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Sleep, Science and Self


Conversation 5 MINUTE READ

COMO’s SleepHub® Home devices are designed to revolutionise the way you sleep — technology now available at COMO Metropolitan Singapore. In this COMO Conversation, we speak with Dr Julian Stone, CEO of Cambridge Sleep Sciences, the company behind this groundbreaking technology.

What was your personal journey into caring about improving our sleep?

I'd love to say that it started because I cared about sleep. I didn't. I was working as a director of a billion-dollar business in Taiwan. I used to fly to and from England constantly, and always had terrible jet lag. A friend of mine, Dr Chris Dickson, now Executive Chairman of Cambridge Sleep Sciences, sent me an early iteration of the SleepHub Home device, promising it would help. It did, and to such a degree that I found myself wrapped up in the business before I knew it, meeting inventors, clients and so on.

When we were trialling our technology, one of the testers cried when we came to pick it up at the end of the experiment. She hadn’t slept properly for 15 years; our technology had changed everything for her. There’s not many paths in life where you can do what you enjoy, while still contributing good to the world. I feel very fortunate to have found this one.

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Why are we all having such trouble sleeping? Is it different now to how it used to be?

There are so many more things that impinge on our lives now that didn’t exist before. I think we've become an instant society; we constantly feel like everything has to happen all at once. And then there’s the way our phone screens are the last thing we look at at night before sleep — it takes your brain back to square one. Ultimately, sleep is completely subjective; one person’s bad night might be someone else’s good night… All these factors make sleep so much more difficult. And as soon as you’re stressed about your sleep patterns, everything gets worse.

Why is sleep so important for our mental and physical wellbeing?

Sleep affects the way we interact with the world at a cellular level, from emotional connections with strangers to the way our bodies cope with illness. The body repairs itself during sleep; it’s our chance to correct things, both physically and mentally. My favourite fact is that when you sleep well, you actually flush toxins from your brain. Scientists have found evidence that when you hit a really strong sleep phase, individual nerve cells coordinate to propel fluid through the brain tissue, ‘washing’ it. By contrast, if you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces cortisone — essentially a stress drug.

There’s also a lot of research about dementia, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease; how sleep can affect the course of all of them. There are some crazy statistics out there: taking a siesta can reduce the risk of heart disease by about a third; in the US, drowsy driving causes one million crashes, 500,000 injuries, and 8,000 deaths each year. Sleep matters.

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Where should we be looking for information about sleep and sleep patterns?

Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams, is a brilliant analysis of 20 years of research into sleep science about why sleep matters. He also has a podcast which delves into the same topic: The Matt Walker Podcast.

There are lots of helpful blogs and articles on how to achieve better sleep. For example Amy Gallagher, the Senior Sleep Physiologist at London’s Cromwell Hospital wrote a helpful article on the benefits of a good night’s sleep. There are also some brilliant studies,  including by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

How did the idea for Cambridge Sleep Sciences come about?

The idea began in the 1990s with an initiative by a Cambridge University professor to see how their students’ learning could improve with better quality sleep. It’s long been known that short-term memory turns to long-term memory as you sleep. By mapping sleep patterns, researchers realised that certain sound waves and frequencies could alter sleep quality. They quickly realised that students weren’t the only people who could benefit. Cambridge Sleep Sciences began to work on prototype technology that could play those optimum frequencies for up to eight hours without stopping. We brought the first product to market in 2019, and since then the whole thing has just built and built.

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Really simply, what’s SleepEngine technology and how does it work?

We’ve scientifically engineered tones and pulses at the right frequencies and in a programmed order, to guide your brain through a textbook sequence of sleep cycles and sleep stages. The frequencies play at a very, very low level — almost subliminal — with whatever sound you choose layered over it, whether relaxing ocean sounds or trains passing over railway tracks. The sleep audio is delivered through in-built speakers, for instance in our SleepHub Home, which COMO uses.

If you’ve ever heard a Tibetan singing bowl being used, you’ll have noticed that the sound takes you into a meditative state. The same thing happens with acoustics in old churches and cathedrals; different acoustic footprints exist in each nave. Those frequencies are the same ones we’re harnessing. That’s the science behind the calm people often feel when entering a place of worship. What we’ve done isn’t new — we’ve just developed the technology to deliver the science in a modern format, mapping sound effects to a natural sleep pattern.

We’ve purposefully designed our technology to be very simple to use. We want people to be able to turn up at a COMO hotel or resort exhausted or jet lagged and only have to press a single button to choose a sleep programme, including power nap or deep sleep settings for however many hours you choose.

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The SleepHub Home is making waves in the scientific world — what’s next for your technology

With the right speaker, we can incorporate our technology into pillows, mattresses, televisions, self-drive cars, planes — almost anything. As our mission expands, we want individuals to be able to register a ‘Sleep Avatar’ that can continually monitor sleep wherever you are — from plane to hotel to home — and feed that information into personalised sleep patterns. At the moment, our sleep programmes are just for adults, but we’re about to launch a teenage version, and then one for children.

Aside from using your technology, what’s the one thing you’d recommend we all do for a better night’s sleep?

Be consistent. That's huge. If you lose sleep, your body can only adjust to the new pattern by about one hour maximum each day. So if you vary the time at which you’re going to bed too much, your body can’t catch up. Minor changes to our sleep routine are far less damaging than major ones — a long lie in at the weekend can’t make up for a week of sleepless nights. I also remind people that caffeine has a half-life of up to ten hours. So don’t drink two espressos before you go to bed!

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Experience the transformative effects of the SleepHub® device in our new Sleep Dreams Package, available at COMO Metropolitan Singapore. The stay also includes a session of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Contrast Therapy at COMO Shambhala Singapore — two health-tech therapies designed to ease you into better sleep by reducing feelings of anxiousness and improving circulation. Discover our latest wellness package here.