Sleep education or sleep washing?

James Wilson (AKA The Sleep Geek), founder of kipmate, talks about the importance of sleep education but highlights the fears of sleep washing as the snooze train builds momentum.

It is noticeable that the phrase “sleep education” has been mentioned by many people involved in the manufacture and retailing of sleep products. I like to think that the work Mattress Online and I have done has been a catalyst for this, but I do worry that, although the intention is to provide education, what can happen is that people end up sleep washing. That the efforts are more about marketing and sales, rather than helping people sleep better. My job is sleep education, working with organisations, sports teams and the media creating content, doing interviews and working with people to improve sleep. In that work, which takes in tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people every year, one of the biggest topics of conversation is that people are sleeping on and under products that aren’t right for them, that the sales process has focused on selling them the sizzle, rather than the sausage. 

Too often sleep education is seen as part of marketing, it is a thin veneer, and when it comes to product selection and the sales process any thought of matching the way the person in front of you sleep, to the product that matches them, and potentially their partner, goes out of the window.

Let me share with you some of what I have learnt over the years, helping people understand their sleep better, and understand what they need to do to get the best kip they can.

Start with your people. At Mattress Online our partnership started with their people. If your people understand their own sleep, and the sleep of those around them and get the best sleep they can, then when they are doing their jobs, they have a better understanding of how what they do, impacts the sleep of the company’s customers. It is shocking that I have worked with more football teams, more accountancy firms, more retailers, more lawyers than I have organisations in our industry.

Consider our customers sleeping well when developing and merchandising products. I think if we want to take sleep education seriously we have to consider whether the things we sell are helping or hindering the sleep of our customers. The best current example I can give is gaming beds. Literally a product that actively prevents the person sleeping in it from sleeping. It goes against all the advice us as experts give. My point is not that you can’t sell this sort of product, every company has a right to make the commercial decisions that work for them, my point is you can be a brand that markets on the basis of sleep. Or you can’t. I don’t think you can credibly do both.

What are we encouraging people to sell? If as a retailer you are telling your sales people “we need to sell x brand this week” then that isn’t putting the sleep needs of the customer first. If as a manufacturer you are still using SPIV’s to encourage your customers to sell your product, then that isn’t putting the sleep of the nation first.

Help people understand the products we sell better. The consumer has the idea that more springs mean that a mattress is better. We know as an industry that this is not true, it makes the mattress different, and the customer in front of you might not need that many springs, or they might need more. Challenging myths about the products we sell, getting away from the idea of “a mug’s eyeful” helps our credibility as an industry.

Retailers, train your people to link your sleep products to customer’s sleep problems. Ultimately the products we sell need to give people a healthy sleep posture, and help them manage their temperature during the night. Relatively simple in theory, often a lot harder in practice. Giving your people an understanding of the simple science behind sleep gives them a better chance of helping your customers be happy. At kipmate, we can help you with this.

I want to challenge the industry on how we talk about sleep, so the people we help end up happier and with the products that really work for them. I have hope that as an industry we can improve our sleep knowledge and our focus on helping people sleep better. I have seen the amazing work we have done on sustainability and would like to see a similar commitment from the industry towards sleep education. We have a unique opportunity, as our people talk to people about sleep more than any other industry, and we could have a real impact on the health and wellbeing of everyone in the UK.

About James

James Wilson (AKA The Sleep Geek) is the founder of kipmate, a company that helps people sleep better through a better understanding of sleep, and their sleep in particular. Their kip advisors sleep wellbeing service helps organisations and sports get better kip, they offer sleep training, and help for individuals through their sort your kip digital tool.

James is the host of `Taking the Stress Out of Sleep’,  a podcast that helps poor sleepers understand who they are as sleepers, and what they can do to get better sleep, which is available on your favourite podcasting app.

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