How sleep became the new must-have

Somehow mattresses and pillows have become exciting

If tiredness was measured in duvet togs Id currently be at a winter-weight 13.5; my eyes made of crisps, my body a Frube. Its been a long week, with a sick child who came and slept with me, her rolling body falling out of bed and on to the floor with a clinical thump every time I fell asleep. I tell you this knowing exactly how boring it is to talk about tiredness. Talking about sleep is as dull as talking about how much you drank the night before; as talking about the Labour party with a politics bro in a crowded bar. A brolitician. And yet, here I am.

Im talking about it because I can, and I can because you are. Sleep, how little, how much, is a conversation you will hear in every office, every park. Whereas once it was a mark of honour to exist on only a couple of hours sleep (it meant you were working harder), now the opposite is true. To boast of eight hours is to explain that you have invested in your body, a temple of wellness, to optimise the day.

Today, sleep is fetishised, marketed, precious and gold. Kickstarter is swollen with innovative pillows. Mattresses, once the most bovine of purchases, have become almost exciting. A glut of new online companies deliver them to your door in tiny little boxes, and they inflate and unfurl in your bedroom like indoor fireworks. The companies advertise on podcasts and social media as if theyre selling new space beds for millennials, rather than the same sandwiches of foam and old skin weve slept on forever.

Theres one particular mattress advert on the Tube that I often find myself waiting in front of. Its imagery seems designed to infuriate. I realise theyre aimed at the young. People for whom sleep is still something you have enough energy to feel you can control: theres an illustration of a mattress for sneakerheads with a man asleep, covered in shoes; a mattress for political animals with a donkey sparring with an elephant on the bed. If cigarette ads rely on the idea that smoking makes you look cool, and chocolate ads on the idea that it is sensual, then are todays mattress ads selling the idea that sleep makes you a better banter-merchant?

But can good sleep really be bought? In direct opposition to the traditional advice to remove all screens and blue light from the bedroom (along with advice to drink water, to keep cool, be a cat), one of the ways we are sold sleep is through phone apps you take to bed. By monitoring your REM and snoring in a more efficient way than your ex ever did, you can quantify your sleep and then, obviously, use it to compete with your peers (the point of all apps at all times).

Theres something very sinister to me about turning our every worry into data, about wearables the word itself is Orwellian. And, yeah, Im sure there are some people who sleep longer after using an app and yet more who feel like they do because, having downloaded a tool, they believe they have conquered it. But, like the recent study that showed fitness trackers dont work (instead often helping their users to put on weight, whoopsie), surely there are more sleep-app customers who pay their money and then just lie there, waiting.

Like weight-loss diets, isnt the simplest, oldest, most boring solution to good sleep the only one truly proven to work? Less nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, more exercise, a regular routine things that we wouldnt have needed to emulate when our days were spent away from a fixed desk in a strip-lit room. Modern life is brilliant, but for all it gives, it takes away, too.

The sick child made me sick, and I sit in bed with my laptop coughing in a tone that has kept my whole flat, carpeted with discarded tissues, awake for two long nights. I sleep until I wake myself up with this throaty racket and then I lie here trying to remember how a normal persons breathing sounds when they sleep. I consider other times Ive lain wide awake at dawn, either worried or mothering or both, and for all the anxiety that Ill never sleep again, I tell myself I have, many times.

As the sleep industry gathers around our beds like a long-lost nephew angling for inheritance, I remember that even without technology, sleep comes. It always does. Perhaps I wont get all the jokes tomorrow, but soon I will feel better. Losing sleep neednt be anything to lose sleep over.

Email Eva at e.wiseman@observer.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman

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