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Sleeping on the job


BEDTIME STORY: People with sleep disorders are spending on a range of products, from calming oils and tranquilising mists to special mattresses and sensors to monitor sleep positions

Had Robert Frost been around today, he'd have company in the legions who, like him, have miles to go before they sleep - only because sleep is so hard to arrive at in the first place. It's the millstone of our millennium, sleeplessness and its ancillary bothers, except, as experts warn us, sleep deprivation is more than a causal nuisance. So urgent is the need for people to wake up to the health risks of sleep deficiency, that the World Association of Sleep Medicine has even elected March 15 as World Sleep Day.

With one-third of working Indians sleep deprived, according to a survey conducted by Regus, for those in the business of sleep solutions, it's a dream run to the bank. A recent report in Time Magazine stated that spending related to sleep has increased 8. 8 per cent annually since 2008, topping $32 billion in 2012. India's own market for sleep products is pegged at Rs 16, 000 crore.

With over 80 types of sleep disorders, the medical sector is among those clocking brisk growth. Instead of reflexively tanking up on energy drinks to stay awake after a bad night's sleep, troubled sleepers now actually desire to go deep, through medical intervention. "I would say sleeplessness is the next silent killer;over time it can lead to heart attacks, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, loss of memory, and so on, " warns Dr Sanjeev Mehta, who runs a sleep lab at Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai. "It took us 25 years to regard obesity as a disease;it shouldn't take us that long to wake up to the truth about sleep as well.

One of the most obvious signs that Indians are getting serious about sleep is the proliferation of sleep clinics in the country. Dr Preeti Devnani, who consults at two such clinics in Mumbai, says she treats about eight to ten patients on the days she runs her clinic. Lilavati, that has had a sleep lab for eight years, would, in the early years, treat one patient a week;now they have three cases a day, including patients who check into the sleep lab for the night, for a polysomnogram (roughly the cost of an MRI). In fact Philips Respironics, a key supplier of diagnostic equipment and training, has helped set up over 200 sleep labs in the country, to enable physicians to accurately diagnose sleep disorders.

Apart from institutional sales, Philips also puts out a line of home-use products for those with sleep breathing disorders. Their Home Healthcare category includes such products as data-logging wristwatches that quantify sleep and physical activity;sleep therapy devices and masks that help patients breathe better, sensors that monitor sleep position, and so on. "Our Home Healthcare business has been growing in very high double digits and we see room for much more growth, especially in Tier 2 and 3 cities, " says Bidur Dhaul, senior director, Home Healthcare. "The price of our products starts at approximately Rs 30, 000, depending on the acuteness of the disorder. " Their fastest selling product happens to be the Auto CPAP with A Flex pressure relief technology, which costs Rs 57, 000 - a clear sign that people are willing to pay the price for even sleep.

While people with fairly severe sleep disorders will seek medical recourse almost at once, those with mild to moderate problems will take a shot at soft alternatives first.

Damini Kanojia, a 33-year-old gym instructor in Bangalore, says she has tried everything short of a knockout punch to fall asleep at night. "I've tried Johnson & Johnson's Bedtime bath gel and body lotion for babies;aromatherapy, scented candles, eye masks, light music, chamomile tea - just about everything advocated in sleep-better articles, but I still continue to struggle to sleep, " she says. "I've even considered taking small doses of Restil or anti-allergy drugs. "

While pharma companies may or may not be aware of the unorthodox applications of their drugs, those cranking out lifestyle products are keenly aware of their groggy market. Forest Essentials, the ayurvedic beauty and wellness company introduced two tranquiliser mists, Tranquil Sleep and Stress Relief, in 2005. Although they were initially intended for the institutional segment, popular demand convinced the company to retail them. Tranquil Sleep contains sandalwood, geranium and nutmeg;and Stress Relief has lime, lavender, and peppermint. "While sales started off slowly, they have shot up over recent times, " says founder and managing director of Forest Essentials, Mira Kulkarni, declining to give numbers.

A company that will furnish figures is the top-tier Swedish bedmaking company Hastens, with stores in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Delhi. Their pillows contain goose feathers and goose down and their classic blue-andwhite checked mattresses combine horsehair, cotton, flax and wool, and are handcrafted - the clincher in the luxe market. "We've been consistently growing at 10 per cent per annum, and our best-seller has been the Comfortable II Adjustable Model (a bed) which retails at Rs 4. 5 lakh, " says Akshay Shetty, sales director of their Mumbai office.

According to a report called The World Mattress Industry, by the Centre for Industrial Studies in Italy, 'The world mattress market value grew by an average of 9 per cent yearly between 2002 to 2011 reaching a value of more than US$ 20 billion in 2011. ' Moreover, the sale of speciality mattresses is also on the rise. "People are realizing that investing in good sleep is vital as it increases productivity and longevity of life, " Shetty says, adding that purchases at Hastens are made via referrals. "However customers take time deciding, as buying a bed is a collective family decision, " he says.

While one usually has to make it to a mattress store - specialty or factory-line - to pick up bedding, about eight individuals in India last year bought theirs from The Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai. These custom-made spring rafts can only be purchased from the hotel itself;they come in three options and cost between Rs 1. 6 lakh to Rs 2. 5 lakh. Talk about delivering on customer satisfaction.

The hotel industry has lately been working overtime to guarantee just that - and they're beginning with the bed. It's not just hotel majors like ITC that are investing in sleep kits and pillow menus, but bijoux like The O Hotel too - with their mustard and millet and anti-allergic pillows - are also aping the trend, knowing well that a rested guest is a hotel's best mouthpiece. Clearly, pillow talk is the best advertising for this industry.

Dozing on the desk

A recent survey conducted by The Nielsen Company for Philips Respironics - the arm of the company dealing in sleep-aid and diagnostic devices - found that 93 per cent of Indians get less than 8 hours of sleep at night. As many as 58 per cent believe their work suffers due to inadequate sleep, and 38 per cent have witnessed a colleague falling asleep at work.

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