The Science of Sleep
Going between the sheets and exploring the creative and scientific charm of slumber, Berlin
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Features > The Science of Sleep

We don’t often stop to think about our most repetitive actions—the automatic processes like breathing, blinking, sneezing, and sleeping.

That’s almost seven million breaths, 3.2 billion blinks, 15,000 sneezes in a lifetime, and about a third of our life spent sleeping. Though we’re probably better off letting the subconscious areas of the brain handle these involuntary actions, we spend an awful lot of our lives sleeping to not dedicate some thought to it.

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“Sleep science often has little insight into what makes a good mattress or a good pillow or, in general, a good sleep environment.”

The first humans slept in caves, Feudal-age farmers slept on bales of hay, Elvis slept on a bed shaped like a hamburger—so given the human race’s relation with sleep, one would think that we know all the secrets behind a good night’s rest, though this isn’t the case.We’ve come a long way from sleeping on rocks, but how come we find ourselves nodding off on the bus or catching a few zzz’s at the library?

Not even sleep scientists know exactly why we sleep, but we do know what happens when we don’t get enough. When sleep deprived at work we’re more prone to make mistakes, take longer to do tasks and forget things.

And still, we seem to be getting less and less sleep. In her book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, Arianna Huffington examines this new phenomenon: “Do you know what happens if you type the words “why am I” into Google? Before you can type the next word, Google’s autocomplete function—based on the most common searches—helpfully offers to finish your thought. The first suggestion: ‘why am I so tired?’ The global zeitgeist perfectly captured in five words.” The working world is slowly undergoing the “sleep revolution” that Huffington promises, and it’s happening in our bedrooms.

The place of midday naps, reading before bedtime, cuddling with a loved one—our personal worlds of slumber in the bedroom intimately reflect our lifestyles. “Mattresses are a very emotional product in a very personal setting,” agrees Jeff Chapin, co-founder of Casper, the intrepid new sleep start-up. The brand opted for a hands-on approach to researching the ideal conditions for sleep. “Sleep science often has little insight into what makes a good mattress or a good pillow or, in general, a good sleep environment,” explains Jeff. “We looked at every possible material that could be used in a mattress and built dozens of prototypes. Diving into the materials and manufacturing methods was fascinating, as was the sleep testing we did with an extended group of friends and family.”

Max Richter Performance of "Sleep" in Berlin

“I just wanted to make a piece to sleep through, to sort of explore that sleeping space as a listening space and to have a different encounters between our listening minds or hearing minds and music.” — Max Richter

On the other side of the bed, there’s something enchanting about sleep that makes it often the muse for creative endeavors—from the dreamy surrealism of Salvador Dalí’s “Le Sommeil,” David Lynch’s nightmarish explorations on film, to composer Max Richter’s eight hour long opus “Sleep.”

Max Richter performed the entirety of his piece, “Sleep” in Berlin and audience members were given beds instead of chairs, inviting them to sleep as Max and his performers played through the night. The soothing tones echoed throughout the venue, formerly a powerplant, casting a gentler light on the cold and industrial location.

The piece is repetitive and hypnotic, gently sinking one into sleep, starting at the periphery of one’s senses before completely submerging the listener. The effectiveness of the piece is not purely owed to Richter’s intuitive senses as a musician though—the composer consulted neurologist David Eagleman to learn about how the brain functions during sleep and the effect music has during this altered state of consciousness.

Walking through the venue struck one with the voyeuristic feeling one gets slinking through the aisles of an airplane during a long flight—catching an intimate moment with a group of complete strangers, defenseless and tender in sleep. The communal slumber party drove home a poignant observation of sleep: that as varied our experiences as humans are, we all need to sleep.

Kanye West, also a fan of Richter (The aria from “Sleep” was sampled on West’s iconic album The Life of Pablo), touches on the universality of slumber in his music video for “Famous.” Inspired by the painting “Sleep” by Vincent Desiderio, the provocative music video features 12 celebrities (from Donald Trump to Rihanna) all sleeping together in the same bed.

A Slumber Party with Casper at the new FvF Space

There’s a palpable cultural momentum building behind sleep—from Kanye West music videos to websites like My Morning Routine, compiling routines for a proper night’s sleep—and Casper has tapped into that revolution. To celebrate their launch in Germany, Austria and Switzerland at the new FvF Space in Berlin, the sleep experts from Casper took a decidedly different approach to event planning than, say, at Max Richter’s performance. This wasn’t Casper’s first time hosting a sleep related event either, they even collaborated with Ariana Huffington for a “Sleep Symposium” in NYC, where the company is based.

But slumber was the last thing on everyone’s mind at their party in Berlin—Casper mattresses were suspended from the ceiling where guests sat, drinking “Sleepy Mules” (spiked with lavender) while bobbing along to a techno beat and eating kimchi-topped hot dogs. As big fans of sleep at FvF (after all, our mother agency is named MoreSleep) we were glad to host them.

Many of the Casper founders were present, like Neil Parikh, whose father is coincidentally a sleep scientist. “It’s just getting started!” he said, doing a “raise the roof” motion with his hands. And it is just getting started—from Max Richter to Kanye West, and now Casper, the world seems to be turning a crusty eye to sleep, and with good reason. “People should think about sleep just like they think about diet and exercise,” says Jeff—if we’re going to spend a third of our lives in bed, we may as well make it as pleasant as possible.

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We’re proud to have hosted Casper at the new FvF Space—they’ve cut out the questionable practices of perpetually “on-sale” mattress stores by taking their business online. They’re revolutionizing the way we sleep with their idiosyncratically designed mattresses, sheets and pillows.

Big thanks to our partners at Diageo, BRLO, Vöslauer, Bartmann Berlin, Marsano and Thonet, who made the Casper launch party possible.

Text: Kevin Chow
Photography: Robert Rieger
Photography (Max Richter Sleep Event): Stefan Hoederath