Israeli medical device company 2breathe Technologies has developed a system that both helps users fall asleep and tracks their sleeping patterns, all without the use of pharmaceuticals.

“Tracking sleep is nice, inducing sleep is better,” said Erez Gavish, co-founder and CEO of the company.

Users wear a small sensor around their torso held in place by an elastic strap. The device, which sells for $180 with a 60-day guarantee, monitors breathing patterns by detecting pressure on the sensor as users inhale and exhale, and the information is relayed to a smartphone using Bluetooth. The 2breathe app guides clients toward relaxing breathing patterns using customized musical tones. It combines the “ancient wisdom” of therapeutic breathing with modern, cloud-based technology, Gavish said.

Gavish and his father, Dr. Benjamin Gavish, began developing the technology with an earlier company they founded, called RESPeRATE. They created a device that monitors and guides people’s breathing to lower their blood pressure. It is the only system cleared by the FDA to treat high blood pressure that does not use pharmaceuticals, Gavish said, and the company has sold about 250,000 units. The device worked, but there was an unexpected side effect. Users reported feeling sleepy and would often drift off before completing their daily 15-minute exercise.

Erez Gavish, left, and his father, Dr. Benjamin Gavish. (Courtesy)

Erez Gavish, left, and his father, Dr. Benjamin Gavish. (Courtesy)

The Gavishes adapted the technology for 2breathe. The program tracks clients’ breathing as they try to sleep, and composes a melody in real time that is in sync with their individual breathing pattern. The tones accompanying exhalations are gradually lengthened, so users begin to exhale more slowly without thinking about it. Focusing too much on breathing can be distracting and prevent people from falling asleep.

Gavish’s mother was a dancer, and he realized people have a natural inclination to follow rhythm.

“The physiology is there; the challenge is how to make it accessible to people, and how to overcome the paradox of getting to a therapeutic pattern of breathing without conscious effort,” Gavish said. “All you need to do is follow the tones which is something very natural.”

Their algorithm detects when people fall asleep, and the app turns itself off shortly after. It is currently only available on iOS devices.

2breathe's wearable device and iOS app. (Courtesy)

2breathe’s wearable device and iOS app. (Courtesy)

It is similar to breathing exercises in meditation, but easier for most people.

The app keeps a record of users’ overall sleeping patterns, telling them how long it takes them to fall asleep, the duration of their breaths, and the amount of time they are exhaling.

This information is stored in a cloud, and 2breathe analyzes it to improve their system. More users will lead to better algorithms and ultimately better service.

“One of the conceptual breakthroughs of smart devices or connected devices is that they’re being optimized all the time and can be personalized, especially when you’re talking about digital therapeutic devices,” Gavish said.

He compares it to other wearable technology solutions used to improve fitness.

Screens are usually an “enemy of sleep” because distractions and light can keep us from dozing off, Gavish said, but technology is not necessarily an impediment to a good night’s rest. 2breathe guides users using audio and the screen dims quickly after the app is activated to keep light out of users’ bedroom environment. The company recommends people put their phones on airplane mode before lying down.

The company started selling the device in Japan in March after forming a partnership with the Japanese health care corporation Teijin.

A screenshot of a session report on 2breathe's app. (Courtesy)

A screenshot of a session report on 2breathe’s app. (Courtesy)

They previously introduced the product to friends and acquaintances in Israel to test the system. They expected most users to be younger people who were more comfortable using the technology, but they found an unexpected fan base – parents of school-age children and older people. About 20 to 30 percent of kids have difficulty sleeping, Gavish said, and some parents found that their children followed the apps’ tones easily and fell asleep faster.

Older people who had previously used RESPeRATE also took to the device quickly. Their problem is usually not falling asleep, but staying asleep, and doing breathing exercises can help with the problem. Many of the older users wake up during the night and repeat the breathing patterns from memory to help them fall back asleep and some use it as a daily exercise, not necessarily before bedtime.

The system will work for anyone, though, as long as they are willing to try, Gavish said, and is a healthier and more sustainable alternative to medication.

“It’s not a magic pill. People understand magic pills have downsides, there’s always a catch,” Gavish said. “We’re empowering people to solve this issue.”