By Renee Moore, Staff Writer.
Professionals with demanding jobs schedule around it. College students get very little of it. Busy moms with active families don’t have time for it.
What’s the one thing every high performing person needs?
“If you understand that sleep is a scarce resource, says innovator and entrepreneur Zimin Hang, “then you understand the need for a product that optimizes the amount of time spent sleeping.”
Hang is the c0-founder and CEO of Ultradia, a lifestyle technology company focused on developing Chrona, a sound-based smart pillow that tracks and optimizes sleep.
Chrona is designed to complement high-performance lifestyles by using scientifically validated sound waves to improve sleep.
Hang says the real sleep issue is quality not quantity.
“The research shows that even with eight hours of sleep, learning is impaired when deep sleep is interrupted,” he says. Chrona’s technology, called Deep Sleep Boost, is designed to enhance the deep sleep cycle, improving memory and cognition.
During deep sleep, Chrona periodically emits a variation of white noise layered with natural sounds, like rain and fire. “Low frequency sounds mimic deep sleep brain waves,” explains Hang. “When the brain is stimulated with the right sounds at the right intervals, deep sleep is optimized.” The sounds are played loud enough to optimize deep sleep but soft enough so as not to wake the user. Hang goes on to explain that, “sleep efficiency is the third pillar of the wellness triangle of diet, exercise, and sleep. It’s one of the last secrets of the brain.”
Chrona allows any pillow to become a smart pillow by placing the thin latex foam insert into a pillow case. Once installed, Chrona’s built-in speakers and an accelerometer track head and torso movement without compromising the integrity of the pillow.
Hang is quick to point out key differences between Chrona and wearables like Fitbit, and apps that also track sleep patterns.
Hang notes that, “wearables are completely passive. They only provide data. A user will get a message in the morning that reports how well or how poorly they slept through the night. If a user slept poorly, getting a report from an app does nothing to change that.”
Hang says the differentiator is that Chrona uses sounds that are scientifically proven to actively improve the user’s experience while they sleep. Hang notes, “Chrona’s accelerometer detects when a user is in deep sleep and intermittently transmits these sounds to enhance the user’s sleep. So even if a user only gets three hours of sleep that night, they will wake up feeling better.”
Hang became passionate about the science of sleep after reading two medical journal papers examining the use of acoustic stimuli to supplement anesthetics. “It was incredible to learn that sound can do what drugs can do. Patients undergoing surgery who listened to acoustic stimuli required about half as much anesthetic. I made the assumption that if sound works as an anesthetic then it must work for sleep.”
Hang, a Washington University graduate, began working on Chrona in June, 2013 and launched a Kickstarter campaign in April, 2015. Hang and his team reached their funding goal of $50,000 within six days. “The success of our campaign validated the need for this type of product,” states Hang. Further validation came in November, 2015 when Chrona was awarded an Arch Grant..
Arch Grants is a nonprofit organization that accelerates economic development and community revitalization by providing $50,000 equity-free grants to entrepreneurs who relocate their early-stage business to St. Louis. Hang sings the praises of Arch Grants’ Executive Director, Ginger Imster. “Ginger is articulate, honest, and passionate. She understands that supporting entrepreneurs is important for the St. Louis community. Her team selects companies that are the best for St. Louis based on their merit, not based on their return in five years or industry specificity.”
“I’ll always have the company located in St. Louis,” muses Hang, a Washington, DC transplant, “although I do see Chrona becoming a national and even global product very quickly.”
Hang estimates that the manufacture of prototypes will begin early next year, leading to a broad consumer launch by the end of 2016.
“Things happen very fast around here,” he says. “There’s a lot of work in the coming months. But I wake up each morning energized because every night my sleep is optimized.”