I would classify myself as an insomniac. I have periods of time where I really struggle to nod off even when I’m painfully exhausted. There was even a period of time when I didn’t sleep for a week straight. And I’m certainly not alone.
Rates of insomnia continue to be sky high, with 67% of UK adults suffering from disrupted sleep and nearly a quarter managing no more than five hours a night. Not surprisingly in the midst of this sleeplessness, there’s been a boom of sleep-related businesses and products.
The sleep industry is estimated to be worth up to £30 billion and there are now even sleep startups such as coyuchi or Zeez Sleep Ltd. Judging by the popularity in “night-time” or “sleep time” YouTube routine videos and the creation of quirky products like The Somnox Sleep Robot, which basically looks like a water-logged kidney bean, consumers are keener than ever to spend more and more money on catching their fifty winks.
Anna McKay, Director, Zeez Sleep Ltd attributes the popularity of these products to a change in the perception of sleep. “There has been a lot of denial about the value of good sleep, the ‘I’ll sleep when I die’ mentality.”
There is little doubt that these products are packaged with a prestige factor but they also miss a fundamental issue: those who need to sleep the most are often the ones who can’t pay for it.
The creation of these products speaks to collective myopia on the link between income and sleep as research has shown that the lowest earners get the least amount of sleep.
Outside the world of sleep robots and pricy linens, the basic advised conditions for a night’s rest are also very much income dependent. A major factor in my own insomnia was living next to a noisy road and train station. I had the option of moving to a quieter place but many simply don’t.
The European Environment Agency blames 10,000 premature deaths in Europe on noise alone. Peace and quiet have increasingly become a luxury item; noise and stress are for the disadvantaged. People on lower incomes are more likely to live near main roads where rents are very often cheaper. This is particularly true in London where traffic density and air pollution are highest in the east. Unsurprisingly where the poorest in London live.
On the flip side, research carried out by 24 Acoustics, a noise control consultancy, revealed that the most peaceful roads in London are on Barnsbury Square in Islington, where houses don’t go for much less than £1 million. The most privileged can pay for what is so unattainable for the most disadvantaged.
Other sleep-inducing essentials like curtains and a decent mattress also have the potential to be out of reach for the lowest earners. The price of a rather average pair of blackout curtains is around £30-£50 and a single mattress costs around £60-£100, when we compare this cost to the current minimum hourly wage of £7.83 and the demands of rent, we can easily see how the basics of nodding off can be out of reach. No condition is more essential to sleep than a safe and comfortable home but this exactly the condition that is being denied to the most vulnerable.
This year in the London borough of Redbridge, housing officers found a staggering twenty-three people living inside a property built for just six. While in one of the poorest boroughs in London, Tower Hamlets, rogue landlords expose tenants to flats with no heating, bins, as well as overcrowding. As London’s housing crisis becomes more and more unlivable for many, the growth of sleep products is papering over the cracks of this issue, while the essentials are being denied to the most vulnerable.
Sleep is increasingly becoming a luxury for the wealthy rather than a fundamental right for all.