing sleep, with the idea of losing sleep. But why now?
It might simply be that we’re more conscious of sleep and its importance than ever before. According to the CDC, one in three adults isn’t getting enough of it. While this may not be a groundbreaking statistic to anyone, it’s interesting to note that millennials probably aren’t that one adult: Forbes reports that our generation is sleeping an average of 25 minutes longer each night. Maybe the biggest indicator of our sleep obsession is the fact that it has spawned an entire industry: From direct-to-consumer brands to wellness startups, “chic sleep” is booming.
This industry has branched off into several verticals. The most visible may be the mattress-in-a-box sector; 2014 saw the launch of Casper and an entirely new approach to traditional mattress shopping. Allswell has taken it one step further, offering not only mattresses but every bedding accoutrement you could possibly need, following a similar model based off convenience. Bedding companies like Brooklinen and Parachute are making sheet shopping exciting: promising luxury-level quality at an accessible price point. There are even sleepwear companies, like Sleepy Jones, that would like you to think of your pajamas as uniforms you can (and should) spend all day in, as opposed to utilitarian pieces of cloth.
While the chic sleep industry didn’t exist a mere decade ago, it’s now incredibly saturated. This makes examining these brands interesting because to do so offers insight into why millennials are more obsessed with sleep—and, in particular, trendy sleep—than seemingly any other generation. So we spoke to some of the leading sleep companies to understand this boom. After all, being tired is hardly a new problem, but the solution is chicer than ever.
The Wellness Boom and Sleep as a Status Symbol
For better or for worse, “burnout” and “self-care” are the buzzwords of our generation. We’ve been beaten over the head with the notion that millennials are the most stressed-out generation of all. Gwyneth Paltrow has arguably commodified an entire lifestyle based on responding to this anxiety with things like aura-cleansing sprays and $175 “meditation” candles.
“People are definitely thinking more about wellness. Our lives are so crazy that the moments we have to rest and chill are precious. Your bedroom is a special place,” says Vicki Fulop, cofounder of Brooklinen.
Allswell president Arlyn Davich agrees, attributing the millennial crusade for better sleep in part to the visibility of the wellness movement. According to her, our priorities have shifted, and we’re simply interested in investing in ourselves more than ever before. “Over the last decade, things that adorned your body in public—like handbags or shoes during the Sex and the City era—were status symbols,” she says. “Because all those things have become so democratized, I think looking well-rested, healthy, and fit have become the new status symbols.”
Through tapping into our collective interest in wellness, chic sleep companies are selling a lifestyle, not a product. Parachute is a great example of this. You can buy beautiful linen sheets and plush bathroom textiles, yes, but you can also buy high-quality decor and even mattresses. And with an army of 192k loyal Instagram followers, Parachute is almost more of a lifestyle blog than strictly a retailer.
Founder Ariel Kaye says this was intentional. “When I launched Parachute, I knew that I not only wanted to offer the best sheets on the market, but I also wanted to inspire a movement around sleep, wellness, and creating a comfortable home,” she explains. “We’ve cultivated a community dedicated to comfort, both online and off.”
A New Type of Consumer
The companies that cater to this need for chic sleep are largely run by millennials, for millennials—a situation that affords them certain benefits when it comes to reaching their target consumer. It’s why they know where to advertise—through smart social media campaigns, prominent podcasts, and quippy subway ads. It’s also why they know how to advertise. Most of these companies share similarly minimalist, contemporary branding that’s aesthetically appealing. Their ads feel more authentic than aspirational: “It’s not about having a perfectly made bed, because that’s not life as we know it,” explains Fulop. “We want people to see themselves in our ads.”
Quartz reports that 40 percent of America’s workforce will be freelancers by 2020. This could explain why people’s attitudes toward shopping for sleep products have changed; consumers will be spending more time at home than ever before, so they’re investing in things like bedding and loungewear at a higher rate. Retailers who offer transparency and efficiency have edged out more traditional business models, which offered an almost overwhelming number of items at different price points and quality levels.
“I think millennials have always been interested in limited choice; internet companies in general just have done a better job at capitalizing on that,” says Davich. For example, Allswell items hit every possible sleep-related product bucket—there are mattresses, beddings, pillows, and duvet inserts. But the difference between brands like Allswell and traditional retailers is that Allswell offers only a couple in each category; the idea being that it’s a more efficient way to shop because you know that you’re viewing the best of the best.
Aside from efficiency, the new consumer also prizes transparency. This is a pattern reflected outside the sleep industry, too, as in the culinary world, there’s the rise in farm-to-table cuisine and the push to buy locally to understand where your food comes from. According to a Nielsen survey, 73 percent of millennials reported a willingness to pay more for sustainability. We’ve seen this firsthand with slow-fashion brands touting transparency in their production processes.
“Our millennial customer likes to do the deep diving and understand what makes a product high-quality and why it’s more affordable,” says Fulop. “People want to understand what they’re getting, where it’s coming from, and what the brand stands for. They want a brand they can trust and identify with.”
A Response to an Overly Connected World
A little over a year ago, a new tactic for getting better sleep was suggested: Reading bedtime stories.
With the right mixture of nostalgia and delightful quaintness, this piece of advice took off with those dedicated to getting better sleep. It was seen as a way to force yourself to be present, and most importantly, end your day away from a screen. Whether it’s listening to a soundtrack or reading a book, most sleep experts will tell you it’s best to revert to analog methods to catch z’s. But beyond just practical advice (we know by now that overexposure to blue light has detrimental health effects), there’s something emotionally alluring about the idea of your bedroom being a place where you can completely disconnect. It’s this idea that chic sleep brands are capitalizing on.
“Lounging is the greatest luxury, and you can get there by way of our product,” says Sleepy Jones brand creative Christian Lopez, repeating the company manifesto. “We try to remind our audience to take moments to unplug, and that seems to resonate with people.”
He’s on to something there: Millennials are the biggest consumer group in the US furniture and bedding market. It seems there’s a price to pay for choosing to distance oneself from the digital age, and our generation is willing to pay up. After all, chic sleep—like all trends—isn’t free.
“We think it has to do with the fact that everyone is so connected throughout the day, so the greatest luxury isn’t material—it’s the quiet moments when we slow down and reconnect,” he says.
Perhaps this generation’s obsession with sleep is simply an inevitable byproduct of being the first generation totally ensconced in the digital age. While splurging on luxury pajamas may seem like an indulgent consumer habit to some, Lopez posits that it merely helps facilitate the biggest splurge of all: allowing ourselves time to disconnect from the outside world. And, as anyone who has ever felt pangs of guilt after choosing to sleep in over getting a head start on the day’s emails will tell you, this theory is one that rings eerily true.
See more sleep stories: Can the Right Sheets Help You Fall Asleep? I Tried 5 Hacks to Become a Morning Person—Here’s What Actually Worked 7 Ways to Outsmart Insomnia, According to Women Who Actually Did It