Sleepless in America: A $32.4 Billion Business
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The Fiscal Times
July 23, 2012

The exhortation we’ve heard all our lives sounds so simple and doable: “Get a good night’s sleep.”

But judging by the numbers, a multitude of Americans don’t get enough shut eye and need the array of specialists, services and products that exist today. Even a “natural” water enhanced with melatonin, GABA and 5-HTP tryptophan is on the market to help sleep-desperate consumers achieve the slumber they so badly crave. Welcome to the sleep economy.

IMS Health, a marketing analytics firm based in Parsippany, N.J., projects the sleep industry could reach an astounding $32.4 billion this year in the U.S. That number represents an 8.8 percent year-over-year increase since 2008 and includes everything from pills, products and medical devices to “sleep consultants” who farm themselves out to hospitals, labs, and sleep centers, to luxe mattresses made with tension-relieving foams.

RELATED:  The High Cost of a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep hotels and “pods” catering to weary travelers have popped in many major cities around the world, while advocacy groups like the International Sleep Products Association – founded in 1915 to represent a few dozen mattress manufacturers – now represents nearly 700 mattress makers and bedding supply companies in over 50 countries.

If all of this sounds like a lot of pillow talk, consider the new “Got Sleep?” specialty stores launched by Sleep Train, an employee-owned mattress retailer on the West Coast. The “Got Sleep?” boutiques have sprung up in California malls and offer everything from noise canceling machines to slippers, scented candles, and sheets. Sleep Train had a record year last year, with sales at about $370 million, representing an 18 percent increase from 2010. 

According to a report in April from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a third of working Americans – or nearly 41 million people – are sleep deprived. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of shut eye a night but we’re not getting close to that. Analyzing data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey to compare sleep duration by age, race and ethnicity, sex, marital status, education and employment characteristics, the CDC found that 30 percent of civilian-employed U.S. adults reported sleeping an average of less than six hours a night.

Sleep deprivation can lead to poor health, lower levels of workplace safety, impaired public safety, and decreased job and school performance – all of which can raise costs for employers, consumers and communities. Sleep deprivation can also affect the immune system as stress. Researchers in the U.K. and in The Netherlands found that a loss of sleep actually triggers the production of white blood cell counts at night.

Dr. Stanley Wang, M.D., a clinical cardiologist and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Heart Hospital of Austin, Texas, told KXAN in Austin that sleep deprivation itself can lead to high blood pressure, which leads to heart problems. “But if you also have a sleep disorder on top of that, such as sleep apnea, that causes even worse problems,” he said.  

As Max Hirschkowitz, PhD, an internationally recognized sleep expert and a diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, has written, “If you don’t get the sleep you need, you don’t restore and refresh your brain and body. You’re basically running on empty… When a car runs out of gas, it stops running. That’s an apt analogy. Sleep is the gas that fuels your brain, and when you don’t get enough you may end up on the side of the road, literally or figuratively.”

The National Sleep Foundation says that more than 50 million Americans will suffer from a sleep disorder at some point in their lives. Those who experience sleep apnea stop breathing for short periods of time – which can strain the body and the heart. Sleep problems are also common in older people: A new study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that fragmented or interrupted sleep could predict future placement in a nursing home or assisted living facility.

Right now the U.S. accounts for a major share of the global sleep apnea market, making the opportunity ripe for manufacturers and distributors of such treatments as CPAP – or continuous positive airway pressure – in which a face mask, worn at night, is attached to an air pressurizer to help keep airways open. The total over-the-counter market for sleep aids alone reached $604 million in 2008, an increase of 9 percent over 2007, according to Packaged Facts, a division of Rockville, Md.-based Market Research Group.

Managing Editor Maureen Mackey oversees scheduling and work flow and also writes and edits features and reports on a wide array of subjects. She spent more than 20 years as a senior book and features editor at Reader’s Digest.