How I learned to make money in my sleep
Writer, content creator and the world’s first ‘sleep influencer’, Alex Shannon explains how his nightmares became the key to his dream of travelling the world – and making a living out of it
Snuggling down into crisp sheets and drifting off as the Eiffel Tower shimmers outside, enjoying a morning coffee watching camels make their way across the Dubai desert, taking a midday nap in a giant hammock suspended above the jungle in Tulum… Over the past few years, I’ve had many ‘pinch me’ moments. Moments that I have to remind myself were real and not some incredible dream, even though it’s dreaming (or rather sleep itself) that got me there in the first place.
If you’d told me a few years ago that I’d be living my dream of travelling the world and staying in some of the most beautiful destinations and unbelievable hotel suites, I probably would have laughed. If you’d have told me that I’d also be getting paid to do it, I definitely would have laughed. Likewise, when I tell people that I’ve made my favourite pastime into a profession that’s allowed me to check more places off my bucket list than I ever imagined possible, their reaction is usually skepticism or disbelief. When I add that the pastime-turned-profession in question is sleep, the next word out of everyone’s mouth is always the same: “How?”
To understand how I got to the point where sleep became a paying gig, we have to go back a bit. My complex relationship with sleep wasn’t always the dream it is today. In fact, it started out as a total nightmare. As a child, I suffered from sleep paralysis, so my nightly routine consisted of doing pretty much everything possible to avoid bedtime. The dysfunctional cycle was broken unexpectedly one night when my sleep paralysis transitioned into a lucid dream. My dark bedroom melted away into a technicolour wonderland, where I was the creator of my own dreamscape. Sleep suddenly became my portal into a fantastical new world. My life beyond the bedroom was transformed as well. For the first time, I woke up well rested. I realised just how intensely powerful our personal relationship with sleep can be: quite literally life-changing. From this point onwards, sleep became my most treasured activity.
The business of sleep, as fate would have it, was anything but relaxing
As part of my new sleep regimen, I started keeping a dream journal. The journal served double duty: allowing me to note down any nagging worries before bed and helping me remember any vivid or lucid dreams. I would regularly make notes in the middle of the night before they vanished from my memory. Most of the time, my journal entries made no sense in the light of day, but one morning I woke up and read the three words that would ultimately (and bizarrely) change the course of my life: “sleep travel Instagram”.
The idea rolled around in my mind. It did combine many of the things I loved: travel, creativity and sleep. There wasn’t anyone doing anything remotely similar on social media. But would anyone actually care about a sleep Instagram account? I mean, they always say do what you love, but what if the thing you love is basically the opposite of doing anything at all? How do you turn doing nothing into making something of yourself?
@followthenap started out small: a series of iPhone photos taken by my friend at a local Los Angeles hotel, accompanied by tongue-in-cheek captions. At first, the people engaging with my content were friends and family. Then a few strangers. Then a few more followers. Then came more likes, more follows, more messages. Next came the hotels and brands, asking if I would like to shoot at their properties, saying how unique my concept was. I was in absolute, complete disbelief.
Things started to move quickly – and this is when it began to feel really surreal. I spent a night at Amangiri, a minimalist luxury retreat set amidst red rock cliffs in Utah, waking up to an almost alien landscape of acres and acres of desert as far as the eye could see. I partnered with Armani, flying out to promote its hotels in Milan and Dubai [opening image], snapping sleep pics above the clouds inside the Burj Khalifa and underwater at The Lost Chambers Aquarium. I travelled to Paris and slept in Le Metropolitan’s Eiffel Suite with an iconic oval window that looks directly out on to the city’s most recognisable landmark. The photos taken there went viral almost instantly, compounding the number of properties, brands and tourism boards reaching out to me.
This stay was also the singular moment when I realised the legitimate business potential in my @followthenap concept. As night began to fall in the Parisian hotel, I heard the familiar ding that I’d received an Instagram DM. Once I opened it, I almost dropped my phone. One of my favourite celebrities had somehow found my account and sent me a message that simply read: “Love the nap concept. Keep up the good work.” I’m not ashamed to say that my eyes welled up. How had this person even heard about my account, let alone become a fan? From then on, I kicked my sleep adventures up a notch.
The business of sleep, as fate would have it, was anything but relaxing. Things began to move at a pace I couldn’t have even dreamed of – testing out a glamping tent overlooking Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, experiencing the ‘Home Alone’ sleep experience at The Plaza in New York and even staying at The Versace Mansion in Miami. I was still working full time, but grabbed every chance possible to take a new sleep excursion, feeling immensely lucky to be given the opportunity to experience such incredible places and meet such inspiring people. I also didn’t want to slow down, afraid that the moment would pass – ironic when the entire idea behind my account was to chill out.
I napped in Arabian deserts and Mexican rainforests and on private Malibu beaches. I got to sleep in suites reserved for royalty, tested out a $400k mattress – the same one Drake has, just FYI – and lounged in Elvis Presley’s former Las Vegas penthouse. Believe me, I’m not saying this to boast, but to show that even the most seemingly ridiculous ideas can become reality and change your life in the process. There really is something to doing the thing you love, however bizarre or offbeat it may seem.
I travelled to Paris and slept in Le Metropolitan’s Eiffel Suite with an iconic oval window. This stay was also the singular moment I realised the legitimate business potential in my @followthenap concept
When people ask why I think @followthenap became a success, I don’t really have an answer for them. My best guess is that it taps into many things that people aspire to on a day-to-day basis: to have an escape, to experience beautiful places and to have a little more downtime to decompress. When you’re constantly bombarded with messages that you should be working harder, working out more and basically being superhuman, maybe it’s comforting to see someone be unapologetic in enjoying doing absolutely nothing.
But what of my relationship with sleep? Someone asked me recently, “What happens when the thing you love becomes work?” Well, if I’ve learned one thing from this bizarre journey, it’s that our relationship with sleep is just like any other relationship. It’s weird, complicated, highly individual, needs to be nurtured and evolves with time. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula. Like a real-life love affair, we’re all attracted to different things. Some need complete silence to drift off, while others enjoy screeching whale sounds. Some people need to be warm and toasty, while others prefer near frigid bedroom temperatures. The ‘dating’ process of finding out what you like is part of the fun – experiment, try new things and repeat. Because, unlike some other pairings, our relationship with sleep is for life, so you’d better make it a good one.
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