There was a day when lack of sleep was something of a status symbol—not because you couldn’t, but because you were just too damned busy. Those days have officially caught up with us. We now know there’s nothing particularly impressive about inviting in premature aging, weight gain and distractedness. “People have realized that it’s not a badge of honor to walk around foggy and disengaged,” says the Better Sleep Council’s Mark Kinsley. “If your life is so packed that you can’t fit in a good seven or eight hours, it’s time to reevaluate.”
Now that we want it, of course, we want it yesterday. Sleep is currently an estimated $40 billion business, increasing nearly 10 percent each year as we clamor for $100,000 mattresses made of hand-woven horsehair, infinity-count bedding and snore-proofed walls, as well as Fitbits and their kin and alarm clocks that promise to wake us at the precise ideal time. We’re also employing more personal sleep assistants than ever. Cognitive behavioral sleep therapy, one of the fastest growing segments of psychotherapy, uses a combination of approaches to help you understand what you’re doing wrong, and how to stop, while professional sleep consultants will often temporarily move in with clients to figure out the things they can do, or stop doing, to sleep better.
“We’re a very results-oriented culture,” says Kinsley. “If we don’t eat well, we can decide to eat better. If we don’t exercise, we can decide to go to a class. But don’t sleep well? Bummer. We don’t know what to do. Which is why it’s such ripe territory for the people who make products to come in and say, Hey, have I got something for you.” Spas like Canyon Ranch and Golden Door, meanwhile, offer sleep treatment programs that range from weekend workshops to month-long retreats, and hotels are getting in on the act, too: This year, the Corinthia Hotel London introduced the “Sumptuous Sleep Retreat” program following what a rep calls “research and guest feedback indicating that a great night’s sleep is becoming the ultimate luxury” and featuring an in-room menu of sleep-conducive foods, 300-thread-count cotton bedding and blackout curtains; spa treatments that promote good sleep through foot massage and polarity balance bodywork; and a “turndown treat” of warm milk and pumpkin-seed cookies. Since its launch, the program has been wildly successful with guests that include new moms, frequent flyers and desperate insomniacs who are willing to shell out upwards of $1,150 a night.
The problem, of course, is that none of it’s working. All the help notwithstanding, nearly 70 million Americans suffer from problematic sleep. “It’s really clear that things are getting worse,” says Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and veteran sleep specialist who has created sleep programs for Canyon Ranch and Arizona’s Miraval and who continues to lead increasingly sold-out sleep retreats around the country. “A rich man can buy a bed of gold, but he can’t buy a better night of sleep.” Part of the problem, he says, is our arrogance about our sleep. “We don’t have a clear sense for what it is and why we can’t buy it,” he says. “We don’t get sleep because we don’t get sleep.” We also don’t want to put in the work to make it better—practices like drinking less coffee, going to bed at a consistent hour, unplugging earlier each night. Instead, we tell ourselves we need a new mattress, a better sleeping pill, new pajamas. Most of all, though, we don’t sleep for the right reasons. “The biggest problem is that we see sleep as a means to perform better while we’re awake,” he says. “But the people who actually succeed at sleeping are people who don’t just do it because it’s the right thing to do, but because they enjoy it. When I speak to good sleepers, they all have one thing in common. They tell me, ‘I love sleep.’ ”
Ironically, simply loving sleep may help us get more of it—for free—because it’ll make the work required to get there seem like less of a chore. “People I see want to improve their sleep, but often don’t realize that it may involve changes in their current lifestyle to have that happen,” says Dr. Ilene Rosen, a sleep physician board-certified with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. As Naiman says, “We still need products, but they should be understood as something that supports sleep, not supplants it. The best way to tweak sleep isn’t to tweak our sleeping situation. It’s to tweak how we act when we’re awake.”