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The business of sleeping well

As the luxury and lifestyle industries move focus to intangible consumption, businesses are capitalizing on the economic might of sleep

Audrey Hepburn rocked the sleep mask in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’.
Audrey Hepburn rocked the sleep mask in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’.

Kaun kitna daulatmand hai, taqatmand hai, ise jaanne ke liye uski neend par gaur karo (To know how rich or powerful someone is, observe their sleep). Wise words by Ranjeet, a man who sells sleep, or a place to sleep in any case, in Cities Of Sleep (2015), a feature-length documentary that looks at the enormous social and political pressure that sleep exerts on the homeless in Delhi. Directed by Shaunak Sen and produced by Films Division, the award-winning documentary is also a philosophical exploration of sleep.

Arianna Huffington addresses the issue of quality sleep for a very different demographic. It is an issue the media entrepreneur is obsessed with, having covered it in two books: Thrive (2014) and The Sleep Revolution (2016). For her, the turning point came when she collapsed in the middle of a workday due to a combination of factors, a crucial one being sleep deprivation. Huffington urges readers not only to sleep enough (8 hours) but also to sleep better.

As the luxury and lifestyle industries move focus to intangible consumption, it is understandable that businesses, both large and small, are capitalizing on the economic might of sleep.

The Swedish brand Hästens makes what it calls the best bed in the world: The Vividus, launched in 2006, costs around $150,000 (around Rs96 lakh). The company claims to have researched how to regulate body temperature and provide support to create a “perfect night’s sleep" without using heat-trapping rubber or plastic materials. Each Vividus is built to order at Hästens’ dedicated atelier by four craftsmen.

A mulberry silk pillowcase by the Chandigarh based start-up, Dame Essentials.

There are several sleep trackers in the market, from wearables to smartphone apps to entire smart mattresses. Most of these monitor sleep cycles, but it is unclear how, and whether, they improve your sleep. Sound machines and sleep mists do their bit—Forest Essentials has one with a promising title, “Tranquil Sleep"—but they require those you are sleeping with to be similarly committed to the sounds and smells. What might perhaps be a leap in this space is Dreem (available for pre-order now for $400), a headset designed by Yves Béhar for the Silicon Valley start-up Rythm. It promises to stimulate deeper sleep using EEG technology and sound waves.

While I remain wary of real-time sleep and mattress monitoring, I have found my personal sleep salvation in silk pillowcases. At the risk of sounding like our “Vanities" columnist, once you sleep on silk, everything else seems crude.

I bought my first silk pillowcase for my dorm room in New York for reasons entirely superficial—it was the only one available in purple and I was going through, well, a purple phase. Once back in India, I couldn’t find reinforcements. A colleague going to New York asked me if I wanted anything (in the noughties, people still asked). I gave him the store name but was turned down because he was afraid of being laughed at by his family if he went hunting for pillowcases for a female colleague.

But no one else need suffer. Last year, on Instagram, I came across Armaan Mann, a 28-year-old entrepreneur from Chandigarh whose start-up is focused entirely on 100% pure mulberry silk pillowcases and eye masks. I have been using pillowcases from Mann’s brand, Dame Essentials, for a year now, and attribute my generally peaceful sleep to its silken comfort. When we spoke over the phone last week, however, Mann said that apart from health and wellness, her products are driven by beauty concerns—an added bonus. “Silk pillowcases are recommended by hair and make-up artists around the world," she says. “They don’t dry out your skin, they make your blow-out last longer...and it’s a breathable, organic fabric." What about cotton, then? “Natural absorbent, does no favours to your skin."

Mann was introduced to silk pillowcases while visiting cousins in Los Angeles last summer. Like me, she couldn’t find them in India. Unlike me, she has an entrepreneurial spirit and started a business with a Rs15 lakh family investment. She sells online (a single case is priced at Rs5,549) and has tied up with dermatologists and make-up artists to expand her consumer base.

How does one market silk in India, with its associations of being unfriendly in hot and humid weather? I ask. Mann insists those concerns are not valid for pure silk. “Mulberry silk helps temperature control. It is even recommended to control hot flashes," she says.

All that, and maybe even softer dreams?

The writer tweets at @aninditaghose

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