Sleeping on the job

15 March 2019

If you’re the sort of person who thinks that life is simply what happens when you’re not allowed to stay in bed, set your alarm. You can make money from your favourite hobby. Sleep means money, and busy metropolitans will pay you to help them to get some zeds.

In fact, the ‘exhaustion economy’, as it’s been dubbed, is currently worth $40 billion in the US and is growing fast here.

“The exhaustion economy?” you query. “Pray tell, fair maiden, who has clearly had hours of beauty sleep, what could that possibly be?” Oh, all right then, you flatterer, you.

What we’re talking about here is a whole (lucrative) industry growing up around our lack of sleep and our gradual awakening to the fact that having a bit more of it would be good for us. I personally need at least seven hours’ sleep a day…nine at night. Usually I get decent a good night’s sleep but there are occasions when I get stopped by my brain constantly talking to itself.

However, would I spend money on sprays, herbal pillows, tablets or even videos of a Russian woman telling me gently about how she’s washing her windows? (Yes, that’s actually a new sleep product you can buy.) Probably not, but more and more people are. Just as food has been ‘medicalised’ in the past few decades, so sleep is now considered the new magic health bullet that will make you richer, happier and more likely to irritate your peers with your general annoying smugness.

There are already articles around the internet full of dire warnings about how a serious lack of sleep can do terrible things like making you ill, shortening your life or making you Prime Minister.

Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post, has set up a whole sleep institute and has even written a book about sleep. She set all this up after she collapsed in the office in 2007 owing, she says, to sleep deprivation. She recommends cheap ways to get more sleep like keeping your phone in another room (reasonable). But she’s also keen on wearable tech ‘sleep monitors’ as well as high-tech beds, such as the one by American manufacturer Sleep Number, which has created a ‘smart bed’ for a mere $4,400 (£3,408), including ambient lights and foot warmers. 

As a side note, if you splashed out on that, you could team it with a new ‘interactive toilet’ that includes an Amazon Alexa (of course). The Numi 2.0 Intelligent Toilet promises a ‘fully immersive experience’ with fancy ‘dynamic and interactive multicoloured ambient and surround lighting’. How did we ever manage without one of these before?

But the products and services that enterprising types are coming up with to service the growing demands from the sleep-deprived (as opposed to those of the toilet-bored) just keep getting better. One high-end gym in the UK offers a 12-week ‘sleep coaching programme’ for a mere £750. Yes, people are paying that type of money to learn how to sleep. Welcome to the market economy.

But as well as paying to improve your sleep, we’ve found some ways that people have made cash from snoozing.

For example, did you know you could make money as a bed tester? Frankly, I’m not sure that you still can, but certainly in 2009 luxury bed specialist Simon Horn asked for participants for their month-long ‘sleep survey’, and (surprise, surprise) received 600 applications within 48 hours. The winner, Roslin Madigan, was paid £1,000 to sleep in luxury beds every day for a month. Not bad for sleeping on the job.

Back in 2013, NASA got 25,000 applications for a job that involved lying on a bed for 70 days running to test their reactions. It paid the winning applicant, Drew Iwanicki, $18,000 to lie back and think of planets. You might not get to NASA but there are occasionally clinical trials (ugh) that test people’s sleep patterns and you could be paid in the hundreds – or thousands of pounds – if you dare.

There are other ways you can make money sleeping (and I’ll be interested to hear any that you know of). But surely the loud and clear message from all this is that if you can persuade people that some object, device or activity can make them super-rich, super-healthy and devastatingly attractive, you can make good money out of it.

It doesn’t matter what it is – walking, staring into space, dribbling down your front or picking your feet… if you can make a case for its health and wealth benefits, you’re laughing. Now there’s a wake-up call.

JASMINE BIRTLESis a financial journalist and founder of Email her at