Mainstream consumer fitness trackers are failing millions of people who rely on them to track and improve sleep quality. That’s according to Hugo Mercier, the CEO of Dreem, a French-American company that makes advanced headbands designed to cure chronic insomnia. The company seeks to aid the estimated one third of the world’s population who suffer from a multitude of sleep-related issues, diagnosed or undiagnosed.
“If you look in this space, you see a lot of bullshit solutions,” Mercier told Wareable. “A lot of products say they will help you sleep better. For years companies like Fitbit were talking about how a consumer product could really bring some interesting outputs to healthcare, but no-one really succeeded.
“This market really needs to be cleaned. We don’t just have consumers and clients, we have people with real problems that affect their health and performance. And these solutions are lying to them.”
Dreem’s idea of “cleaning up the market” is drawing a giant – like, visible from space – line in the sand. The newly-unveiled Dreem 2 device, which tracks sleep quality through heart rate, brainwaves and movement, has Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. The vast majority of consumer devices promising sleep assist capabilities do not.
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The certification from US regulators means Dreem 2 can be sold as a Class 2 medical device, just like the Apple Watch Series 4, which gained similar approval for its ECG feature. FDA approval isn’t given lightly and is considered a mark of authenticity for consumers. The only other sleep-related FDA registered (but not approved) consumer product we know of is Beddr’s SleepTuner, which is designed to combat sleep apnea.
“I’m hoping that more and more solutions will go through [the FDA approval process] because it will help to clean the market and distinguish solutions that do not have [accurate] claims,” Mercier says.
Dreem’s original 2017 headset had already claimed to provide tracking results 95% accurate to those conducted in a laboratory sleep test, and this been improved further through 10-15 design enhancements.
The new headset, which is now available to order from the company’s website, is now completely bendable. Foam has replaced the plastic in the construction and it’s adjustable to all head sizes. That results in a 50% increase in comfort, addressing one of the major complaints about the original model and indeed anything you have to wear on your head when trying to sleep.
New tech to tackle old sleep problems
The technology and the companion app offer habit-improving tools for everyone struggling to sleep, but its true focus is chronic insomniacs, identified as those taking more than 90 minutes to fall asleep every night.
The National Sleep Foundation says the condition affects 22% of people. Many of those have been prescribed potentially health-damaging sleeping pills to no avail, and have forlornly turned to consumer fitness trackers seeking a sleep solution. This solution is different, the company says.
After putting on the new Dreem 2, users are taken through a sound-based exercise, customised to their heart rate, brain activity and movement and delivered through bone-conduction. During the night the headset will emit non-invasive sounds to help “increase the frequency and amplitude of your Delta waves” to extend and improve the quality of restorative deep sleep, while helping to ensure you don’t wake during that sleep stage.
We can solve the problems of people who haven’t been sleeping well for 10-15 years
Results are reported back to the companion app the next morning, giving users insights and tips on how to improve, while a range of coaching programs inspired by Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (the reference treatment for insomnia) help users change their sleep rituals, ‘restructure’ and ‘win back’ sleep. The results, the company says, speak for themselves.
“80% of our chronic insomniac users are not chronic insomniac anymore after six weeks,” Mercier asserts. “By using the biofeedback programs they created a new routine. Before, it was taking up to an hour-and-a-half to fall asleep; with the new features they were falling asleep in 15 minutes.
“For the chronic insomniac population; there has been no treatment. They have tried everything, for years, and nothing worked. But [after] a few weeks with Dreem they were enjoying much better quality of sleep. With the combination of everything we propose we can solve the problems of people who haven’t been sleeping well for 10-15 years. These are the results we are the most proud of.”
When put this way, it’s easy to see why Dreem is confident in the headset’s $499 price tag, but it also puts Mercier's strong words regarding mainstream competition into perspective.
The cost of sleeping better
Dreem’s scientifically-backed product costs four to five times as much as one you don’t have to wear on your head. Traditional trackers and smartwatches also claim to offer sleep tracking and insight, while performing hundreds of other useful tasks during the day as well. However, they will not help you sleep better in the long term, Dreem asserts.
“$500 for a consumer wellbeing product is expensive, but to solve an issue that you’ve had for more than 10 years? It’s nothing. That’s what we hear from our users.
“If you really want to change something in your sleep, you need first to understand very accurately how you sleep. Everyone that tries a Fitbit understands it can let you know approximately that your sleep was good or not good and that’s it.”
However, Dreem also understands that to reach the millions of sleep-deprived people out there, the price disparity between its hardware and wrist-worn trackers on the market must be narrowed.
“If we want to help millions and millions of users, which is our goal, we need to find a way to make the price decrease. The product will always be expensive to make, but we are looking at ways to make it cheaper for the end user.”
The Dreem 2 headset doesn’t complete the hardware journey for the company. The development of the next iteration is already underway, while it believes the valuable, accurate data it is collecting from users every night can help it become a leader across the entire sleep industry.
“It’s not only about insomnia,” Mercier adds. ”If you take all the problems associated with sleep, the lack of diagnoses, the lack of treatment, and the poor sleep due to lifestyle I think we can bring a solution for every one of these.
“We are sitting on a gold mine right now with our core technology, the features we have developed and the data we have gathered. I believe that in three to five years we will really be able to commercialise an ecosystem of products from our core technology that will allow us to address many segments and many different needs. It’s a huge, 1 billion people market and we are really excited about how we can solve all the problems for those people.”
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