Sleep Junkies talks to David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation about sleep and technology

Sleep is rapidly becoming a hi-tech business. And if you’ve been following Sleep Junkies for any time, you’ll know we like to keep up to date with the latest innovations in the world of sleep tech.

So we were very interested to read a new joint report by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) into public awareness and perceptions of sleep technology.

More than 1000 U.S. adults took part in the research. The objectives of the study were to:

  • develop a demographic and sleep pattern profile for consumers
  • measure awareness and purchase intent for sleep technology products
  • develop a profile of current sleep technology owners
  • understand current owners’ perceptions and use of sleep technology products

To find out more we spoke to David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation.

Jeff Mann (JM): Hi David, thanks for taking the time to speak to us today about sleep technology. You are the CEO of the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). To our readers who may not be aware of your organization, can you briefly explain what the NSF is and what you do?

David Cloud (DC): Sure, The National Sleep Foundation is a charitable, educational and scientific non-profit based just outside of Washington, D.C. that represents the sleep community. Our mission is to improve health and well-being through sleep education and advocacy.

We are most well-known for our annual Sleep in America® poll, conducted every year since 1991. I joined the National Sleep Foundation in 2008 and have since worked to implement private-sector educational campaigns with healthcare and consumer companies to deliver NSFs sleep health and safety message to the public.

JM: So you recently published a joint study with the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) on public attitudes towards sleep technology and gadgets. Can you highlight the major findings for us?

DC: Sixty percent of sleep technology owners in the study said they’re more aware of their sleep patterns and are satisfied with their devices, and 51 percent said they’re sleeping better knowing that the technology is helping them. We were also encouraged to see that half of sleep technology owners reported they felt healthier since they started using the technology.

However, we did see a contingent of non-users who don’t think they need sleep technology, with only 27 percent reporting they believe sleep technology will help them be healthier. Many consumers have the misconception that sleep technology is only for those who have sleep disorders, but everyone can benefit from better sleep. So we see this as an opportunity for the industry to educate consumers.

JM: As you said in your press release, we’re at the very beginning of the ‘sleep technology wave’. We can see this in the amazing innovation and variety in consumer sleep tech; apps, wearables, headphones, rings, pillows, bed sensors, to name a few. What are your views on all these different approaches to sleep monitoring? Are some better than others?

DC: There is so much innovation going on in this space. Everyone has a somewhat unique approach. As sensors continue to get better, smaller and cheaper, we’ll see even more advances. Ultimately, it will be up to consumers to decide what technology or what device works best for them. Our goal at the NSF is not to pick winners and losers, but to make consumers aware that technology tools exist that can help them track and improve their sleep.

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JM: We now know that sleep deprivation is a major public health concern, which in turn becomes an economic problem. But still there’s a stigma that sleep is less important than say, fitness, or eating well. How do we convince the general public that spending money on technology to improve your sleep is a good idea?

DC: NSF’s most recent Sleep Health index indicated that more than 40 million Americans say lack of sleep or poor sleep had a negative impact on their activities in the week prior to the study. There is a commonly held belief that sleep is optional, so much so that many people have simply forgotten what it feels like to get the right amount.

We believe that sleep tracking technology will help consumers better understand how their sleep impacts things like mood and performance. They’ll discover there is a true sleep duration requirement and they’ll see the benefits of making improvements to their sleep habits. These benefits will lead to long-term behavior change.

JM: Different manufacturers place different emphasis on their device’s sleep monitoring capabilities. How do people judge the perceived sleep tracking value between say, a smartphone app, and a more sophisticated solution that monitors your breathing and heart rate? Is there a need for more standardization to stop consumers getting misled and confused?

DC: We believe that standardizing how the consumer electronics industry collects and reports sleep data via wearable and other devices will help increase the value of the data for consumers and increase the demand for sleep technology in and out of the bedroom.

That’s why we’ve partnered with CEA, a natural partner for this project given their reputation as a credible and flexible standards-making body, as well as their deep connections with technology manufacturers who are already working in this space.

We believe that by working directly with technology manufacturers to develop industry standards for collecting and reporting sleep data, we can enable technology that is more accurate, valuable and actionable for consumers.

JM: With innovations such as home sleep apnea tests, it’s not a great leap of imagination to see how consumer sleep technology could start making an impact in traditional medical diagnostic procedures.

What, in your views are the big differences between using sleep technology for health reasons, and using it for fitness or to improve your productivity.

DC: First, better sleep has significant health benefits even for those of us without sleep disorders. It’s possible that sleep technology could impact traditional diagnostics, but most consumer devices are not there yet and it would require FDA review and approval before any device was used by consumers for that purpose. We see the biggest potential for sleep technology to increase all consumers’ understanding of their sleep and how it impacts their overall health.

JM: In light of recent corporate data leaks, how do we reassure the public that their personal sleep data will not be compromised? Do we need any regulation or oversight to ensure that all companies are following the same guidelines to ensure the security and privacy of their customer’s data?

DC: Companies that collect individuals’ sleep data should be subject to the same privacy and security standards and regulations as other digital health technologies.

JM: Till Roenneberg recently said in the Huffington Post that politicians and business leaders who brag about their lack of sleep are like a ‘modern day tobacco industry’.  He also said that we have to take away the ‘uncoolness’ surrounding the discussion on sleep. Do you think that technology could help to increase public awareness and turn sleep into something ‘cool’ to talk about?

DC: I think Till is on to something; for decades, “burning the midnight oil” has been seen as a badge of honor, further exacerbated by many of the world’s most successful people getting by on little to no sleep as they chase success.

But a lack of sleep has significant health consequences, including negatively impacting mood, concentration, memory, productivity and the ability to maintain a healthy weight. That said, technology does have a certain ‘cool’ factor–that’s why we see the sleep technology trend as an unprecedented opportunity increase consumer awareness about sleep health.

If you want to read the full report from the CEO on trends in consumer sleep technology you can download it for free from here.

Jeff Mann is the founder and editor of Sleep Junkies. You can reach me at jeff (at) sleep junkies (dot) com
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