The Emerging Sleep Wellness Market

Withings Aura

The lead image for the Times article featured the Withings Aura, a very sensitive under-the mattress sensor that connects with a colored night light and alarm clock. The light can change colors from blue, which is good for waking you up in the morning, to red, which is preferred at night since blue light inhibits melatonin production and the biological clock that tells the body it’s time to sleep. But instead of showing the bluish version, I found this red version more appropriate for an article on sleep.

Consumers are learning how sleep affects health, safety and productivity, thanks to a flood of articles in the scientific literature and mainstream news media. Today I responded to Collecting Data on a Good Night’s Sleep, an article in The New York Times about all of the fitness activity trackers and under-the-mattress sensors.

These sensors basically tell you what you already know — you don’t sleep well — but few actually help you sleep better. Some attempt to monitor sleep and wake you at the best time close to when you set your alarm. They may even show graphs of sleep patterns, based on how much you move or even your heart rate, but they can’t be very accurate without also measuring brainwave activity. Zeo was the one product I know of that did that fairly well, but it ended up going under.


My First Response

“Here’s yet another article, among others from the scientific community and mainstream news media, which espouses the need for sleep. It describes the plethora of devices that attempt to measure sleep and tell us what we already know – we don’t sleep well.

There’s very little information or coaching to help us sleep better, especially for high-stress individuals or people with chronic insomnia, restless leg syndrome, or other sleep disorders beyond apnea (sleep clinics and CPAP machines do OK with that). And there’s still misinformation about things like vigorous exercise before bed. Wouldn’t sex fit into that? It’s less about the exercise than the brain activity.

All of this is why Dr. Mel, a PhD sleep consultant, is opening a new Sleep Solutions Center that goes beyond cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia (CBTi) to also include behavioral, neuro-sensory, exercise & education programs, as well as nutrition, sleep aids, and the sleep surface & pillows. Some of the treatments even use light, sound, 3-legged stoolvibration, and bodywork.

Dr. Mel’s natural and holistic approach looks at health as a three-legged stool that includes nutrition, exercise and sleep; and looks at wellness as body, mind and spirit.”

A Reader Reply

Quickly after I posted my response I got a reply from one of the Times readers, describing his horrible experience doing an overnight sleep study at a medical sleep wellness clinic. He said he would “never, ever do that again” and said he’d “rather have a heart attack or a stroke or whatever.” I felt compelled to add a response to him as well.

My Second Response

“Good points. Most people find medical sleep treatments quite invasive, starting with the overnight sleep studies and programs using prescription drugs or CPAP machines. Unless someone has severe sleep apnea, where they wake many times an hour, compliance with a CPAP regimen is poor. That’s because it’s just as disruptive to wear that stupid mask in bed. And it’s why Dr. Mel prefers natural & holistic approaches and views sleep as more than just a 10pm-6am issue.

What you do during the day is also a big factor, including when you last drank coffee or a soda and that argument with your boss or spouse. But did your anxiety from not sleeping well lead to that argument, or did the argument cause anxiety and result in poor sleep? There’s really no quick fix to that downward spiral, so Dr. Mel’s programs start with professional assessment and include coaching, like having a personal trainer for the mind and sleep.

In my opinion, health care in general, and sleep in particular, are poised for disruptive change for the better, as we learn more and find motivation to improve. I also see sleep wellness as about the same point in time as the fitness craze in the mid-1970’s. The science was in, but most consumers were not yet aware of the connection between aerobic exercise, fitness, and health. There were only a few body builder gyms, and almost no college football teams had strength coaches or weight lifting facilities. But today there are more than 30,000 U.S. health clubs, with 51 million members, paying ~$425/year, and generating over $21 billion in revenue. There are also personal trainers, Yoga & Tai Chi classes, health spas, fitness activity trackers, and more. Dr. Mel wants to be prepared and positioned for the same explosive growth in sleep wellness.”

The Emerging Sleep Wellness Market, Multi-billion Dollar Opportunity

The fitness craze that I described above started when Dr. Kenneth H Cooper, a famous Dallas cardiologist, opened the Cooper Clinic, coined the term Aerobics, and connected it to heart health. His clinic quickly became the aerobics HQ for the world.

So why do I think sleep wellness is poised for similar growth as fitness? It’s because of growing public awareness and that three-legged stool above, which shows how important sleep is to good health, along with nutrition and exercise. And it’s because the current $32 billion sleep market is apparently not solving the problem. The CDC tells us that over 30% of employed adults sleep less than 6 hours a day, even though most people need 7-9 hours.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Short sleep is a killer, dramatically increasing the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, obesity, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, and resulting in over 100,000 motor vehicle crashes a year with 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary loss. Short sleep also kills school, work, and athletic performance, because it impairs attention, creativity, decision making, focus, memory, and personal relationships.

Months ago I explored the Economic Value of Good Sleep with a spreadsheet model that estimated an $8 million impact on lifelong earning capacity, but that impact is even greater in school children. For them, short sleep also affects IQ development, learning ability, grades, what college they can get into, what career aspirations they can realistically follow, their starting salary, AND how far they can advance their career.

All of this is why Modern Health Talk will expand its mission to include sleep wellness, as I partner with Dr. Mel at Intelligent Sleep to open the Austin Sleep Solutions Center, with plans to scale it nationally using a variety of business models. Modern Health Talk will become the official blog for Intelligent Sleep, because I see Sleep, Wellness, and Health Reform as all key components in modern health.

Defining-Measuring-Fixing Sleep

My Evolving Interest in Sleep

The illustration above shows why I think sleep wellness is poised to explode as a market. Around the outside are just some of the medical journals and media outlets publishing hundreds of articles that define the Sleep problem and its associated affect on health, safety and productivity. The middle ring shows a few of the dozens of fitness activity trackers and other sensors that attempt to measure Sleep patterns and quality, but mostly they just tell you that you have a sleep problem. In the middle is Intelligent Sleep, with little real competition, for now. You’ll hear more about our natural and holistic solutions that address and fix the sleep problem in the coming months.

I’ve been running Modern Health Talk for more than two years on my own as a social entrepreneur venture with no income and have been able to do that because of my IBM pension and social security. To date there are nearly 500 articles, almost 800 healthcare infographics, and hundreds of links to other online resources. Expanding the mission allows me to finally profit from my efforts, potentially making a lot of money. So that’s another reason for my interest in Intelligent Sleep – it’s a way to help fund my continued coverage of health reform and technologies for telehealth and aging-in-place so families can avoid the high cost of institutional care.