Everyone needs a good night’s sleep and a bed to sleep on.

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It’s Sleep Awareness Week, sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation, an opportunity to recognize that sleep is essential and to take action to prioritize our sleep. Yet for some, the basic essentials for a good night’s sleep remain an unfulfilled dream. For far too many, even those right in our midst, a bed is an unaffordable luxury.

It was 5:45 PM as I sat down outside the Exhibit Hall at the National Sleep Foundation Sleep Show in Houston last Saturday awaiting a colleague for a meeting. Across from me sat a weary security guard to whom I said, “I’ll bet you’re ready to go home.” “I sure am,” he responded. With such a vast array of sleep-related products and services filling the convention space, I asked if anything caught his attention. “There’s great stuff in there but I can’t afford any of it.” With the Serta exhibit right in front of us I asked about his mattress. “I don’t have one,” he said. Figuring he sleeps on a couch, I asked, “Where do you sleep?” “On the floor,” stated Michael. I asked if he’s comfortable, as he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Not really.” “Would you like a mattress?” “Sure,” Michael replied. I knew what was next as I said, “Give me a moment.”

I bee lined to the gentleman standing at the Serta exhibit yards away and said, “Hi Bob. Do you see Michael over there, the security guard in the chair? He sleeps on the floor because he an’t afford a mattress. Anything you can do?” “Sure, but can it wait until tomorrow after the show? We’ll take care of it. One of these beds is his.” I walked back to Michael and let him know to that a Serta queen size bed would be his on Sunday at the end of the show. “Really?” said Michael, with a sweet expression of disbelief. Learning he would be at work the following day, I said to connect with Bob.

Sunday morning I was on a mission to get bedding supplies for Michael to go with his bed. Hearing the story of Michael, the generosity from vendors was heartwarming. Pillows, a mattress protector, and duvet from Shelsea at Bed Bath and Beyond. Two sets of luxurious sheets and a duvet cover from Kristine at Wamsutta. I brought the goods to the Serta team so everything would be together for Michael. I went to find him at the door to no avail. I learned from his fellow security team that he had left early. Had he not believed the offer would be consummated? I was not letting go and asked if anyone had his number. A guard said, “There’s our boss over there, the tall guy.” I walked over and introduced myself, sharing the story and receiving Mark’s blessing. He had wondered where Michael had gone. We called his cell. No answer. We texted him. I offered to pay for delivery, but Mark said they would take care of it. Then, we learned from Jackie at Serta that she and Michael had already made arrangements and she was meeting him at the loading dock. He was on his way with a friend and a van to pick up his bed and bedding.

I had to catch my flight. I texted Mark from the plane thanking him for his support and requesting to let me know that it all worked out. Sure enough, first thing Monday morning, Mark texted me that, “He was very grateful, as you can imagine we all are!”

While my spirit was lifted knowing that for Michael a dream had become a reality, the irony did not escape me. Here was a hard-working man, who did not even own a bed to sleep on, protecting products and people who could afford to indulge in the latest and greatest sleep paraphernalia.  

I salute the National Sleep Foundation, a valuable sleep and sleep health resource for which we should be grateful. However, we all need to be mindful that behind the prolific news about sleep, sleep research, and the advancements in sleep technology and products, there are far too many for whom a good night’s sleep is elusive at best. These disparities lurk behind closed doors, in shelters, under bridges, and even for those we least expect to be bedless. The National Institutes of Health Social & Environmental Determinants of Health Equity Group is doing important research into the impact of environment on disparities, including sleep.

Aside from the personal and public health need to recognize and treat sleep insufficiency and sleep disorders for all at risk, we need to take action to ensure that everyone has the basics, including a bed, so that good sleep is even possible. Tonight, if you have trouble falling asleep due to stress or a busy brain, how about going to gratitude for your bed, your pillow, your clean sheets, and the fact that you have the accoutrements for a good night’s sleep. Transform your worries to gratitude and pray for the stranger who is not so fortunate.

Should you want to help someone get a good night’s sleep, here are a few children’s charities that do beautiful work:

  • Sweet Dreamzzz provides sleep education and bedtime essentials to poverty-level school children.
  • The Pajama Program provides the “magical gifts of pajamas and books” to foster a “caring bedtime ritual…warmth and hope.”

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