‘Clean’ sleep & sleep tech in the era of exhaustion…what we’ve been reading this week at Brand Genetics

This week we’ve been reading about Sleep and a few insights have caught our eye…

A recent article by wellness magazine Well+Good declared we are living in the era of exhaustion. Tiredness has become the new cultural currency, with a third of our ‘always connected’ society struggling to get the recommended seven hours of sleep each night. In fact, a recent survey conducted by the magazine found that of the 1,500 people participating, 92% feel chronically fatigued throughout the week. It is no wonder then that Google Trend searches for the word ‘tired’ have surged 65% in the last 15 years. And this is not good news for business. Sleep loss costs the UK economy over £30bn in lost revenue, or 2% of GDP each year.

Matthew Walker inside his Sleep Lab

How does a lack of sleep effect us?

While it is still largely unknown as to why humans need several hours of sleep each night, an increasing body of scientific literature shows us not getting enough hours of rest has some adverse consequences. Psychologically, less sleep reduces our cognitive capabilities with concentration and memory noticeably worse. As a result, a lack of sleep makes us impatient and more vulnerable to idle behaviours such as drinking alcohol or eating junk food.

A lack of sleep also affects us physiologically. Less sleep impacts our blood sugar levels resulting in imbalanced insulin which may cause weight gain, it also plays havoc with our immune system and increases our rise of developing Alzheimer’s. Less sleep also makes us worse people with an Harvard Business Review study finding those resting for less hours are more likely to cheat!

Overarchingly though, research conducted by Matthew Walker, Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley finds a very simple pattern: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. This is worrying given than the number of hours we are sleeping is decreasing. Walker explains that in 1942, less than 8% of the UK population was trying to survive on six hours or less sleep a night; in 2017, almost one in two people is.

So, why are we so sleep deprived?

There are several explanations why we are currently struggling to get enough sleep each night. We live in a hyper-connected and over-stimulated world which makes winding down at night time difficult. While the most commonly cited problem is the use of smartphones late at night, it is possible that the impact of this technology might not actually be as bad as we think. Work demands have big questions to answer for, particularly shift work which messes with our circadian rhythms. Research shows the porous boundary between work and home makes it challenging to switch off and get rest.

Gwyneth Paltrow getting herself some ‘clean’ sleep

What can we do about it?

There are an increasing number of innovative solutions both holistic and product-based on offer to help people get a better night’s sleep. Matthew Walker himself believes sleep should be prescribed by doctors. Gwyneth Paltrow is an advocate of ‘clean’ sleep. Following the principles of ‘clean’ eating which focuses on the quality and provenance of food, ‘clean’ sleep is about getting 7 or 8 hours of high-quality rest. The methodology involves a series of steps which include limiting caffeine to morning hours, misting your sheets with essential oils and keeping smartphone technology outside the bedroom.

More technological solutions leverage the internet of things and wearables, which CB Insights has predicted as a big trend for 2019. We are seeing the rise of the smart mattress and pillows such as Eight Sleep. Eight Sleep is a US based company which makes thermoelectric mattresses by leveraging biometric data. The mattress connects to an app which monitors the users personal health data and also to ‘smart’ technology such as the Alexa which can be used to control the mattress settings.

Pzzz app

There are also an increasing number of wearable products and apps which track and monitor sleeping patterns with an intention to optimise sleep quantity and quality. Beddr is wearable device which claims to go beyond standard sleep trackers by monitoring breathing patterns and sleeping patterns to enhance sleep quality. Additionally, Pzzz is an app which focuses on getting you to sleep as quickly as possible, while also improving the quality of sleep.

FitBit also has an in-built sleep monitor, providing users with a ‘sleep score’ and there are also rumours the Apple Watch may gain a sleep tracker next year.

The Human Experience (HX) learnings?

Sleep is fundamental to human existence and should not be forgotten. Although the reasons behind the behaviours are still largely unknown, what are very well known are the adverse consequences of a lack of quality sleep. Innovation is both a friend and foe to sleep (friend: wearable and ‘smart’ solutions, foe: smartphone late night blue light addition), so it is important when strategizing how to promote a positive kind of innovation which could help support healthy sleeping patterns rather than break them.

Clemmie Prendergast is a consultant at Brand Genetics, an insight and innovation agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. With a background in anthropology, she has a wealth of experience in behavioural science and psychology and has worked in strategy, insight and behaviour change.

Human-Centered Insight, Innovation and Trends from Brand Genetics www.brandgenetics.com