Many of us suffer from sleep deprivation. Yes, we might try to convince ourselves that less sleep can result in increased productivity or at least a little more free time to indulge in our passion; the fact remains that the benefits of sleep cannot be understated. A good night’s sleep is critical for helping our brains process and organise our waking hours. The bottom line is this-- it is important to sleep well to have a productive day. Entrepreneur Surbhi Jain, with her sleep app Neend, is making sure that we are sure to bank our seven to eight hours of nightly snooze so that the other aspects of our lives are not adversely affected. Neend, which addresses sleep-related problems, offers stories, soothing sleep sounds, meditation, and more in regional languages to unwind and nod off.
Being infected with Covid-19 in 2021 changed Jain’s career trajectory and led her to become an entrepreneur with Neend. In March this year, the mobile-based application raised $700,000 in a pre-seed round led by Better Capital, according to The Hindu Businessline. The former IIT Bombay alumnus and social entrepreneur talks to us about the need for this app, the problematic sleeping patterns of most Indians and how we can sleep better by using the app.
Edited extracts of an interview.
Why do you see the need for such an app?
In the last five years, there have been lifestyle changes that are irreversible in nature for this generation. Technology changed the way we live. Except for the time we are sleeping, we continuously consume the internet and exchange information.
For example, an average person wakes up at a specific time, opens the phone, checks messages, replies to a couple of those, and consumes social media for a few minutes in bed. S/he then gets out of bed, does the regular morning chores of the day (in-between using the phone), heads to work – remote or otherwise – for the next nine-odd hours. Once back home, and after the night meal, the person would watch something on TV/computer and then use the cellphone for the next couple of hours before trying to sleep.
Our brains are continuously active, and there are too many open threads in our minds. And that has an impact on our ability to sleep and quality of sleep too and thus the quality of life on an overall level. Because if you are not well-rested, it would start impacting all other aspects of your life, be it professional, physical, emotional health etc.
Currently, roughly 15 per cent of Indians suffer from insomnia, and roughly 20 per cent more are on the edge of the lifestyle disorder.
Neend is an effort to help people relax and sleep better. It helps break the thought chain in your mind, takes you to someplace relaxing and uses the soothing, sensory description to help you relax and sleep within minutes. Scientifically, it helps you to reduce your brainwave amplitude and makes you shut yourself.
Also read: The challenges of Lockdown Sleep Syndrome
Do you think Indians suffer more from sleeplessness than many other countries?
Yes. In a 2016 study of Fitbit users from 18 countries, it was found that Indians were the second most sleep-deprived after Japan. Intuitively as well, it does make sense.
Let me break the reason into a couple of parts:
1. Noise - continuous noise on streets of either traffic, chatter, kids playing, etc
2. Heat - the weather changes also makes it difficult for us to sleep, especially with the soaring mercury
3. Cultural aspect – a joint family living under the same roof, and then co-sleeping culture. Lack of personal space in the setups to do things like journaling, listening to soothing music or space to relax, etc.
4. Professional aspect - Indians have to work harder to make money, and also we take pride in extra working hours. European countries, for example, maintain a work-life balance and give proper attention to relaxation too.
All these factors don’t just make it difficult to fall asleep but also to stay asleep. You end up sleeping for fewer hours or waking up too often during the night. This makes you sleep-deprived.
Can doctors treat the issue without medication?
Many insomnia cases can be treated without medications. The irony is that sleep is not a subject taught in MBBS. When someone faces the issue, they most likely go to a physician who didn’t even study sleep. Sleep experts are only a handful in India and are not so accessible and affordable for a large part of the population.
Is medication harmful in the long run?
It’s not as straightforward. If you are asking, does medication have side effects - most likely, it does. Is it necessary? That depends from case to case. Non-chronic patients can be treated without medication as well as with healthy alternatives. In chronic cases or the cases where people have multiple co-related issues, doctors may not have an option beyond medicines for immediate relief to the patients.
Can you tell us about the Neend app?
The Neend app is India’s only free sleep app in our regional language for relaxing sleep stories, soothing sleep sounds, and ambiences to improve or make your sleep more effective. As of now, we are present in Hindi, Marathi and English. The objective of these sleep stories is to shut the outside world, reset your mind, and create the perfect mood for sleep. All these sleep stories on the app combine activity-based relaxation, soothing narration, calming music, white noise, ASMR, hypnosis, and Yog Nidra. These have been crafted after a lot of careful work and are verified by experts.
How effective is it?
The best thing about Neend is that it’s not addictive, doesn’t have any side effects and has zero friction. When we talked to users, we realised most of our users fell asleep in less than 15 minutes of tuning into the content. We have had users tell us how their chronic insomnia was addressed effectively on the app, and they could be weaned off medication eventually. This is what we are aiming to do.
We are trying to make the product better day by day and trying to help as many users as possible. The next is the linguistic expansion to more regional languages such as Tamil, Telugu etc. We will be launching these languages this month itself.
On the product side, we want to use a lot of ancient science-backed practices, which are super helpful in having better quality sleep and use game-design thinking in the product to make it a habit-forming product. Indians also deserve a relaxing sleep ritual post a long hard day.
Also read: How to help your child sleep better