I’m obsessed with sleep. I need slightly more than eight hours a night to be optimally productive next day. Anything less than seven and a half, and I turn into cranky monster. How do I know this?
Well, as a sleep nerd, my bedroom has slowly been overtaken by the latest sleep technology, all lab-engineered to help me understand my sleep patterns and sleep better. I have a tracker under my mattress that records my REM sleep and heart rate, and uses AI to recommend ways to improve my sleep. I have a “sound blanket” machine that drowns out noise. I have pajamas woven with fibers that promise to improve blood flow and help my body regenerate while I sleep.
So when four-year-old sleep startup Casper announced it was debuting its very first technological device, I was surprised by how analog it felt. Today, it debuts the Casper Glow, a bedtime light designed to sync with your body’s circadian rhythm, and start your process of falling asleep. While you need to plug it in, it is designed to feel much more like the kind of candlelight that people had in their bedrooms before the advent of electricity. “We were inspired by lanterns, and other premodern forms of light,” says Jeff Chapin, Casper’s chief product officer.
The Glow is an orb that sits on a charging base. (A single light costs $89, and a set of two costs $169.) You can hold the light in your hand to operate it. To turn it on, you flip it upside down, and to turn it off, you flip it again. Once it is lit, the orb will slowly begin to dim to signal to your body that it is time to sleep. During that process, if you want to dim or brighten the light, you can give it a little twist to the right or left. You can pair your Glow to a phone app to customize the baseline settings, from brightness to the length of time it takes to dim. But after setting it up, you don’t need to use the app, and can control it with just your hands.
Over time, this physical interaction with the light is supposed to feel intuitive. If you need to go to the bathroom at night, for instance, you can pick up an orb and use it as a guiding light, so that you don’t need to switch on lights that risk waking you (and your family) up. “Light plays an important role in signaling to your brain that you need to sleep or wake up,” Chapin says. “The Glow allows you to have a bit more control over the amount of light you are exposed to throughout the night.”
The idea behind it is to help you establish a sleep ritual every night before bed, says Neil Parikh, Casper’s chief operating officer. At bedtime, you can switch off all the other lights in your room, and crucially, switch off your electronic devices. You might read or meditate for a few minutes, or chat with your partner. Then, over the course of however long you choose–from 15 minutes to an hour and a half–the lights in the room slowly dim.
This new device, which is just the latest in the booming sleep industry, is part a push from brands–many heavily capitalized by VCs–to assert that sleep is an important pillar of wellness. Consumers have demonstrated they are willing to spend billions on fitness and healthy foods in an effort to feel their best. Now sleep brands are churning out mattresses, bedsheets, and technologies that similarly promise to enhance your life. Casper in particular has been expanding aggressively and appears on a mission to infiltrate every part of our sleep experience. It now has three different kinds of mattresses for every price point, pillows, bedding, and furniture. With nearly $240 million in funding, Casper needs to keep growing to meet investor expectations, from building a network of 200 brick-and-mortar stores, to coming up with more products, to investing in national TV advertising campaigns.
I tested the Glow for a week. I found Parikh’s observation about the user’s involvement to be true. With most of my sleep devices, all I have to do is switch them on, and they promise to track and improve my sleep. But these lights required me to think about how I wanted to use them. This can be useful, but for some consumers, it might feel like another thing to worry about. (And when you forget, it may be another reminder that you’re failing to live your best life.) Some people may prefer sleep devices that require minimal work.
But it was a good fit for me. When I tested it out, I thought about what sleep ritual would best fit my lifestyle. As the mother of a small child, I generally have about 15 minutes to wind down before bed. And in my case, the most relaxing thing I can do before going to sleep is talking about the day with my spouse. So now, my husband and I get ready for bed, flip on the Glow, and have a little chat about our day. By the time the light is at its dimmest setting, we’re both pretty sleepy, and ready to nod off. This is useful, because sometimes pre-bed chats have the opposite effect, and get us riled up.
Casper, which launched in 2014 as a mattress brand, seems focused on staying on top of the mattress wars. More than 100 new mattress startups–from Purple to Nectar to Tuft and Needle–have popped up in the market, making it ever more crowded and noisy. The online mattress industry is now worth $29 billion.
While most brands on the market are focused on products, Casper is hoping to build an entire lifestyle brand. It has invested in a 5,000-square-foot R&D facility in San Francisco called Casper Labs, staffed by 50 sleep researchers and engineers. Casper uses all of this science to iterate on products and come up with new ones.
With the Glow, Casper is now competing not just with sleep brands, but with lighting brands like Philips and Cree, which have been in the industry for far longer. And creating smart lighting is not as easy as it seems. Just ask Ikea, which launched connected lights to great fanfare, only for some users to complain that they don’t work as described after a while. The true test of the Glow is whether it is durable and will keep working well over time.
Then there is the matter of what it actually does. Is it just a glorified lantern? Perhaps, but I found something satisfying in its simplicity. Last night, for instance, I had a craving for a late-night cookie, as one does, but didn’t want to wake my husband. I grabbed the Glow, and as soon as I was out of the room, I gave myself enough light to safely walk downstairs to the kitchen pantry, without bumping into anything, tripping on the stairs, or knocking over jars. As I ate my midnight snack, I thought about how someone might have been doing the same thing 200 years ago, in the glow of their lantern.