Israeli app gives sleep problems a rest

SleepRate uses a tried and true behavioral system to train users in habits that lead to more effective snoozing

A baby seen sleeping in a cradle, illustrative photo (Chen Leopold/Flash90)
A baby seen sleeping in a cradle, illustrative photo (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

In a 24/7 world, sleep is increasingly becoming a luxury, to the great detriment of millions around the world. In the US alone one out of every three people will experience an extended period of insomnia at some point in their lives, impacting their health and costing the economy billions due to lost wages and productivity.

Now, an Israeli start-up called SleepRate has a solution that it says will help people sleep more efficiently and take maximal advantage of the hours they do have to sleep, even if they can’t get the full allotment recommended by experts.

Sleep deprivation is by far the most common ailment affecting Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control – making it nothing short of an “epidemic.” The effects of lack of sleep is far more serious than walking around glassy-eyed, the CDC says. The body will not be denied; individuals who can’t sleep at night will end up falling asleep during the day, often at very inopportune moments. Unintentionally falling asleep, nodding off while driving, and having difficulty performing daily tasks because of sleepiness all may contribute to what has become a public safety and health crisis.

“Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity,” said the CDC.

For many of the sleepless, the problem is twofold. Many just can’t spare the seven to eight hours health officials recommend everyone get on a nightly basis. A globalized 24/7 economy requires an always-available workforce, and many workers fear being replaced by a less-expensive but just as skilled colleague on the other side of the world. For them, eight hours of sleep nightly is a faraway dream, to be deferred indefinitely until they reach financial stability – or retirement age.

But even the few hours most people can spare for sleep aren’t being used efficiently. Ambient noise, the sounds of the city, and personal concerns all conspire to keep people awake at night for a long while before they fall asleep. In addition, many people can’t get back to sleep if they awake during the night, or they wake up far too early.

It’s for the latter group that SleepRate was designed. According to the system’s designer Dr. Anda Baharav, an MD, researcher and sleep expert who for years studied the connection between heart rate and sleep at Tel Aviv University, the problem is psycho-physiological – with 70 percent of those who can’t sleep suffering from a condition called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome.

Many of the worried sleepless try too hard to fall asleep. They realize they have only limited time to sleep, and with each passing minute that they are awake, they become more worried, and more anxious, about their lack of sleep and their general woes. Eventually, their mind just conks out – so they do fall asleep, but by the time they get into their sleep stride, the morning alarm goes off, and they awaken not refreshed but more tired than ever.

For many, the way to avoid this scenario is to take a sleeping pill, or at least a sedative. But for Baharav, that is a less than ideal solution; besides the potential dependency issues (many people eventually find they cannot sleep without some chemical help), pills don’t combat and resolve the underlying problem.

Dr. Anda Baharav (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Anda Baharav (Photo credit: Courtesy)

But SleepRate does.

The SleepRate system is based on research conducted at Stanford University and TAU that examines the connection between sleep, heart rate and respiration, which resulted in a technique called CBT-I (Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia). SleepRate is based on the behavioral principles that the university research hammered out after years of studies in the schools’ sleep labs, where subjects’ sleep habits were examined. By implementing those principles, SleepRate’s developers say, the system can help users learn how to sleep more effectively.

CBT-I sets a regimen for sleep, conditioning insomniacs that bed is for sleep – and you go to bed when you’re tired, not before or after. The sleeping space should be free of distractions (no TV or computer allowed), and stimulation before bed should be limited as well. Eating, drinking, exercising, or engaging in stressful behavior for hours before sleep is out, as is smoking and taking medications. And, patients need to commit to going to sleep and waking up at specific times.

SleepRate helps those seeking a sleep solution bring the principles of CBT-I into their lives. Key to the system is determining sleep habits to see what behaviors need to be corrected. Using a heart-rate monitor and an iPhone’s sensors and microphone (an Android version is on the way), SleepRate generates data that analyzes heart rate variability to understand how you sleep.

The system generates a detailed report each morning, including total sleep time, sleep stages, the number and length of awakenings, and much more, with the numbers crunched to produce charts and graphs. The app then recommends specific actions in the spirit of CBT-I.

According to Uli Gal-Oz, CEO of SleepRate, at least 40% of the app’s users have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, and SleepRate has been able to help thousands of people improve their sleep habits and learn to sleep more efficiently.

If there’s one drawback to SleepRate, it’s the price. While the app is available free, the company says, you really need a heart rate monitor to take full advantage of SleepRate. The full system with the monitor is $99. But according to its developers, the system has an 85% success rate – and just how much is a good night’s sleep worth, asks Gal-Oz?

“Many view sleep as a luxury in today’s fast paced, uber-connected world; however, science proves otherwise – proper sleep is critical to overall health and well-being. In fact, people can live longer without food than without sleep!” he said. “SleepRate’s solution was designed to help millions, suffering with poor sleep, take control of their nights — without a pill or side effects.”

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