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Shop for Sleep amid COVID-19 pandemic  

In the wake of a pandemic, sleep is the most common casualty. But helping you tackle it is an industry that is making hay while you hit the sack.

Published: 19th April 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th May 2020 01:16 PM   |  A+A-

Slep, insomnia, Sleeplessness

Representational image (Express Illustrations)

These days Pawan Arora’s favourite subject is sleep. The countrywide lockdown following the coronavirus outbreak has ensured that Arora spends most of his day in his favourite part of the house—bedroom. Arora, who otherwise gives commerce lessons to undergraduates in a government college, now spends most of his day on his new mattress catching up on all his lost sleep.

He is the proud owner of a ‘smart’ mattress that relieved him of his sleep issues and set him back by Rs 34,900, an ‘investment for health’ in his words. "I was suffering from back pain and it was affecting my sleep. One of my doctors suggested that I change my mattress. After several months of research, I chanced on the Smart Grid technology and zeroed in on the company that used it in their mattresses in India," says Arora, a resident of Jalalabad in Punjab.

He contacted The Sleep Company, a Mumbai-based startup, and asked them for testimonials. They sent across videos of happy customers and patiently answered his every query for over two months. They also offered a 100-day trial offer wherein a refund was assured in case the company failed on its promise. "I bought the Smart Grid mattress in December. I no longer listen to any soothing music before hitting the bed. My mattress has given me a new lease of sleep," says the 50-year-old.

Like everything else, sleep is now a commodity, and Arora is among the growing breed of Indians who are spending money to ensure quality sleep. And there’s reason to it. Last month, when Wakefit, a Bengaluru-based sleep solutions provider, released its annual Great Indian Sleep Scorecard 2020 report, it found that one in five Indians felt they suffered from insomnia. Of the 50,000 responses collected for the study, 54 percent said they indulged in social media and over-the-top (OTT) platforms late into the night, a 2x increase over last year.

Sleep doctors find the results hardly surprising. “We have a new ambitious young India with a huge middle class population aspiring to have it all and do it all, putting in less sleep hours because of longer working hours and increased screen time or illicit lifestyle habits,” says Dr Srikanta JT, Consultant—Paediatric Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine, Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru.

Also in the wake of Covid-19, sleep is one among the long list of things that has lost its usual trajectory. When a netizen asked K Taraka Rama Rao, Telangana’s IT minister, if he is getting adequate sleep as he is active on Twitter 24/7, the minister replied: “My sleep cycle has gone for a toss”. He isn’t alone. Vikram Ahuja, chairman, Euro International School, Jodhpur, reiterates what the minister said. “My sleep cycle is something of a joke now.

Till a month back, I used to sleep eight to nine hours, including an hour or two in the afternoon. Now, I don’t sleep in the afternoon and yet, I can’t sleep before 3 am or 4 am and I wake up by 9 am,” Ahuja says. The edupreneur is worried as parents haven’t paid school fee for this quarter and the scenario looks bleak. “I am anxious about how to meet expenses of my 400-odd staff,” he says. Ahuja has stopped checking his sleep quality on his GOQii fitness band “as I’m always awake now. I no longer get into the deep sleep state.”

So when did sleep become a luxury? Just when did an industry prop up selling gadgets, apps, smart mattresses, sleeping pods, special linen, pillows and more, to help you rest better? Simply put, there’s a spurt of awareness followed with disposable incomes. Now we have annual sleep events that go beyond medical know-hows. In September, this year, the Indian Society for Sleep Research (ISSR) is organising the India Sleep Show 2020. “Our aim is not just to address the current issues and priorities in terms of scientific research and practice but also to lay bare the attractive market opportunities in the growing sleep-health economy,” says Dr HN Mallick, president, ISSR, and with Department of Physiology, AIIMS.

So what exactly is the sleep-health economy? Everybody wants a good night’s sleep. Earlier it meant having a cup of warm milk or a hot shower before hitting the bed. But not anymore. Today, the sleep industry comprises sleep-tech, which includes wearable devices and apps that tell you how much and how well you slept and the contactless tech used in mattresses, pillows, linen and so on.

And as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage our lives, the sleep industry is looking to reach out far and wide. Sleep Cycle, an app that tracks quality of sleep, started offering its content free when the lockdown in the country was announced so as to help people sleep better in anxious times. Similarly, last month, Headspace app started a free module called ‘Weathering the storm’, which includes meditation and movement exercises for better sleep.  

The sleep economy is growing and coming to its aid is the wakefulness of Indians. According to Philips’ global sleep survey report ‘Wake Up Call: Global Sleep Satisfaction Trends’, released last month, there is a need for ‘sleep-health’ among Indian adults. The survey points out that 55 percent of Indian adults “snooze” their alarm one to two times, while 17 percent “snooze” at least five times. 

Snooze Entrepreneurs

It was their own lack of sleep as new parents that led Harshil Salot and Priyanka Salot to start The Sleep Company in 2017. While they searched for a mattress to solve their sleeping troubles, they realised that the Indian market lags way behind its Western counterpart. So they set up the company, which solely did research and development (R&D) for the next 2.5 years.

They shunned age-old technologies. “We set out on a mission to change the quality of sleep and thus was born the Smart Grid which is a patent-pending technology made from a hyper-elastic polymer invented by Dr V Tripathi, former polymer head of DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation),” says co-founder Priyanka Salot.

The company maintains that the Smart Grid mattress adapts to every human body type, adjusting its firmness as per the body shape or sleeping style, thereby keeping the spine intact. “It was launched in July 2019 and is made from German and Japanese technologies,” says Salot.

Their mattresses range between Rs 16,900 and Rs 57,900 and the company has seen 500 percent growth since its launch.A bunch of startups are cashing in on the new-found interest of Indians in their mattresses, which is slated to hitRs 14,000 crore (as per CRISIL), by 2021.

“The industry has been growing at a CAGR  of 7-9 percent. A combination of demonetisation, GST and urbanisation is rapidly enabling the category to transition from an unorganised sector to an organised one,” says Rahul Gautam, managing director, Sheela Foam Ltd that has various categories of mattresses under their Sleepwell brand, offering options like ‘takes shape of your body’ to using natural ingredients that prevent dust mites, and the price points go up to Rs 40,000.

It’s no surprise that the digitally connected Indian is no longer satisfied with the ‘gaddewala’ from the local market. He is looking for options that provide an enhanced sleep experience. Last year, Bengaluru-based sleep solutions provider Wakefit offered sleep internship where it paid 23 interns Rs 1 lakh each to sleep nine hours a night for 100 nights.

It was part of their R&D for their mattresses range. Some are going back to nature. Jeeva, a mattress brand by Pune-based sleep solutions provider Wink & Nod, claims to use age-old Ayurvedic principles in helping you sleep better at night.

If mattresses are inching ahead then could pillows or bedsheets be far behind? Bengaluru-based startup CuddlPillow claims to sell “India’s first adjustable thickness shredded foam pillows” and its range includes orthopaedic memory foam pillows and kids’ pillows. Then there is SPACES from Welspun India, which is promoting HygroCotton, a patented spinning technology that uses a hollow core cotton yarn.

The company claims that the fabric made from HygroCotton bed linen has been designed to give a comfortable sleep by regulating temperature and adjusting itself +/- 2 degree, keeping it cool in the summers and warm in the winters. “Till a few years ago, the criteria to pick a bedsheet were design and price. But now, people want to know about the incremental benefit. They are seeking out sheets that help them sleep better, that are anti-microbial, or created using sustainable practices,” says spokesperson of SPACES. 

And selling sleep to you while in transit are the sleeping pods in airports. Dubai-based Aviserv Airport Services established GoSleep pods at Terminal 2 of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai, in 2018. More such sleeping pods have now come up in airports in Delhi and Bengaluru. Charged at an hourly rate, sleeping pods offer customers better options than just reclining on uncomfortable chairs in the lounge struggling to sleep while using the free airport wifi. 

Tech to Sleep

If Arora is gung-ho about his smart mattress then Sandeep Mall swears by his Sleep Cycle app. Mall, a 54-year-old Faridabad resident, started using the app two years ago when he set about following a healthy lifestyle—one that checked all verticals viz. sleep, nutrition and fitness. He now consciously tries to fit in the desired hours of sleep.

Mall believes that on the days he sleeps seven hours or more, it turns out to be a productive day compared to when he sleeps fewer hours. “I have always believed that you need to have data to improve things. And now that I have my sleep patterns, I have complete control over my lifestyle,” he says.

Swedish firm Sleep Cycle was launched in 2009 and its alarm clock is one of the most downloaded intelligent alarm clocks and sleep trackers, helping people improve their sleep. “Getting to know your own sleep pattern is both fascinating and scarily addictive. After all, no one knows what’s going on while we sleep. That is for Sleep Cycle to find out,” says CEO Carl Johan Hederoth.

Sleep Cycle uses a patented sound technology algorithm designed to monitor movements in bed and translate these into sleep phases and graphs. In the morning, Sleep Cycle uses the analysis to wake its users in light sleep phase, a natural way to wake up feeling rested.

The app, which has over a million downloads, generates nightly sleep reports, tracks long-term sleep trends, and logs how daily activities impact sleep quality. “It does this by using manually input data and automatically generated data from Apple health, among other sources, and correlating it to sleep quality generated by the app measuring the users movements and consistency sleep stages,” adds Hederoth.

Even as tech invades our lives, the medical fraternity isn’t sure how scientifically helpful are these gadgets or algorithms. There are several studies that report how sleep-tracking technology, which primarily looks at body movement and heart rate, may be providing inaccurate data. It could even worsen insomnia by making people obsessed about achieving perfect sleep, a condition termed as orthosomnia. But then again not many consider it important to seek medical help for such disorders. According to Dr JC Suri, chairman of Indian Sleep Disorder Association, he is yet to meet patients who complain that their apps show they have slept less.

"But it could also be because the awareness about the need for treatment for issues like insomnia, sleep apnea and snoring is still very less. People come for sleep disorders only when the condition worsens," he adds. A point reiterated by Dr Srikanta of Aster CMI Hospital. "Awareness related to sleep disorders is quite poor. A recent survey conducted by Philips in many countries, including India, suggested that almost half the Indians believe snoring to be normal or caused by factors such as genetics or old age, reemphasising the need to spread awareness not only to public but also among health care providers," he says.

But tech is what has helped Gurgaon resident Honey Singh put his sleep cycle in order. Singh, CEO, public relations & content marketing, #ARM World, uses Sleep Cycle and Pillow app to monitor his sleep quality and lead a stress-free life. A little over a year back, Singh was working late into the night with irregular sleep and finally it took a toll on his body.

Stress had started affecting his personal and professional life. "I realised I need to take stock of my life. I started tracking my sleep data and consciously made an effort to hit the bed by 10 pm. Nothing works in silo, so if you do not use the data to improve your lifestyle then it is of no use," says Singh.  

Slumber Solutions

Sleep, which has for long been under-rated, is coming into its own now when people started focusing on wellness, which meant going beyond healthy eating and exercise. For sure, sleep doesn’t rank high in the scheme of healthy living, what with world leaders like Donald Trump and Narendra Modi publicly extolling how they require no more than four to five hours of sleep. 

But things are changing, says Dr Suri, who set up the country’s first sleep lab way back in 1990 at the Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi. He recalls how it was still not an important part of medicine: "At that time, when there were hardly any sleep labs, I used to barely get three patients a month. Now when we have over 100 such sleep centres, I see at least 10 patients a day with sleep issues." 

And as awareness rose, so did the demand for products that catered to the modern requirements. So much so that online portals are opening offline retail stores dedicated exclusively to sleep. Last year, Pepperfry Snooze Studios was launched in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. A

first-of-its-kind studio, the interactive set-up has visually interesting window displays with in-store experts who guide customers with relevant sleep trivia and product info based on their preferences and budget. "We try and understand customer requirements and details like room sizes, ergonomic and back-related issues, existing home interior design and thereafter suggest the best options for them," says Ashish Shah, co-founder & COO, Pepperfry. 

For the modern man struggling with stress and anxiety, sleep is a luxury. According to the recent GOQii India Fit Report, about 9.8 percent of the users are trying to improve their sleep quality, which includes getting sound sleep at night. The GOQii Tracker uses actigraphy, a non-invasive method of monitoring human rest and activity cycles, to track and examine your sleep quality.

"A user can also log their sleep patterns on the app and consult a coach on what needs to be done to improve the quality and quantity of sleep," says Vishal Gondal, founder and CEO, GOQii, a tech-enabled healthcare platform with five million users. So as a tech entrepreneur, who also sells sleep, does he need any external aid to fall asleep? Undoubtedly, yes.

"I wear a Muse band for meditation that calms me. It captures my data and shows me that my mind is actually in the state of calm," says Gondal. GOQii has certified coaches who give out tips on sleeping right and improving the sleep quality on their interactive live video platform GOQii Play on the GOQii App.

Larger conglomerates too have tapped the potential. Philips is now a global leader in Sleep Diagnostic and Therapy solutions with years of research leading to patient-driven products. The Philips Respironics sleep apnea therapy devices help patients with sleep apnea in the long term.

The company also offers a broad range of care solutions for people living with obstructive sleep apnea, including the award-winning Dream Family comprising DreamWear, a comprehensive portfolio of advanced mask designs; DreamStation, a CPAP (continuous positive airways pressure) therapy system connecting patients and care teams; and DreamMapper, an application that helps patients adjust to sleep therapy and compliance.

And just as the industry is growing, so are the number of sleep specialists.  Take, for instance, the popularity of the National Sleep Technology Course run annually by ISSR since 2014. "The aim of the course is to build a cadre of Polysomnographic Technologists who would become global leaders in sleep technology and provide high quality sleep technology services," says Dr Mallick.

ISSR also conducts regular national and international conference on sleep, sleep medicine course, certification examination for sleep technicians, sleep specialist and accreditation of sleep laboratories. "Our sleep workshops are in high demand. The seats are limited to 25 participants only because of its intensive nature (theory, practical, skill development, interpretation and analysis)," adds Dr Mallick. 

GROWTH Forecasts

The rise in income levels coupled with awareness towards stress management has resulted in building up a robust sleep economy. According to management consulting firm Redseer, the mattress and sleep category is estimated to be a $2.5 billion market in India by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 8 to 10 percent.

A considerable number of companies are operating only through the online space where people are looking for luxury mattresses that offer comfort and customised solutions. And those that are online like Flo Mattress are now planning to enter the offline business with experiential stores. The industry has witnessed a massive shift in terms of consumer mindset.

"In India alone, about 34 percent of consumers are inclined towards educating themselves regarding the importance of sleep. The brand Pepperfry drives most customers to walk into our Snooze Studios at first. However, the response to the concept of a Sleep Studio has been impressive with a conversion rate of close to 60 to 70 percent," says Shah of Pepperfry.

As per a report by Research and Markets, the healthcare apps market in India was valued at Rs 27.01 billion in 2018. It is estimated to reach Rs 138 billion by 2024, expanding at a CAGR of 31.61 percent.

And while promoters of sleep do the number crunching, Pawan Arora is working out another arithmatic. His “investment on health” has started paying returns. He no longer needs an orthopaedic belt. While Vikram Ahuja worries over Covid-19, Arora is losing no sleep over the crisis as his mattress ensures that sleep is just a few seconds away once he hits the sleep mode. 

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