Businesses cash in on insomnia

by Satoshi Toi

Kyodo News

Companies catering to people suffering from sleeplessness are now in vogue as Japan goes through “the era of insomnia.”

Panasonic Electric Works Co. is offering the Restino, a device that automatically controls light and sound factors to determine whether a person can be healed and can wake up fully refreshed.

Designed to create the ideal sleeping environment, the product helps a person fall asleep smoothly and wake with the aid of lighting and a speaker incorporated into the bed.

One in five Japanese is said to be suffering from sleeping problems stemming in part from the spread of convenience stores, Internet use, cell phones and other factors. For more than 25 years, Panasonic Electric Works has been researching ways to establish an environment ideal for getting a peaceful night’s rest.

To use a bed equipped with the Panasonic system, you set the clock to the preferred wakeup time and then lie there as music and lighting lull you to sleep.

A sensor under the mattress can detect the sleeper’s body movements during muggy summer nights and automatically start up the air conditioner. It can also gradually turn on lights and music prior to wakeup time so the person can ease slowly out of their slumber.

‘The research on sleep may be described as science of the brain,” said Takahiro Heiuchi of Panasonic Electric Works. The development of Restino represents “the results of a collection of research that has progressed rapidly in the past decade.”

A capsule hotel named 9h (meaning nine hours) opened in Kyoto in December touting itself as the ultimate healing place for sleeplessness.

Decked out basically in white, the hotel’s interior is highly sophisticated and gives the impression it is a high-grade guesthouse. There are no vending machines or background music.

On the face of it, 9h’s single rooms, called “sleeping pods,” look like the chambers in a capsule hotel except there are no TVs or alarm clocks. Light-emitting diodes are used to waken guests.

The light in the structure facilitates drowsiness in the evening, and the intensity is raised in the morning to wake people up.

The lighting in the structure facilitates sleepiness, and the intensity of the illumination is set up in accordance with a period of the morning to help wake up the guests.

The pillows are made to order and consist of four different kinds of material. Mattresses are also made of a highly resilient material to avoid interfering with the sleeping process. Even the ingredients in the shampoo are more expensive than those in high-class hotels.

Keisuke Yui, the president of Cubic Co., which runs the hotel, said 9h is managed on the assumption that guests will spend an hour taking a shower, seven hours sleeping and an hour to get dressed.

“I’d like people to consider it as an ‘installation’ with a collection of specialized functions for sleep, at the base of such activities as sightseeing,” he said.

Lodging facilities that offer sweet sleep as their selling point are on the rise and include suites in major hotels, he said.