What is the gift you can give to someone who has everything, including insomnia? The gift of sleep, of course. And it may be the most valuable gift of all. Doree Lewak and Jane Ridley have a story in today's New York Post about how much New Yorkers—plagued by long working hours, harrowing commutes, noise, pollution, tiny apartments, stress, and so on—are willing to pay for it.
Let's pause for a minute, though. How weird is it that humans must sleep, that we shut down like battery-drained robots at the end of a day, close our eyes, and "recharge"? If someone could figure out how to solve this infernal problem, this fault in our otherwise machine-driven bodies, we could probably get a lot more things done! As for now, we sleep, and a lot of us want sleep badly, more of it, like it's a drug, and some of us, no matter how we try or how many pillows we own or what sleep hotels we go to, cannot get it. These are the sufferers Lewak and Ridley discuss. Among them, they have done the following in the pursuit of sleep:
- After having triplets, hired a baby nurse to tend the night shift for "at least six nights a week," which cost more than $20,000.
- Purchased "a peaceful place to sleep"—i.e., "soundproof ceilings, double-paned glass windows, black-out shades and a white noise machine" for $46,000.
- Redesigned the bedroom for $30,000; soundproofed the condo for $16,000.
- Paid the neighbors to put down "thousands of dollars worth of plush carpeting," which didn't actually solve the sleep problem.
- Bought "handmade Vi-Spring mattresses [natural fibers only!] for $26,000 apiece." Or, even more dear, a Hastens bed, which costs $99,000 and takes six months to make. (Will Ferrell has one! The man looks well-rested.)
- Bought a hypoxic chamber to sleep in for $3,500-plus.
- Bought fancy bedding, like " $675 goose-down pillows and $120 wake-up lights."
- Gone to sleep disorder clinics, had doctors prescribe medicine to assist with sleep, bought a supply of earplugs.
- And, oh yes, remember that hotel that was written about by Henry Alford in the New York Times last year, the Benjamin, which has a sleep concierge and pillows named "Buckwheat, Maternity, Lullaby, Swedish Memory and Satin Beauty"? The sleep-deprived have stayed there, "for upward of $1,500 a night."
Sleep may be expensive, but people need sleep more than they need a lot of things—love and money and sometimes maybe even food—which ends up being quite a boon for people in the sleep business. It's a matter of life and sleep, according to Devin O’Brien, an architect who started Brooklyn Insulation Company: “People aren’t prepared for the cost,” he says, “but they’re hanging on by a thread,” write Lewak and Ridley. This all makes getting tired and closing your eyes, slumping over your keyboard after a big lunch, plopping down in the middle of a park and waking up so refreshed 45 minutes later, drifting off on the 6 train, or watching your cat sleep in the sun all day long just because she can feel like such a luxury, doesn't it? On the opposite side of that, though, is a lingering and at times more pressing question: What will people pay to stay awake?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.