Sleep is important. You already knew that. Still, it can be shocking to learn just how many things depend on you being well-rested.
A 1999 study found that getting four hours of sleep per night (the recommended amount for adults is seven to nine hours) for a week can decrease a person’s metabolism by 30 to 40 percent. Another one found that sleeping less than seven hours a night can make you 3x more likely to catch the common cold. And a third study found that people who slept an hour less every night for a week had anxiety levels high enough to match a clinical anxiety disorder. These are just some of the startling figures that have come out of the last 100 years of sleep research.
With sleep playing such a big role in a person’s metabolic, immune, mental and overall health, it’s time for people to start taking their sleep seriously. How do you do that? According to Chicago entrepreneur Jeff Kahn, two actionable ways to do that are by adjusting your schedule to your circadian rhythm and reducing your sleep debt.
“Everyone knows sleep is important. Most people believe that it has something to do with their sleep quality, or some sort of external factor maybe they don’t have control over,” Kahn told Built In. “But what the science very clearly shows is that there’s only two things that matter: how much sleep deprivation you have any given time, and when are you performing with your circadian rhythm.”
Kahn is the CEO and co-founder of Chicago-born sleep and energy startup Rise Science. On Wednesday, the company announced the launch of the RISE app as well as $15.5 million in funding.
Although the RISE app is the result of years of Rise Science’s work, the company wasn’t always app-based or even consumer-focused. In 2014, Rise Science got its start by working with professional sports teams in order to increase athletes’ performances through sleep optimization. That meant partnering with teams like the Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bulls, New England Patriots and more, providing them with up-to-date scientific research on sleep, using sensors and technology to measure an athlete’s sleep, working one-on-one to improve their sleep, inform when they should train for their sport, and so on.
But for Kahn, his “aha” moment came in 2018, when he realized that better performance through sleep wasn’t something that only benefitted professional athletes — it could benefit anyone. So in 2018, the company raised a $5.5 million seed funding round to build an app that could help anyone with their sleep and daytime performance. In June of 2020, the company launched the app in beta. And now the company is ready to announce its official launch.
The RISE app is part sleep tracker, part analytics and part energy management. The app uses your health and activity data to determine how much sleep you need every night. It also determines how much sleep you get each night by recording the last time you pick up your phone at night and the first time you pick it up in the morning, or by taking that data from the user’s Fitbit or Apple Watch. From there it can give the user information about the those two important sleep factors mentioned earlier: sleep debt and circadian rhythm.
Sleep debt basically refers to how sleep deprived a person is at a given time based on how much they slept over the previous couple of days. To determine this, the RISE app takes the user’s personalized number of how much sleep they should be getting each night, recording how much sleep they actually got over the course of two weeks and then adding up the difference. Let’s say you need nine hours of sleep per night, and you got seven and a half hours of sleep on average over the past two weeks. That would put your sleep debt at seven hours. Science shows that the closer you get that sleep debt number to zero, the better you’ll feel and more energy you’ll have throughout the day.
The other piece of the puzzle is circadian rhythm, which is the natural biological process that regulates an animal’s sleep-wake cycle. It affects when a person wakes up, when they have their most energy during the day and when they can most easily fall asleep. Because of RISE’s access to a person’s sleep data, the app can display the user’s circadian rhythm, and help them plan what activities to do during energy peaks and how to wind down and make the most of energy lows. This aspect of RISE makes it much more than a sleep tracker, but also an energy tracker too.
“When I explain to people what RISE is, I tell them we do energy management. They ask, ‘Like chakras and stuff?’ I say no, we help you manage your sleep debt and circadian rhythms. They ask, ‘Oh, so you’re a sleep tracker?’ I say no, we don’t really track sleep cycles that well, it’s more than that. They ask, ‘So you have sleep sounds and bedtime stories?’ Again I say no, you just have to download the app,” Kahn said.
And people have been downloading the app alright. Even though the app just launched out of beta, Kahn says that it’s getting 20,000 to 30,000 installs per week. According to the company, it’s one of the fastest growing apps in the health and fitness category.
The company’s new funding will allow Rise Science to bring its app to more people. The $15.5 million announced Wednesday includes the company’s $5.5 million seed round from 2018, as well as a more recent $10 million Series A, which was led by Goodwater Capital.
While the seed round allowed the company to build the RISE app, the Series A will allow Rise Science to invest in things like its user experience, paid marketing campaigns, new features and most of all building its team. Rise Science is still a small company, with only eight employees, but this new funding will allow the company to more than double and grow to 20 employees in the near future. Many of these hires will be for product and engineering roles.
“If we want to really reach our goal of getting our app in the hands of the three billion smartphone users, our product today isn’t going to cut it and neither is the way that we’re reaching our customers. So we’ve got to actually build the team that can help us get to the next milestone,” Kahn said. “That’s sort of where our Series A comes in. We’ll be able to add to our product teams, add a growth team. And, and get to a place where we’re making more progress on our mission.”
For Rise Science, that mission is all about helping people live better lives by taking control of how much sleep they get and how to make the most of their waking hours.
“We want to really get the truth out there about how this stuff works for regular, everyday people, and help people understand how to feel better during the day,” Kahn said. “Yes, meditation can help. Yes diet, exercise and having the right support network can help. But the thing that underlies all that is your sleep debt and your circadian rhythm. Let’s get that right first.”
The RISE app is currently available for download on the iOS App Store and Google Play Store. It costs $60 per year with a free seven-day trial.