Unlike most alarm clocks, Yawnie wants to help you get more sleep. The clock—still a concept at this point—is designed to nudge you when it's time for bed, rather than when it's time to get up.
"Waking up in the morning is the most miserable time for a lot of people," says Ziyun Qi, one of the designers, who worked on the concept as a student at the School of Visual Arts. "The reason is pretty simple and obvious—because they didn’t get enough sleep."
Americans get an hour less sleep, on average, than they did in the mid-20th century. And even when people aren't getting enough sleep—like a study group that slept only six hours a night for two weeks—they don't always recognize how much of a problem it actually is.
Qi, along with fellow School of Visual Arts Products of Design student Roya Ramezani and interaction design student Nic Barajas, realized that sleep trackers alone won't necessarily convince people to go to bed on time.
"The market is full of products that try to help quantify and track sleep, which try to treat the symptoms of bad sleep but don’t really look at the cause," says Barajas. "Figuring out a better way to get someone to sleep in the first place felt like an obvious direction to go, since it’s arguably the most important way to ensure you have quality sleep."
Inspired by the fact that yawns are contagious—even seeing the word "yawn" can make you more likely to yawn—the designers created a tiny character, Yawnie, that can sit on a desk and start yawning as a trigger to remind you that you're actually tired and get you to stop staring at a laptop or phone.
They were careful to make it cute, not annoying. If someone ignores the alarm, after yawning a few more times, the device goes to sleep itself.
"It’s very important to us since we were trying to change a behavior," Ramezani says. "Repetition and persistence are key when we talk about forming a new habit. When the experience of using a product is more enjoyable, it’s more likely that people keep using it and there’s a higher chance that the behavior change will occur."
The device is also intended to work along with an app, so it can track how much sleep you're getting and help plan a better schedule; if the app notices that you have five hours of sleep debt, it will adjust the bedtime alarm accordingly.
Though it's a concept, the designers are considering producing it—perhaps as a simple, app-free version that just yawns each night at a given time.
"It would also be perfect for a different target audience: children," says Ramezani. "Many parents struggle to send their children to bed and the fun character of Yawnie makes it a perfect aid to parents."