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High-tech sleep products come of age in China

For every scenario of trouble, the marketplace has a solution, promising benefits

By LI JIAYING and LIU ZHIHUA | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-06-08 08:50
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Visitors line up to try out Softide smart beds made by Keeson Technology Corp Ltd during an expo in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province. YAO YINGKANG/FOR CHINA DAILY

It is said over 500 million Chinese adults usually have some difficulty in getting a sound sleep — and that has spawned a huge market, with products and services offering relief, in the process revolutionizing how people rest.

"I haven't been sleeping well for the past week due to work-related stress, so I'm considering turning to some 'sleep products' such as melatonin pills and smart sleep devices," said Li Shuxian, a 28-year-old Beijing-based white collar worker, in mid-May. Li said insomnia has been giving her sleepless nights of late.

The insomnia rate among Chinese adults stood at a staggering 38.2 percent in 2023. As many as 510 million individuals experience sleep disorders, significantly affecting their quality of life and work, according to a report from China's sleep big data center, which was established in Beijing in March 2023.

"We have noticed that the threat of sleep disorders and insufficient sleep to people's health is increasing, which may affect various aspects of well-being, including physical and mental health and work efficiency, and therefore urgently needs to be addressed," said Huang Zhili, chairman of the Chinese Sleep Research Society.

The pursuit of a better sleep has given rise to various "sleep aid" products. From melatonin pills and ergonomic pillows to sleep-enhancing mattresses, wearable gadgets and smart apps, trendy products have gained popularity rapidly over the past few years.

According to the 2023-24 China Sleep Economy Industry Development and Consumer Demand Research Report by market intelligence firm iiMedia Research, the market for sleep products reached a scale of 495.58 billion yuan ($68.3 billion) in 2023.

As the demand for improved sleep quality continues to grow, coupled with an increasing variety of sleep products and advancements in technology, the market is expected to maintain its growth trajectory, potentially reaching 658.68 billion yuan by 2027, iiMedia said.

The booming market mirrors increasing consumer spending. Data from Alibaba's online marketing platform Alimama showed that, compared to 2019, the number of consumers, total expenditure and average number of purchases in the "sleep market" all increased by more than 20 percent in 2023.

Surprisingly, traditional sleep-related products like pillows, quilts and mattresses are not the fastest-growing or highest-grossing categories, in terms of e-commerce transactions and unique visitor volume — the metric refers to the actual number of people who visit a website — in 2023.

Sales data revealed that the sleep market is driving opportunities beyond basic sleep products, extending into a wide range of sleep-enhancing categories: candles, smart lighting and aromatherapy diffusers performed exceptionally well in e-commerce, outpacing traditional bedding items. For example, soundproof window stickers saw a sales growth of over 500 percent last year, according to the Alimama report.

Segments now characterize sleep trends and scenarios. For instance, the traditional deep sleep scenario focuses on creating a quiet and comfortable bedroom environment. Products in this scenario include high-end mattresses, sleep-promoting aromatic diffusers, massage equipment and smart lighting systems. Consumers are also gravitating toward products that provide a sense of ritual before sleep, such as starry sky projectors and smart aromatic diffusers with sleep-inducing functions, the Alimama report said.

In addition, cutting-edge technologies are expected to provide more solutions for smart home sleep scenarios. Smart beds, sleep-tracking devices and intelligent central control systems aim to enhance sleep quality through one-touch control of lighting and temperature.

"Compared to ordinary beds, smart beds are equipped with chip-powered sensors and a comprehensive set of big data analysis models, enabling them to address specific user needs. For example, the one-click anti-snoring function can realize automated snoring intervention, effectively alleviate sleep apnea, increase blood oxygen levels and shorten the time it takes for patients with sleep apnea syndrome to fall asleep," said Tang Guohai, chairman of Keeson Technology Corp Ltd, a household furniture manufacturing company based in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province.

Tang said that continuous studies on sleep problems have revealed new momentum, further driving consumer upgrades and creating enormous market demand. "Consumers' needs are not always easy to observe. For manufacturers, the focus should be on how to materialize these needs to uncover more market demand."

As advanced and segmented consumer demand is driving more sleep scenarios, more people may have noticed they are spending quite some time in non-traditional sleep spaces like living rooms and balconies. Products in this scenario include multifunctional sofa beds, portable nap mats and designer furniture, emphasizing flexible transitions between rest and entertainment. Younger consumers, in particular, prefer practical yet aesthetically pleasing furniture to meet their personalized home space needs, the Alimama report stated.

For office napping or short breaks, a napping scenario requires solutions for quickly entering a restful state. In this regard, products like folding recliners, ergonomic chairs and nap blankets are designed to provide comfortable support and warmth, and help office workers regain energy in a short time.

"A 20-minute noon nap is a must for me to restore energy and be better prepared for afternoon work," Li said, adding she has equipped herself with an "ostrich pillow", which is cocoon-like and wraps around the whole head, blocking out light and noise — just like ostriches bury their head in the sand upon sensing danger.

Sleep experiences during travel and outdoor activities also matter, especially for nature lovers. Preferred products in this category include travel sleep bags and mats, U-shaped pillows and portable hammocks, emphasizing portability and comfort to ensure good sleep quality on the go.

Sleep ventilators on dis play during an expo in Shanghai earlier this year. CHINA DAILY

Besides traditional outdoor sleep items, new products and designs are also gaining in popularity. For example, creatively designed sleep bags and various types of sleep mats, like egg crate mats and cheese texture-like mats, have shown a remarkable growth of over 140 percent in e-commerce in 2023, according to Alimama data.

"Traveling provides limited time for rest and thus usually requires catch-up sleep at home. Therefore, sleep quality during camping, travel or business trips is crucial for me, even if it's just an extra minute of good rest," said Wang Li, a huge fan of outdoor sleep items as she is a frequent traveler.

Wang said she has already spent over 10,000 yuan on traveler-friendly sleep items and will keep upgrading some key equipment like portable sleep mats, if necessary. "I would like to pay for something that can offer a good sleep. After all, a whole trip can be ruined without a good rest; so, I believe it's all worth it."

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