It’s five o’clock in the morning in California, Esther Dyson is wide awake and giving her first interview of the day. “I like to get a lot of sleep,” she says “but I’m trying to stay on New York time, and anyway I’ve got a lot to do.” Esther Dyson is an investor with her finger on the pulse of society’s well being. She invested in Sleepio.com, which is a virtual tool to help people suffering from sleeplessness to improve their nightly habits.
Sleep doesn’t sound like the obvious, sexy investment niche, but to Esther Dyson the health sector is “the most intellectually interesting and financially rewarding. I don't do this for the money, but I expect it to be profitable. I do think I can impact people by helping them live healthier.”
Sleepio is not a device or a potion - it’s expert advice on how your individual sleeping pattern can be improved. Another start up that turns sleep into profits is called Zeo – a device that measures the depth and “effectiveness” of your sleep. The user collects points - the better he or she sleeps the higher the score - and receives advice on how to improve if scores are not high enough. Although it seems somewhat counter intuitive to request advice from a machine or a virtual expert on something as intrinsic as sleeping, Esther Dyson is convinced of the benefits. “In order to change your behavior you first need to know it”, she says, and technology can know a lot. Sleep Cycle for example is an app that sets off your alarm clock when it hurts you the least. The app makes use of an accelerometer in the i-phone to predict the ideal moment to wake up.
Sleep improvement gadgets are one aspect of the quantify-yourself-movement, which is spreading in the health and tech industry. Collecting points for walking more steps or smoking fewer cigarettes is a motivation to change ones habits and to achieve personal wellbeing. A healthier population is not only in the interest of individuals, it’s a matter of efficiency and cost cutting for companies, as well as lowering national health spending for governments
Time is Money
At DLD13 Esther Dyson will elaborate on the reasoning behind investing in sleep, but also pose questions to a man who wrote about clocks. “Not about those you can buy, wear or hang on a wall, but about the clock that ticks in your body”, writes[Prof. Dr. Till Roenneberg in his book Internal Time. He is a scientist and researches at the LMU (Ludwigs-Maximillian Universität) in Munich, at the department for medical psychology.
Internal Time explores how our body clocks are still very similar to those of our ancestors, influenced by sunlight and the rhythm from day to night and changing seasons; yet modern ways of existing increasingly interrupt our internal rhythms. This is cause for all kinds of physical and mental health problems. In the introduction to Till Roenneberg’s book it says “if you have ever suffered from jet lag you know how strongly we are affected when our body clock is out of sync with social time.”
Social time is what the scientist calls the schedules set by society; the beginning of the day, times to eat, travel have sex or relax are all set, to some extent, by scoiety’s time table. Also a reason for Esther Dyson’s entrepreneurial nature to go to bed early and get up before five o’clock in the morning, as she says: “After nine pm nothing happens anymore anyway.” True for most people the day ends before nine in the evening, when the social schedule dictates relaxation and private time.
At the same time twenty percent of the working population in industrialized countries is employed in shift work. Empty office buildings get cleaned, emergency calls get answered, security guards go on patrol – all at a time when our body clocks and social time tell us to rest, relax or sleep. Dr. Till Roenneberg’s exploration of people’s internal time is a thought provoking book as it questions our society by applying a scientific understanding of people’s very personal habit of sleeping.
Together Esther Dyson and Dr. Till Roennenberg form a promising panel session at DLD13, which will explore the potential for innovation in the health and tech industry as well as assess how our society values individual well being.