A Taxonomy for Innovation in Sleep

Last month, Fitbit unveiled its new smart watch, the Fitbit Iconic. The company plans to utilize the device’s new blood oxygen saturation sensors (relative SpO2) for sleep apnea diagnosis. For Fitbit, the new functionality in the Iconic is a natural progression from its previous work; but from a broader perspective, Fitbit’s recent innovation represents yet another data point of a bigger story: sleep is hot. Today, sleep has already become widely accepted as a primary pillar of wellness (even the Apple Health Kit will vouch for this), and sleep tracking has become ubiquitous in consumer wellness solutions; yet recently we’ve witnessed an uptick in innovation of sleep-specific solutions. Below, we use Lux’s Tech Signal to uncover spikes in interest in sleep innovation, which primarily took off in 2013:

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For context, the Lux Tech Signal works by algorithmically producing a high-throughput parallel analysis of various early-stage datasets on innovation, resulting in a revealing picture about any technology’s progress.

While recognizing the hype around – and acceptance of – sleep is important, honing in on where innovation has taken place is crucial to crafting a strategy for capitalizing on this market opportunity. To make sense of sleep innovation, we create a taxonomy for the space and highlight a representative developer in each category (note that additional developers exist in most categories).

We break down innovation in sleep into two broad categories: sleep sensing and sleep quality improvement. Sleep sensing, or tracking, primarily takes place while the user is asleep, and many ways of sensing sleep duration and quality now exist. Among these are motion tracking, heart rate monitoring, and even brain activity monitoring. While most sleep sensing solutions require contact with the individual, some solutions like Beddits ballistocardiography-based sensing solution, are contactless – the company was acquired by Apple in 2017. Although a much smaller category, it should also be noted that some solutions look to understand sleep patterns and their context by monitoring the individual while awake. Solutions like Lys Technologies a clip that monitors light exposure and Milo Sensors alcohol consumption sensing wearable, which the company also claims should be modified to track caffeine intake, do exist.

Sleep quality improvement can be accomplished by applying stimuli to the individual or by modifying the environment. On-person stimuli may include audio, light, and cranial electrical stimulation. Modification of the sleeper’s environment to improve sleep may take different forms, too. For example, many solutions now offer smart alarm and mattress firmness control; fewer monitor the individual’s body temperature and modify the temperature of the bedroom or mattress accordingly.

While the winning solution for sleep sensing and quality improvement has yet to be crowned, readers should monitor innovation in this space to determine whether innovating on sleep can enhance existing offerings, or whether the sleep space presents a market opportunity they could capitalize on. As the broader definition of wellness evolves in the coming years, additional facets of wellness may become widely accepted; yet the activity described in this piece suggests that sleep is here to stay.

By: Noa Ghersin and Joseph Sweeny