Several hours into my tour of Casper Labs, I start to feel sleepy. Casper, the company famous for its internet-sold mattresses, set up this facility in San Francisco to test its products. There are levers that press down to measure the springiness of the mattresses' foam, wire coils that take the temperature beneath the wool-blend duvets, and many nice, pillowy things. Walls are padded with fabrics, each of them soft and inviting. A collection of jars contain down feathers, foam, curly wool. Layers of cushions stand stacked, like a Princess and the Pea pallet. Looking at these delicate, inviting displays, my eyelids grow heavy. Somewhere, I detect the hazy scent of lavender.
Casper made its name trafficking sleep with its dreamily marketed, direct-to-consumer mattresses. Its signature soft-but-supportive beds sell for a fraction of the price of a Tempur-Pedic, with trendy marketing that engendered the brand to millennials. In other words, Casper made sleep cool. Cool enough that, five years after its launch, dozens of other companies now sell similar mattresses using the same youthful merchandising.
But that's fine. Casper doesn't really want to be a mattress company anyway. It wants to be something even bigger. Which is where its new product comes in.
The latest invention to come out of Casper Labs is not a mattress or a pillow, but a small lamp designed to sit on your bedside table and lull you into sleep. It projects a warm, soft glow that gradually dims as you fall asleep, and then brightens like a sunrise when it's time to wake up. It looks like a miniaturized HomePod speaker, but one without the ability to stream music or talk to Siri over Wi-Fi. Actually, there's nothing connected about the Casper Glow at all. It's more like a remedy for our screen-addled world, a reminder of times when falling asleep was as simple as flicking off the light.
In reality, though, the Glow is more than a "magical light for better sleep," as the company describes it. It's the start of Casper's dream to become a lifestyle company—one that will fill your bedroom with all kinds of things to guide you toward slumber. The company has crept toward this transformation for years, starting with its move into bedsheets , duvets , and dog beds . Now, with its first experiment in hardware, Casper is entering the next phase. It wants to sell you more than bedwares. It wants to sell you sleep.
The original Casper mattress is made from four layers of foam. It compresses into a small box, gets delivered to your door, and comes with a 100-day, no-questions-asked return policy. Within a month of launching in 2014, it had surpassed $1 million in sales.
Part of the brand's genius was identifying, then solving, the pain points in buying a mattress—the shopping hassles, the excessive cost, scheduling the delivery. But more than anything, the company zeroed in on a key message: Sleep, for most of us, had become a complicated affair that begged for simplification.
Five years on, it's even worse. We are now overwhelmed with technology promising to aid our sleep. There are gadgets that slip under your mattress and monitor your REM cycle. There are apps and alarm clocks designed to help you glide between sleep phases. There are trackers, worn on your head or your wrist, and sensors, tucked inside a pillowcase or on your sheets. This pursuit of the perfect night's slumber is exhausting.
"Today, sleep is stressful," says Casper chief experience officer Eleanor Morgan during my visit to Casper Labs. "It's guilt-ridden, it's dry, it's scientific, it's lecturing." Ask for advice on how to sleep better and you'll find a long list of all the things you're doing wrong: bringing your phone into the room, setting the thermostat too high, going to bed at different times each night, daring to get up in the middle of the night to pee.
The Casper Glow is designed as an antidote. The device ($89 for a single light, $169 for a pair) dims and brightens on a schedule you set in an app—and, really, that's it. It won't connect to the internet, or track your hours of shut-eye, or broadcast sleep data to your phone. There are no buttons or levers: You simply turn it over to trigger the dim sequence, or gently shake it to turn on a soft night light. "We feel like there's this interesting opportunity in 'fuzzy tech,' where tech isn't gadgety but disappears into your environment," says Morgan. You can set one on your bedside table or buy a few and connect them to create a constellation of lights, like an alter of prayer candles, each dimming in unison.
"There's this interesting opportunity in 'fuzzy tech,' where tech isn't gadgety but disappears into your environment."
Eleanor Morgan, Casper's chief experience officer
Two years ago, Casper began a fact-finding mission called Project Bento, intended to explore the effect of the bedroom environment on sleep. Most of the company's efforts had been focused on tactile experiences: the specific arrangement of foam on the mattress to cradle your body, the duvet designed to keep you warm without overcooking you. But sleep is a complex, multi-sensory experience. "There's a fair amount of academic research that supports the positive or negative impact these different senses can have on your sleep quality," says Jeff Chapin, one of Casper's co-founders.
The company Airbnb'd a big Victorian house in San Francisco's Mission neighborhood and set up a series of sleep experiments in each of its bedrooms. They wanted to know: How can technology improve sleep? The first major discovery to come from those experiments had to do with light. If sleep is an arc—drifting off, then sleeping, then rising out of slumber—then light plays a huge role in the parts before and after sleep. It's what triggers changes in our melatonin levels and helps us find a rhythm in our sleep schedule. Sleep, the Casper team surmised, is not so much an on-and-off switch but an entire process, which should begin with a moment of deliberate unwinding.
The Glow is meant to kickstart this bedtime ritual. When it's time for bed, you flip the Glow over and the light begins to grow dimmer. The dimming process can be programmed to last between 15 minutes and one-and-a-half hours. As the light slowly fades, you're meant to read, meditate, chat with a partner, or simply close your eyes—so that ideally, by the time it's gone out, you're already asleep. (During shut-eye, Glow can recharge on its charging base.) In the morning, the process repeats in reverse, mimicking the rise of the sun for up to 30 minutes before wake time. These times can be customized in a companion app, though Chapin says the Glow is designed to be used mostly without the app.
The Glow's best feature, which sets it apart from cult classics like the Philips Wake-Up Light , is its nightlight functionality. If you wake in the middle of the night—to pour a glass of water, to pee, or to soothe your crying child—you can gently shake the Glow to activate a dim light, which acts as a lantern as you move around the house. The Glow contains a light sensor that detects the brightness in the room, which allows it to self-adjust to its environment. Shake it awake in the pitch-black and it emits only the dimmest glow to avoid jolting your body back to awakeness.
For Casper, the Glow is just the beginning of a new kind of multi-sensory sleep experience. Through its Project Bento experiments, the company has already come up with interesting ideas for the next phase of products: soft speakers that play soothing music, weighted pillows that can be warmed for snuggling, an aromatherapy diffuser to puff soothing scents (lavender and jasmine for sleep; peppermint and bergamot for waking up). The team found research suggesting that we fall asleep better when our feet are warm, so it created a heated foot pad to sit beside the bed and encourage the rapid onset of sleep. For now, the company says these are thought experiments more than prototypes for viable products.
The Glow is the first part of this plan, and Casper's first chance to win more of its customers' bedrooms. Pretty soon, Casper may have a lot more to put in them.
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