Sleep will be this decade’s big health movement

Living a more healthy and balanced life is nothing new. In the ‘90s healthy-minded Americans became obsessed with fitness. Jogging and exercise became a national pastime, and joining a gym was almost a family necessity. In ‘00s it was all about diet when we saw a national movement to sidestep artificial and processed foods, avoid fatty fast food fare, and focus on following more natural and wholesome diets.

So in this decade, we at are predicting that Americans will add a focus on sleep to their healthy lifestyles. Why? Because it’s a problem that impacts almost half of the adult population and is now being recognized as significant factor in personal health. Lack of sleep has been linked to serious medical concerns including obesity, high blood pressure, and behavior and safety problems. Many experts now even believe that getting that eighth hour of sleep is actually healthier overall than spending that same hour at the gym.

In our exclusive BalancedHealthy segmentation study, 40% of Americans told us that they don’t get enough sleep to maintain their mental/emotional health. According to The National Sleep Foundation 2011 Sleep in America poll, a similar 43% of Americans between the ages of 13 and 64 say they rarely or never get a good night’s sleep on weeknights. More than half (60%) say that they experience a sleep problem every night or almost every night. According to the CDC, an estimated 50 million to 70 million American adults have chronic sleep loss or a sleep disorder of some kind. Americans are realizing that insomnia is a true medical problem that has physical and mental repercussions that are more life-altering than just feeling drowsy at work the next day.

There is clear evidence that more and more people are taking actions to help them sleep better. We have seen more than a 60% rise in sleeping pill prescriptions since 2000; there are 1,500 accredited sleep centers in the United States. From OTC solutions to natural remedies, there are more products than ever that promise consumers a good night’s sleep. These are signs that we have reached similar epidemic pressure points as we did in previous decades with sedentary behavior and convenience-driven diets.

What has led to this sleepless epidemic? We as a society have never given sleep the respect it deserves … especially as a contributor to our health. In fact, sleeping has long been associated with laziness and depression. We have rewarded lack of sleep as a sign of commitment and hard work — students pulling all-nighters and employees who work two jobs. A digital marketing executive from an ad agency, who often wore his sleeplessness as a badge of honor after working all night reprogramming a website, used to say, “Sleep is highly overrated.” Culturally, it has been beaten into us that a regular 8-hour-a-night sleep is a luxury that busy, ambitious people simply do not have time for. One Gen X male we spoke with admits that he sets an alarm for 11 p.m. — not to wake up, but to remind him to go to bed. The truth is that out of every 100 people who believe they only need five or six hours of sleep a night, only about five people really do. The rest of them end up chronically sleep-deprived, according to the CDC.

We have seen the health opinion leaders finally making a play for America to change the cultural negatives associated with sleeping. Many health-savvy consumers are learning to let go of the guilt associated with putting the brakes on life. Feeling good is in, and consumers who have been practicing years of on-the-go, harried lifestyles are embracing a more balanced approach to wellbeing. Sometimes indulgence is not about more, but about less — the kind of simplification that turns the dial down on stress in order to pave the way for better sleep.

Since in the healthy diet movement, label reading became the new national hobby as consumers demanded more information to help them eat healthy. We can similarly now look for consumers to demand more information associated with quality of rest. We might even see caffeine level warnings on soda and coffee and possibly some kind of ‘body heat’ retention ratings for mattresses or bed linens. We also see people looking for information online to help them sleep better. There are over 1,000 apps on the Android Marketplace that are designed to help you sleep with relaxing sounds and ambient electronica and brainwave programs.

As in the fitness boom, we are already seeing a flurry of performance-oriented sleep accessories. An example is SHEEX performance sheets by former womens college basketball coaches Susan Walvius and Michelle Marciniak. The duo, who believe “sleep is a fitness issue,” are working on expanding their line of moisture wicking sleep gear, according to the The New York Times. Their products and ’sleep fitness’ signage are endorsed by the National Sleep Foundation. Therapedic makes a line of odor-blocking sheets called Always Fresh. And of course, mattresses are becoming more and more relevant in the whole equation, as we are starting to see a decline in low-cost basics and a huge growth in companies in the premium category, like Select Comfort’s Sleep Number (+23%) and Tempur-Pedic (+30%). But now, positioning is moving toward ‘high performance’ with mattresses like the Blu-Tek by Kingsdown, which is marketed with a cross-section view that mimics an athletic shoe and promises a better sleep with a cooler temperature than traditional foam mattresses.

So we at believe that maybe someday soon people at the water cooler will be bragging about the fact that they got “a full eight hours” last night as opposed to how late they worked.


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