The Why Behind the Buy

Understanding consumerism and why we buy

Paying For a Good Night's Sleep

Three trends in how consumers battle insomnia - and how to do it for less.

First let’s start by acknowledging that many of you might be better off talking a little nap than reading this article. 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 a bit of fatigue or crankiness. Recent sleep studies have linked insufficient sleep to a host of problems including hypertension, depression, anxiety, diabetes, improper immune functioning, forgetfulness, clumsiness, jumpiness, teen sports injuries and even snacking and excessive web surfing on the job.

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Sleep might be free, but consumers are spending a lot of money to get it. Here are three trends in how consumers battle insomnia.

The Quick Fix

For some, “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 undergraduate student, alternates between Neuro Sleep and 5-Hour Energy Shots to achieve just the right amount of stimulation for any given moment. “I need something during the day. But it’s hard to fall asleep after I’ve been waitressing.” Sara says that most of her friends also alternate between energy products and sleep aids to compensate for “too much to do.”

Younger consumers have grown up in an era of brilliant innovation in consumer goods. Advancements in technology have given them faith in the power of purchases to quickly fix problems in their lives. Young adults 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% from 2011. And on the flip side of stimulation, this group is also contributing to strong growth of sleep products - especially those that are perceived to have a dose of technology, like Neuro Sleep and smartphone apps that monitor sleep.

“Doing” as the Antidote to Anxiety

“Not doing” is so much harder than “doing.” Not eating, not gambling, not smoking, not shopping - all of these things are made more difficult because you can’t “do” something about the problem, you have to “not do” something. Sleeping is the ultimate “not doing” and “trying hard” is the opposite of the solution. Which helps to explain why people look to marketplace for solutions - to feel like they’re taking action, which calms anxiety. And since anxiety keeps people up at night - no matter what they buy they’re likely to experience some relief.

This group actively seeks out products the same way that dieters and smokers seek out programs and marketplace solutions. Their interest and active engagement means that new product ideas get attention. This group contributes to a burgeoning market of new sleep remedies that include sleep monitoring devices, aromatherapy, over-the-counter sedatives in new formulations such as tongue strips, teas, supplements, botanicals, balms and bath salts. And they’re willing to pay. For example, like most major home furnishings in an iffy economy, sales of mattresses have been sluggish - except for more expensive sleep specialty mattresses. Sales of brands like Tempur-Pedic and Select Comfort have skyrocketed by comparison.

Natural Trends

Between 2006 and 2011 the market for over-the-counter sleep aids grew 31%. Though a smaller percentage of the market, the biggest growth has been in natural and homeopathic products. Consumers are increasingly wary of the product safety of prescription sleep medications and they’re more apt to consult the Internet for remedies. Last year 73% of online Americans used the Internet for health information and 43% looked specifically for sleep remedies. From functional foods such as melatonin-rich cherries to valerian and passion flower - consumers are on the hunt for natural solutions.

While a good mattress is certainly going to improve your sleep, and so will many of the other solutions you can buy, you might want to try a few of these freebies first.

1. Stick to a routine. Train your body by going to sleep and getting up a the same time every day.

2. Associations are powerful. Use your bed for only sleep and sex in order to feel create a link between your bed and sleep.

3. Get rid of distractions. Make sure your room is cool, dark and quiet all night long. If necessary get a sleep mask and ear plugs. Make sure your bed is tidy too.

4. Clear your mind. Focus on your breathing and count “one” as you breath in and “two” as you breath out. Just “one” and “two” because it turns out that people inadvertently stay alert keeping track of higher numbers. That goes for sheep too.

5. If you’re the kind of person that stays awake ruminating, keep a note pad next to your bed. Jot down intrusive thoughts so that you can let them go until the morning.

6. Avoid stimulants close to bedtime. Stop drinking caffeine at noon and exercise as early in the day as possible.

7. Power down. People who text and use their computers an hour before bedtime get fewer hours of sleep, are less likely to get quality sleep and are more likely to wake unrefreshed. The “blue light” display of most computers, tablets and cellphones mocks daylight and suppresses melatonin. Nearly 40% of Americans use their cell phones in bed, including 72% of teens (which helps to explain why 25% of teens get fewer than 6.5 hours of sleep a night).

Fun Tidbit: it turns out, people aren’t just sleepless in Seattle. Though Washington does have a high rate of sleeplessness, even more people have insomnia in Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia. Where are people sleeping most soundly? California, Oregon, North Dakota and South Dakota. Visit this map to find out how your state fares.

Kit Yarrow is a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

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