Devices & Diagnostics

Is sleep deprivation a problem that anyone wants solved?

This week’s TEDMED conference is more than just talk. Attendees and those participating nationwide are casting votes for the 20 big health challenges that need solving. There are 51 candidates. The 51st: Sleep. And not just sleep disorders, but getting people to get more sleep so they can be healthier. But is sleep deprivation, which […]

This week’s TEDMED conference is more than just talk. Attendees and those participating nationwide are casting votes for the 20 big health challenges that need solving. There are 51 candidates.

The 51st: Sleep. And not just sleep disorders, but getting people to get more sleep so they can be healthier.

But is sleep deprivation, which more often than not is a conscious choice, a problem that customers want solved by healthcare? A lack of sleep is a major contributor to poor health: obesity, heart disease, hypertension, depression and beyond. And there are stronger cases being made that for all you hard-driving students and careerists who are working instead of sleeping, it has an amazingly low ROI. Bottom line: Working a lot does not always mean you get more done.

Yet, if the market is telling us anything, it’s that people want the problem of the effects of a lack of sleep solved so they can still not sleep. And they’ll accept solutions that come with unhealthy downsides (i.e., 5-Hour ENERGY shots).

Other more serious sleep problems, such as sleep apnea and other disorders, do have solutions. It will be exciting to watch the cutting-edge obstructive sleep apnea products as they move into the market and replace the uncomfortable CPAP masks, for example. But, even then, devices aren’t the best solution for many with sleep problems. If people lose weight, many of the people who suffer with sleep apnea won’t have that problem anymore.

“[The public] needs to think about sleep as the third pillar of health,” said Stuart Quan, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, who was at TEDMED in a booth sponsored by Philips, which is spending the conference “crowdsourcing” causes and solutions around healthcare.

There have been investments in sleep-related businesses. Dormir got $12 million a few years ago for its sleep centers and sleep equipment businesses. And the early stage biotech GliaCure, which modulates the body’s production of a sleep-promoting compound, is raising money right now.

Quan thinks additional sleep apnea and sleep centers are unwise investments in the future. Instead, he thinks the opportunities are in areas such as differences in lighting that could help sleep, or innovative ways to look at insomnia

But the number of startups aren’t proportional to the size of the market opportunity if people wanted to get more sleep.

It makes me think that sleep, despite the benefits of getting it, will be something not worth investing in for quite some time. It lives in a netherworld of unwanted or inappropriate.

[Photo by flickr user pedrosimoes7]

Topics