A quarter of the UK’s population have a dangerously inadequate amount of sleep, according to research from the University of Leeds. Regularly clocking in five hours or less each night is associated with serious health conditions including diabetes and obesity. Fewer than seven hours has been shown to greatly limit workers’ productivity in research by Rand Europe and the University of Cambridge.
Sleep is a common problem among time-strapped entrepreneurs. With World Sleep Day taking place on 18 March, here are three inventions that aim to offer some respite:
In November 2012, Anwar Almojarkesh was sleeping over at a friend’s house, when he woke up to be told his snore was horrible and loud. This came as a surprise to Almojarkesh. He was getting married in a few months’ time and was worried his snoring would irritate his wife. So he started to think about a solution.
Using a smartphone, he recorded his snore at night: “The first time I heard it was a very bad moment – it sounded like fireworks.” The recording revealed he was snoring for five or six hours, which was likely to be causing other side effects such as poor quality sleep.
Almojarkesh came up with an idea for an anti-snoring phone app, connected to a smartwatch. The app would recognise snoring noises and notify the user while they’re sleeping by sending gentle vibrations through the smartwatch, which would prompt the user to change their sleeping position.
Almojarkesh’s next step was to collect snoring sounds from YouTube to understand the special parameters that snoring has – such as the repetition and roughness. He then wrote an algorithm that could detect them, which he turned into an app. The first night he tested out his app he used two smartphones beside his bed: one to detect snoring and to send out short pulses of vibrations, the other he remained plugged into all night to record his responses to the vibrations.
When Almojarkesh woke, to his surprise, the phone had detected his snores and he had shifted his position. “This was one of the happiest moments of my life – I had invented something to help myself.”
Almojarkesh, who was married three months ago, has now been using the app for six months. “The problem no longer exists and my partner is very happy. I have a better quality of sleep and more energy in the mornings.”
Meanwhile, Almojarkesh has been building his sleep-aiding idea into a business, Braci. He was selected by the UK government for the Sirius programme for graduate entrepreneurs. Braci is now quickly gaining traction with customers. The company has secured hundreds of sales and £150,000 investment, with another £450,000 likely, says Almojarkesh.
When Tim Antos, founder of Kokoon technology, which manufactures headphones, was experiencing sleep problems, the culprit was stress at work. “I would lie awake at night thinking about different ideas for presentations and different approaches for doing stuff, and just couldn’t switch off,” he says. Opposed to sleep medication, which he thought would be easy to grow dependent upon, Antos began researching other ways of alleviating insomnia.
One technique he found helpful was listening to audio. However, as he felt standard headphones were too bulky to wear in bed, he decided to develop his own. The result was the Kokoon headphones, which combine audio and integrated EEG brainwave sensors to encourage a sound night’s sleep.
Antos is a trained mechanical engineer. In developing Kokoon he applied his technical skills to creating a product that was not only ergonomic and comfortable – the headphones flex and mould to the shape of the wearer’s ear – but also broke new ground in intelligent audio. The headphones automatically adjust and tune the audio to ensure that regenerative deep sleep is protected from disturbances. Built into the headset is an app that measures the way people sleep and responds to their sleep patterns with different types of sound.
“For example, once you are asleep, it will bring in white noise to protect the sleep,” Antos explains.
In 2013, taking on the role of CEO, Antos teamed up with his co-founder Richard Hall, an electronics engineer, to launch their startup Kokoon.
The team’s first big break came when they travelled to Shenzhen in China to join top hardware accelerator HAX, and to network with some experienced hardware entrepreneurs and manufacturers.
They’ve since launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, which raised $1.93m (£1.43m). Today, Kokoon employs a team of 11 based in Brixton, London. Ahead of the official product launch in September this year, the founders are in talks with large retailers that are looking to stock the product, both in the UK and the US. Global pre-orders currently stand at 10,000 units.
In 2013, entrepreneur and medical device inventor Richard Mills was a long-term insomniac. “I’d been doing a lot of international travel over the years, [which wasn’t great for my sleep pattern] and when I went to bed I’d start thinking about the things I needed to do the next day.” But one day Mills’ bedtime brainstorming led to an idea that could alleviate his insomnia.
He had previously tried out cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which can help reduce the anxiety that exacerbates poor sleep, and thought there could be a way to apply CBT to sleep promotion through the use of light and sound therapy. Mills wanted to use artificial light and sound to mimic the natural cues your body takes from sunset and sunrise.
With this germ of an idea, Mills headed to the London Sleep Centre to meet its medical director, Dr Irshaad Ebrahim. Ebrahim was taken by Mills’ idea, a piece of kit that patients could take home with them, and immediately invested in the product.
There are three components to SleepCogni: a lamp that sits on your bedside table and hangs over your head (it emits different coloured lights and a range of sounds); a smartphone app where you can programme the product to suit your sleep routine; and a small clip for your finger that monitors your heart rate, skin temperature and mental alertness. The lamp emits a level and type of light and sound in direct response to your heart rate, using your sleeping pulse as a baseline, recorded by the app the first time you use it.
SleepCogni was first tested out in a medical trial at Sheffield Hallam university. In the trial 50% of patients experienced improved sleep quality and 40% slept longer as a result of using the device. The product is due to launch in 2017 when further trials at the university of Groningen in the Netherlands have been completed. Alongside Mills a team of nine others have been involved in its development, including experts in human biology and sound.
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