Despite the abundance of sleep drugs, sleep apps, pillows, mattresses, etc., insomnia is on the rise. According to a 2016 CDC study, one in three adults do not get enough sleep. According to McKinsey & Company the sleep-health industry is collectively estimated to be worth $30 billion to $40 billion and is growing, with few signs of slowing down.
Having traveled the path from insomniac to sleep guru, Robert Michael de Stefano is a thought leader on the topic of sleep and a pioneer in innovating sleep skills to end stress-induced insomnia naturally. His personal experience as a former chronic insomniac informed and inspired his sleep wellness products and practices. Robert has worked closely with the spa industry to shift the medical and drug industry’s paradigm of sleep based on medicating stress-induced sleeplessness.
We chatted with Robert about disrupting the state of sleep wellness.
What impact does technology and our relationship with technology have on sleep?
Our products and rituals are crafted to create space between our busy day and what should be our chilled-out nights … I call it “The Type A to Type Z Transition.” Simply put, our phones, etc., tend to keep our chemistry and emotions locked into a sleep-depriving day vibe, hindering the transition, thus compromising our ability to sleep.
There is an entire industry that has emerged around sleep. Sleep is a basic human need. How did we forget how to sleep?
Generally speaking, we didn’t forget how to sleep—we were born with that skill. What we forgot is how to let go. Once we begin a practice of letting go of the day and allow our Type Z to move to the front burner, sleep comes a lot easier.
Why is getting enough sleep important and what are some of the most common misconceptions?
I think that the basic need for “8 hours” has never been properly explained to us. I like to use the clothes washing machine analogy … to get the job done the machine has to go entirely through its complete cycle in order; wash, rinse, spin, or the results will not be pretty. Same with our sleep cycle. We need eight hours for our body to go through all its magical processes of detoxing, repairing, healing, and rejuvenating, which happens in a diverse yet linear fashion across the night. Those people who like to boast “I don’t need eight hours” are simply wrong.
How and why did you get into the business of sleep?
I got into this work quite by accident actually. I had a successful run in advertising, built a large, national firm, won some nice awards and along the way became a world-class, chronic insomniac. While fun, the job was a huge stress generator for me to an almost debilitating point. My doctor told me my legacy was going to be “He died young.” The timing of this epiphany coincided with the sale of my agency, giving me the time to pursue getting healthier. This led me to, among other things, extensive studies in yoga, massage, aromatherapy, music therapy, narrative therapy, and the science of sleep. From these sources and influences I cobbled together a sleep-positive bedtime ritual that ended my insomnia for good. At the same time, because all the sleep-inducing music I tried failed me, I created my own. The recording found its way into a clinical study and then took off in the market, launching me into the sleep business.
You have been called the sleep guru and are known for your Sleep Wellness Workshops. Can you share a bit about these workshops?
My process is simple and very effective. I do not think that we have a sleep problem … it’s more of a sleep barrier issue. I demystify sleep and help identify the barriers and how to remove them so sleep can flow naturally. My seminars and workshops come in different shape and sizes … women only, couples, athletes … and the names vary from “chill session” to “take back your sleep” … but all are driven by the authenticity that comes from the firsthand understanding and empathy derived from my many years of being sleep deprived. I like to think that I inspire hope—having been in the same boat as each of my attendees, I understand the rut and the frustration, so what I have to say is believable.
When and why did you decide to launch Longeva Wellness?
I needed a product-minded company to park my sleep aid inventions and properly market and distribute them. I came across a couple of wonderful like thinkers, we joined hands and jumped into Longeva two years ago.
Can you explain the concept behind the brand and products?
My workshops teach that sleep should be a rich, plush, luxurious, nourishing, and sensual experience … a reward for a well-fought day. Longeva, the brand and its products, embodies this belief.
What are SleepCeuticals?
SleepCeuticals™ are quite the beauty sleep invention … a true convergence of skincare and sleep care. I took more than five years to finesse this blend, working with the world’s top aromatherapists and natural skincare formulators. We ended up with vegan, botanical extract blends that are very lovely. Everything about SleepCeuticals is about nourishing, starting with the 10 essential fatty acids that make up our super skin food proprietary blend. Then we have this amazing botanical deck of 15 sleep-inducing extracts, from kava kava, California poppy, and valerian root to exotics like neroli and bergamot—there’s nothing like this one-two punch on the market.
Why was it important to launch the concept in the spa channel? Do you have a plan to expand the distribution?
People come to spas in large part for two reasons—to rest and to look better—exactly the business that we are in. A spagoer also gives themselves freely to the concept and practice of rituals … exactly the essence of how we deliver our products. So the resort/spa mindset is perfectly aligned with our purpose. We bring the guest into our products and rituals via an extremely relaxing and luxurious massage treatment named “The Sleep Ritual™”, making the massage treatment room the ultimate product demonstration platform for our unique offerings. Our major brand hotel/resort guest program is also flourishing. Our interactive, guest room program turns a brilliant guest room by day into an intoxicating sleep sanctuary at night of luxurious soaks, dewy creams, sleepy serums, dreamy aromas, intoxicating music and videos. Spas/resorts are both a distribution channel and an education vehicle for us.We are the only company with the ability to successfully connect the hotel guest room with the spa treatment room to the guest’s home bedroom and ultimately into their lives when they leave the property. This powerful core channel has been a tremendous development and educational opportunity for us … letting us zero in on our consumers’ needs and wants, while allowing us to build a potent product education component that gives us an expertise to flaunt as we move into other channels such as DTC and brick and mortar.
The business of sleep is a rather new category. What challenges have you encountered in the launch of the brand?
Few consumer segments have been fed more BS and shallow hype over the years than the sleep-deprived individual and the beauty purveyor. We are both a legitimate beauty and ethical wellness company, with solid credentials in both arenas along with an ability to merge the two into an easy-to-consume proposition. This gives us a significant credibility lead over the flux of brands looking to hop on the sleep trend bandwagon. Our world-class spa buyers appreciate that and our consumers get that, making our entry into our massive and needy market very open to us. If there’s been a challenge, it comes from pushing back on the years of the medical and drug industry’s attempts at convincing us that basic stress-induced sleeplessness is a disease or illness that needs to be medicated instead of recalibrated with simple natural elements that turn stress off and turn relaxing on, right at the moment of bedtime.
What do you think the future of sleep looks like?
Really good! There’s a flood of natural sleep-related products hitting a fast-growing market of savvy consumers that would rather find experiences that “Chill” vs “Pill”—that’s a big move forward into shifting the global sleep paradigm. And talk about disrupting an industry … we’ve gone beyond the mattress. Big brand hotels are now selling room packages that feature our sleep sanctuary experiences as the key attraction to booking a stay, and the bookings are on a rapid climb. Eventually we won’t be the only quality player in this space, but for now we’re very honored to be the leader in this health and cultural revolution.
Photo: via Longeva