A sleep tracker called “Sense” recently became Kickstarter’s 23rd most-funded project of all time. The consumer product promises to track sleep behavior, monitor the bedroom environment, and reinvent the alarm, all via a beautiful orb, plus a contactless sensor and a smart phone app. On the crowdfunding site, Sense raised $2.4 million, more than 20 times what San Francisco-based start-up Hello had asked for.

Whether Sense is actually measuring what it claims and whether that has any clinical relevance is a serious issue. But it’s not the issue I’d like to address here. My current focus is on what Sense tells us about consumer interest in improving sleep. If clinical sleep medicine taps into this desire, it could pay off in a huge way. There are several ways this can be done.

One niche Sense fills is a desire for contactless sensors. Patients frequently remark on the irony that the devices that measure sleep may themselves interfere with sleep. Cutting the cords could raise the appeal of clinical sleep medicine. Inventors are already researching this. Dr Colin Sullivan, credited with inventing the CPAP, has been testing Sonomat,1 a mat-based system that records breathing movement and airflow in the form of breath sounds, without attached sensors.

Sense also fills a demand for sleep coaching—offering customized insights on how to improve outcomes. Tracking itself isn’t enough anymore. “Zeo, ahead of its time from a consumer sleep tracking standpoint, was incorporating sleep coaching several years ago. To me, this is a great use of sleep tracking products and begins to address the consumer-to-patient transition,” sleep health consultant Paul Valentine, senior managing director at KCP advisory group, told me via e-mail. Coaching, he says, is a great opportunity for sleep centers, particularly for mid-level practitioners such as respiratory therapists.

Sense’s artful design holds another lesson for clinical sleep medicine. Devices, such as CPAPs, could be more accepted if they were esthetically pleasing. The huge retail marketplace (pillows, sheets, etc) for sleep is unlike many other medical specialties, Valentine noted. “There is significant upside for organizations that recognize the importance of treatment solutions fitting seamlessly and as noninvasively as possible into an individual’s life. An organization that can provide both a functional solution from a clinical perspective and an appealing product from a consumer perspective is likely to find success,” he said. “Opportunity lies in creating an easy, clean, functional product that can cross over between the consumer world and the medical marketplace, likely something modular that can assist in transitioning the consumer into a patient, if appropriate.”

With more than 19,000 Kickstarter backers, there are likely many more underserved niches that Sense fills, but the bottom line is sleep medicine can fill many of those needs too. As Valentine told me, “The success of Sense should be sending a message to those of us in the sleep medicine market. There is tremendous consumer interest in improving sleep! The profession needs to continue to expand, manage, and reduce the cost of testing and treating obstructive sleep apnea patients. But, in addition, we need to recognize that consumers are searching for solutions in all areas of sleep (insomnia, snoring, circadian rhythm disorders, environment, etc).”

Sree Roy is editor of Sleep Review. CONTACT [email protected]

1. Norman MB, Middleton S, Erskine O, et al. Validation of the Sonomat: a contactless monitoring system used for the diagnosis of sleep-disordered breathing. SLEEP. 2014;37(9):1477-87.