Chrona: a smart sleep-tracking pillow

Recently at Sleep Junkies, we took at look at the many different types of consumer sleep monitor devices. As ever with new technology, the pace of innovation is fast and furious.

So it’s no surprise to learn that a new startup, Ultradia, has come up with a novel and interesting approach to track, optimize and improve the overall quality of your sleep.

Chrona, is a non-invasive device that renders any pillow into a ‘smart pillow’. So why does anybody need a ‘smart pillow’ I hear you ask?

As well as being able to monitor your sleep patterns at night, Chrona offers the potential to actively improve your sleep quality through the application of innovative acoustic ‘bio-feedback’ system.

Chrona does this by embedding tiny speakers into a foam insert which slips inside your pillow case. Based on cutting edge scientific research, the speakers emit sound waves which synchronise with the frequencies your brain emits during sleep.

This, the makers claim can enhance your sleep quality, whilst you sleep, giving you more energy and focus through your waking hours.

Chrona’s Deep Sleep Boost technology is complemented by Perfect Wake Up, a mode that helps you overcome sleep inertia – that groggy feeling in the morning that just makes you want to reach for the snooze button.

Announced earlier this month on crowd-funding platform Kickstarter, Chrona has already reached it’s funding goals. Curious to find out more, I chatted to Chrona’s co-founder Ben Bronsther.

JM:Hi Ben. Congratulations on reaching your Kickstarter goal and thanks for taking the time to talk to Sleep Junkies. There are a lot of new sleep tracking devices coming on to the market. Can you sum up for us what Chrona does and what makes your device different to what’s already out there?

BB: Chrona is an active system. Unlike simple sleep-trackers that can track and display data, and perhaps provide suggestions on how to change your routine for better sleep, Chrona uses emerging sleep research to improve your sleep while you sleep.

Basically, Chrona is a biohackers dream; It hacks your sleep for you. In other words, what makes Chrona different is the fact that it is an active system.

It uses a science/methodology known as acoustic brainwave entrainment to actively improve your sleep, thereby expanding on existing sleep-tracking tech.

JM:Where did the idea for Chrona come from and who’s the team behind it?

BB:Chrona is the brainchild of Ultradia Co-Founder, Zimin Hang. Zimin first had the idea for a device designed to hack your sleep after first learning about the human sleep cycle in his AP Psychology class in high school.

What started as a daydream in high school, evolved in Entrepreneurship classes while at Washington University in St. Louis, and was developed by a young, ambitious team of undergraduate/recent college grads with specialties in biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, systems engineering, software engineering, web development, psychology, and entrepreneurship.

JM:Can you describe for us a bit about the science behind Chrona’s sleep optimisation system. What exactly is “brainwave entrainment” ‘ and is there any scientific/medical evidence for using sound waves to optimise sleep?

BB:So, the basis of all of this is the brain’s intrinsic tendency to synchronize to external stimuli (if you think about music and rhythm, it makes a lot of sense that this happens).

During deep sleep, our brain is dominated by “slow waves” which are directly correlated with restfulness. Chrona uses low-frequency sounds to amplify these slow waves, thereby deepening sleep and making it more restorative.

The high-frequency “Perfect Wake-up” is the opposite, aimed at amplifying the brain patterns that are correlated with relaxed wakefulness. Here is a link to paper describing the science/tech in detail:

JM:Many people have criticised actigraphy (movement tracking) as an accurate way to measure sleep. What’s your view on this and how does Chrona differ compared to wrist based sleep tracking devices?

BB:We do use actigraphy to measure sleep depth. While this is not as accurate as something like a headband with electrodes in it, it is a whole lot less intrusive and more than accurate enough for our purposes.

This theme of being unobtrusive has been important to us throughout the development of Chrona. And towards that end, we believe Chrona’s sleep-tracking to be an improvement on previous sleep-tracking devices in its own right if only because the user does not need to wear anything in order for it to work.

JM:A lot of people are using technology as a way to explore the world of lucid dreaming. Does Chrona have any potential in this area?

BB:Down the road, we could definitely expand Chrona’s features to include lucid dreaming facilitation. A product that i’m sure you are familiar with that already does this is Remee, a lucid dreaming sleep mask.

JM:Currently there are no laws in the US that regulate the use and collection of big data. What are your policies on data sharing and privacy in light of recent revelations?

BB:Users will have the option to integrate their data on the Quantimodo platform if they choose to. But unless otherwise agreed to by the user, your data will never be shared with a third party. Internally, we will only use our customers’ data to improve the Chrona system.

JM:What’s the future for Chrona? Do you have any predictions for future developments in sleep and technology?

BB:Chrona is the foundation of a much larger vision for Ultradia. Our sensor-sheet framework combined with the self-optimizing machine learning algorithm we developed allow us to easily implement additional sensors as we move forward.

We have plans to transform Chrona into a powerful home polysomnography (PSG) device. In fact, we already hold a patent on the methodology for measuring EEG data via a sensor sheet.

Though, I should say that for now we are focused on the consumer space. Prediction for future developments in sleep and technology? I would have to say that the work we and others are doing has the potential to fundamentally change the way we understand and approach sleep, sleep disorder diagnoses, and sleep disorder treatment.

I think at home PSG devices will largely replace, or at least evolve the roll of, traditional sleep labs. Also, we believe there could be applications for other states of unconsciousness – namely anesthesia and coma monitoring/treatment.

Chrona is due to be released later to the general public in December 2015.

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