We’ve all been there…lights off, alarm set, and then ping…you’ve got mail, a text, a tweet and despite knowing that the mobile gadgets we can’t put down are keeping many of us from winding down at bedtime, we check anyway. The blue light emitted by screens can trick our brain into “awake” mode, with some studies showing it may also suppress the body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin1. Instead of waking up refreshed, we feel sleep deprived all day.
People with sleep problems may find themselves lying awake at night wondering not only why they can’t sleep, but also feeling isolated and helpless. A lack of sleep can affect concentration, mood, self-control2 and honesty3. For those with long-term sleep issues, the consequences are more serious, including increased risk of developing conditions like depression4 or diabetes5, and reducing life expectancy6. These can seriously diminish the quality of life for individuals and their families, reduce productivity, and place a significant burden on healthcare systems and budgets.
Those with sleep problems can be reluctant to even admit they have a sleep issue, let alone consider treatment options. Ironically it is mobile devices and other technology innovations that may actually be the solution. Three of the emerging technologies equipping people with information to help manage their sleep include Chatbots, which use artificial intelligence to respond, online sleep communities and sleep tracking.
One of the dilemmas, however, of using sleep chatbots and online sleep communities is that using technologies at night can trick the brain into “awake” mode. But for those up at 3am feeling isolated and seeking solutions on their own, it could be a first step in understanding how to better manage their sleep.
How poor sleep affects you
“One way we’ve heard it described by sleep-sufferers is an almost suffocating loneliness. In the middle of the night, you can’t sleep, you’re overwhelmed with worries and doubts, and you can’t go waking up your partner to say hey – I can’t sleep. Help me!”
Gustavo Reichardt, Global Head of Nutritional Health, Sanofi.
Sleep chatbots and online sleep communities
Some individuals with sleep problems may find it helpful to talk – not to another person, but to a chatbot. Chatbots mimic written or spoken human speech to simulate a conversation or interacting with a real person.
The sleep chatbot, Nina (who ironically never sleeps) was introduced by Team de Nuit a nighttime digital support platform launched by Sanofi in France to help people with mild sleep disorders. Nina provides 24/7 responsiveness and even recommends certain users to switch to Night Shift, an Apple iOS function that shifts the colors of your display to warmer colors (less blue light) after sunset7.
Team de Nuit found visits to their website peaked at 3am, prompting them to explore technologies that could respond on a 24/7 basis. Nina, who appears on the site in the form of a cartoon call center agent and responds to questions consumers may have about poor quality sleep.
Despite considerable limitations, mainly the robotic and artificial nature of responses, chatbots are becoming more sophisticated, responsive, ‘human,’ and more widespread. Facebook Messenger alone now offers users more than 10,000 chatbots8.
Online communities are another way to find professional assistance for sleep problems, rather than letting them go untreated. “Consumers are seeking help to better manage their conditions, improve outcomes and increase satisfaction,” said Franck Leyze, the General Manager of Sanofi Consumer Healthcare, France. Pillow Talk, the United States National Sleep Foundation’s online community, is a place where people can share their experience with sleep and sleep disorders. Those participating in these communities could also help shape how new sleep solutions are developed. “For example, the Team de Nuit Facebook community, which includes people seeking tips and advice for sleep, chose the name Nina for our chatbot,” said Leyze.
Tracking sleep, changing lifestyle
Sleep tracking – also known as sleep monitoring – is enabling individuals to track and visualize their sleep patterns. For instance, smartphone applications, mattress sensor pads and strips, wearable watches and bedside table devices can track movement at night and provide a breakdown of activity and sleep stages in graphs or reports. Armed with this information, people can re-evaluate their routines in ways that could improve the quality of their sleep.
The more sophisticated of these models measures not only movement but also heart rate and respiration, bedroom light, noise, humidity and temperature – helping to give us a fuller, more accurate picture. The data can then be correlated with lifestyle and activities that can affect the quality or duration of sleep, such as alcohol use, exercise, and stress.
“If you don’t know how sleep works, how can you fix it?” said Reichardt. “Understanding sleep patterns and what helps or hurts in terms of getting a great night’s sleep means people can start managing their sleep better, giving them a sense of control, instead of the helplessness many of us feel when we have run out of sheep to count.”
Technology and sleep solutions
Many new sleep-related technologies are still in their infancy, and evidence is still being gathered about how effective they can be for specific sleep issues beyond offering general lifestyle recommendations. However, given the need and technological advances, emerging companies, as well as established brands, are working on new-to-the-world sleep solutions.
“We’re witnessing a transformation, led by independent and consumer-centric health tech,” said Gustavo Reichardt, Global Head of Nutritional Health at Sanofi. “Wearable technology, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence have the ability to revolutionize how we offer solutions to those with health problems including sleep disorders.”
“Sleep itself is very individualistic, and its treatment options are complex, and can often be best addressed by a range of solutions. Symptomology and severity of the symptoms will differ from one sufferer to the next. Those with sleep problems can be reluctant to even admit they have a sleep issue, let alone consider treatment options.”
The future, addressing a complex problem
As part of international technology fair, VivaTech 2018, Sanofi has been engaging with technology companies and startups also passionate about finding sleep solutions. The company received 22 submissions for its VivaTech 2018 “Sleep Challenge” and voted InsomniSolv the winner. A wearable that consists of two wristbands controlled by a smartphone application, InsomniSolv uses a rhythmic stimulation that has a hypnotic effect like rocking a baby to sleep.
“The future of pharmaceuticals is innovating and moving from medicines alone to a more holistic approach to helping consumers live healthier, fuller lives – providing alternative treatment options, including high tech and high touch solutions,” said Reichardt.
About Sanofi Consumer Healthcare
The Global Consumer Healthcare Business Unit in Sanofi is one of the top three organizations in the Consumer Healthcare market and provides consumer centric, innovative self-care solutions that are mainly tailored to four global categories: Cough & Cold and Allergy, Pain, Digestive Health and Nutritionals. The nutritionals category is committed to providing world-class products and services that help manage energy, stress and sleep.