Thursday, August 16

Can’t Sleep – A Science Backed App For A Better Night’s Sleep

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If you took a poll of the adults in Australia I’m sure the overwhelming majority would put their hand up when asked if they would like to get a better night sleep. What these people may not realise however is that music could be the answer to their sleepless nights and lack of day time productivity.

One Aussie startup looking to use music as a sleep aid is Can’t Sleep, a company founded by Thomas Dickson, an Australian expert in using Music as a Sleep Aid and current PhD candidate on the topic at the University of New South Wales. Joining Thomas, is Arthur Roolfs, who was bought on as a Co-founder, CTO and iOS Developer.

Can’t Sleep has recently completed to QUT Collider Accelerator Program and sat down with Startup Soda to talk about their journey and the power of music as a sleep aid.

But first, it’s important to understand just how Can’t Sleep works. Essentially, the app plays unlimited relaxing music that is scientifically designed to help listeners fall asleep faster and wake up feeling refreshed. The music is composed and played using algorithms which means that the music is unique every time.

Available as a free app with a paid tier, upgrading allows the user to choose their own instruments and ambient sounds. Ultimately being able to customise the choice of music to something you find more  enjoyable can further improve the effectiveness of the app as a sleep aid.

Now, it would be easy to dismiss this concept as something from left field, but according to Thomas the development and methodology behind the app is backed by over 100 journal articles on music and sleep psychology. No only that, but Can’t Sleep has documented the effect the app is having on people’s lives. For example, Thomas said “In the past few months we’ve improved the sleep of Australian Paralympian Raïssa Martin which reduced her migraines related to her visual impairment.” They even released a video of Raïssa talking about the power of the app.

Reflecting on the journey to create Can’t Sleep Thomas outlined that he “knew experientially that music helped me get through the day but was surprised to find research papers on the topic. Specifically what interested me was how music can be used as an everyday tool to aid people. This was the starting point that lead towards Can’t Sleep.”

After completing his undergraduate Thomas went on to discover that “different music can help improve workplace productivity, reduce listener stress and improve sleep.” From there his background in “interactive” composition drove Thomas to investigate strategies to engage the listener beyond pressing play. In particular he noted that “to allow for this personalization I knew the music would need to be composed in realtime using generative algorithmic processes. The most impactful platform for this style of interactive and generative music is a smartphone app.”

This became the focus of Thomas’s honours project at the Victorian College of the Arts. For his honours assessment he presented the generative music app on android and his research into compositional strategies to encourage relaxation. He went on to receive first class honours which allowed for further study into the psychology of music.

From there he was accepted into the University of New South Wales to undertake a Doctor of Philosophy. During this time, Thomas’s research led him to “recognised how different the music would need to be for each state (focus, relaxation and sleep). For example music needed to be much less engaging for sleep than for focus or relaxation”.

To narrow down his focus Thomas sought out a niche for his research and product. He ran in-depth market analysis and discovered how severely sleep deprived our society is and saw an opportunity to help inadequate sleepers. Unfortunately, the market was already flooded with gimmicks (e.g. Mozart for sleep or Delta wave deep sleep baroque) according to Thomas.

To stand out from the crowd Thomas stated that he needed to ensure that the app is positioned from a very scientific approach. He therefore found over 50 papers which used music as a sleep aid and 50 others on music psychology. This research then fed into the product and the mechanisms used by the app to aid sleep.

With the iPhone app complete and the Collider Accelerator program behind them the team at Can’t Sleep are focused on building their user base, generating feedback and gaining media coverage.

Over the next twelve months they aim to have scientifically validated the effectiveness of the app, tweaked the music to even better represent the science and build partnerships with business in the sleep space.

Finally, you can download the Can’t Sleep App here:

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