We spend more of our lives sleeping than doing anything else, but most of us don't do it very well: More than 50 million Americans sleep badly enough that they have problems concentrating or remembering things the next day. Even if you manage to go to bed early, you're not necessarily getting quality sleep, which is why a new sleep tracking device keeps track of what else might be going wrong in your bedroom. Think snoring partners, glaring streetlights, or even air pollution.
"The room is so important, but nobody's been paying attention to it until now," says James Proud, a 22-year-old who created Sense, a small system that monitors exactly how well you're sleeping and what's happening in your sleeping environment.
The kit includes a small orb that sits on your bedside table, sensing any disturbances in your room, and a "Sleep Pill" that clips on your pillow to track your sleep cycles by measuring each small toss and turn. The data automatically goes to an app, which gives you a report the next day: You might learn that you woke up at 2 a.m. because a neighbor was making noise, or at 3 a.m. because a light went on. If there's a loud noise, the app records it, so you can listen back in the morning to learn what happened.
When Proud tested the device on himself he quickly learned that he needed a darker bedroom. "When it's too light in my room—when there's a full moon or just generally it's a bright night—I sleep worse and I find that I actually get out of bed quite often, at random points throughout the night, to shut my blinds," he says. "The darkness of your room is critical, but it's often not clear it's bad enough to actually affect you—looking at myself made that clear."
Unlike other sleep tracking devices, the system works without strapping anything on. "I think sleep itself is a very different use case than tracking your running or tracking your steps throughout the day," Proud says. "When you go to sleep at night, you generally take everything off, and the idea of having to put something on your wrist didn't really make sense. One of the benefits of not having to wear something is that we can begin to add more sensors in there and actually do a lot for you than just simply saying how much we slept."
The designers also worked to hide the fact that Sense is a gadget. "Everything in this space looked like technology, it felt like a piece of electronics," Proud explains. "But you don't really want that sitting on your bedside or on your bed. We wanted to design something that could be usable but also fade away."
The system also works as a smart alarm. Like some other sleep apps, it monitors your sleep cycle to find a point when you're closest to naturally waking up, so you end up less groggy. If you have to get up at 7, but happen to be half-awake at 6:30, it wakes you early. Waving your hand over Sense's small sphere will turn off the alarm.
Proud has had access to funding as a former Thiel Fellow, a high-profile program for young entrepreneurs funded by Paypal billionaire Peter Thiel. His new company, Hello Inc., raised millions earlier this year—the startup made the interesting choice to turn to Kickstarter, not so much for money as for a chance to reach excited early consumers.
Already, he says, designers are working on incorporating a suggestion that came from the crowd, such as adding a replaceable battery to the tiny Sleep Pill. (The original design lasted a year, and then the whole "pill" had to be replaced.)
So far, he's raised over $2 million on Kickstarter. The campaign raises an interesting question, though: Would the Kickstarter community respond any differently if it knew that the startup already had plenty of cash? Or is it enough just to have a genuinely interesting product?