The Sleep Industry: Why We’re Paying Big Bucks for Something That’s Free

CNN/ Newswire | 1/30/2013, 3:06 p.m. | Updated on 1/30/2013, 3:06 p.m.
Sleep is one of life’s great free pleasures. Yet apparently many consumers feel they have to drop a lot of ...

Sleep is one of life’s great free pleasures. Yet apparently many consumers feel they have to drop a lot of money in order to get a good night’s rest. Spending related to sleep has increased 8.8% annually since 2008, reaching around $32 billion in 2012. Is it time to wake up?

First, let’s acknowledge that many of you might be better off taking a nap than reading this article. Last year, 73% of American Internet users went online to research health information, and 43% looked specifically for sleep remedies. According to the National Sleep Foundation, only 56% of Americans are able to say they get a “good night’s sleep” on a typical work or school night. Problems associated with sleep deficiencies extend well beyond fatigue and crankiness. Recent sleep studies have linked insufficient sleep to a host of problems including hypertension, depression, anxiety, diabetes, improper immune functioning, forgetfulness, clumsiness, jumpiness, and even things like teen sports injuries.

Obviously, sleep is important. Whether it’s necessary to cough up big bucks to improve sleep is more debatable. Why do consumers feel they must spend to sleep better? Let’s take a look at a few of the reasons, as well as a few of the things people are buying to battle insomnia and counteract the side effects of insufficient rest:

We Love the Idea of a Quick Fix

Being tired or having trouble sleeping seem like simple problems, so it’s natural for consumers to resort to solutions that seem quick and simple. Younger consumers especially have grown up in an era of brilliant innovation in consumer goods. Advancements in technology (and marketing) have given them faith in the power of purchases to quickly fix problems in their lives.

For many, the idea of “listening to your body” is only for the pharmaceutically challenged. Sleep is just another task to be managed. Sara, a waitress and San Francisco State University undergrad, alternates between drinks that aid sleep and alertness (Neuro Sleep and 5-Hour Energy Shots, respectively) when the time is right. “I need something during the day” to keep her energy up, she told me, “but it’s hard to fall asleep after I’ve been waitressing.” Sara said that most of her friends also jump back and forth between energy products and sleep aids to compensate for “too much to do.”

Young adults like Sara are largely responsible for super-charged sales of energy drinks such as Red Bull, 5-Hour Energy, Rockstar, and Monster. In 2012, sales of energy drinks grew 19%. (The annual number of ER visits due to energy drink consumption doubled over the last four years as well.)

As consumers feel more comfortable gulping down a little liquid stimulation, so too are they embracing the idea of drinks that help put you to sleep. The two product categories seem to feed off of each other, with increased usage for each growing directly due to the growth of the other.

Sleep-aid concoctions are selling especially well if they’re perceived to have some science behind them. Neuro Sleep, for instance, sounds like something cooked up in a lab and is marketed with a heavy dose of scientific words (“melatonin mixed with magnesium”). Still, the Neuro Sleep website comes with the warning: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”