A Stanford Dropout Helps People Reset Their Sleep Through Her Simple Habit Meditation App

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Chronic sleep issues plague the majority of American adults, and most of them cannot find the time or afford expensive sleep clinics or medication. Simple Habit, founded by Stanford GSB dropout Yunha Kim in August 2017, is a popular meditation app with over five million users. Recently, Kim and her team launched Sleep Reset, “a digitalized, personalized sleep clinic,” after two years of development in stealth mode.

The startup has twenty-five employees total. Simple Habit generates its revenue from its premium subscriptions to the core app and the new Sleep Reset product’s 12-week program subscriptions. While there are a number of meditation apps like Calm, the Simple Habit founder believes the Sleep Reset product differentiates them further from the competition of in-person sleep clinics and sleeping pills.

Frederick Daso: Before uncovering that a Simple Habit user’s lack of sleep was a major, unsolved problem, what initial indicators or user behaviors did the startup notice while sleep-deprived users nominally interacted with the app?

Yunha Kim: Sleep Reset is a digital, personalized sleep clinic that improves sleep and reduces sleep anxiety with science-backed methods and one-on-one coaching, available in a convenient app for iOS and Android. The key insight that drove us to dig into sleep was when we discovered how many users were coming to the Simple Habit meditation app for help with sleep due to a lack of a better alternative. While only 10% of the meditation content in the app was intended to help users with sleep, we found that a staggering 70% of our user engagement was on that sleep-related content.

In particular, we discovered that our users were playing their meditations at bedtime, or even deep into the night, to help them relax into sleep rather than tossing and turning for hours. Through interviewing users, we discovered that the sleep market is dominated by many solutions that manage insomnia symptoms, but few that address the root causes of insomnia for long-term success. This leaves up to 60% of adults struggling with chronic sleep issues, devastating consequences for their health, emotional wellbeing, and productivity.

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Daso: As the data convinced the startup about the necessity to develop Sleep Reset as a major product, how did the company incorporate sleep experts into the product development process?

Kim: As we started to work on Sleep Reset, we partnered with sleep experts from leading sleep clinics and universities, such as the Stanford Medicine Sleep Clinic, the University of Arizona, and the University of Minnesota. We have spent countless hours speaking with these experts to learn how the world’s leading sleep clinics treat insomnia patients and get their input into how we can digitize that treatment in a highly efficacious manner. We work with our scientific advisory team on an ongoing basis, meeting with them weekly, and they have provided input into every component of the Sleep Reset program. We’re proud to report that we’ve helped thousands of members sleep better, with members reporting an average of 88 minutes increase in total sleep time per night and 52% less time needed to fall asleep. Moreover, of members who report taking sleeping pills or melatonin at the start of our program, nearly half can stop taking them by the end.

Daso: Specifically, what clinically-proven methods are incorporated into the Sleep Reset product?

Kim: The Sleep Reset program uses strategies based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). CBT-I is the gold standard treatment for insomnia, recommended by both the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American College of Physicians as more effective and long-lasting than pills or supplements. CBT-I integrates therapeutic techniques with behavioral and educational interventions. It is a natural, no-pills approach to effectively improve sleep and help reduce the stress and anxiety that often accompanies sleep disorders like insomnia. Our science-backed program includes components of sleep restriction therapy, sleep hygiene and behavior change best practices, relaxation training, and psychological education.

Daso: What are some factors covered in the Sleep Reset user assessment onboarding process?

Kim: To get started with Sleep Reset, new members take our expert-designed sleep assessment, which asks a series of thorough, detailed questions about their sleep. We start by learning exactly what type of sleep issues they are struggling with, whether that’s having trouble falling asleep, struggling to sleep through the night, or not getting enough deep sleep. We then look at their responses through a well-established framework for insomnia called the 3P Model. This approach allows us to identify key components of a member’s life that may be impacting their sleep. The factors are categorized into three groups: Predisposing, Precipitating, and Perpetuating. These categories include a predisposition to worrying, work-related stress, and afternoon caffeine intake. For example, we’ve learned from our member data that 90% of our members eat within three hours of bedtime, which indicates poor sleep hygiene.

Daso: How many personal sleep coaches do Simple Habit have available, and what is the ratio of sleep coaches to users?

Kim: We currently have eight sleep coaches and are expanding our coaching team. Each sleep coach works 1:1 with a dedicated set of members. Our coaches tailor each member’s program to the specific underlying causes of their sleep issues and their routine and lifestyle to give them a more personalized experience. Moreover, having ongoing access to a coach (versus only meeting with a doctor every one to two weeks at an in-person sleep clinic) gives our members the deep support and guidance they need to make long-lasting behavior changes. We believe that our dedicated coaching approach is one key reason that 9 in 10 Sleep Reset graduates report better sleep and reduced sleep anxiety. You can hear the firsthand story of one of our members, Molly, here.

Daso: How did your personal struggle with sleep shape the way Sleep Reset has been uniquely designed and Simple Habit’s company culture?

Kim: Like so many around the world, my sleep issues were intensified at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was experiencing increased stress and anxiety, which disrupted my daily routines and activity levels. I soon found myself in a vicious cycle, where I’d rely on short-term fixes like melatonin to fall asleep at night, and then I’d overcaffeinate during the day to stave off the ensuing grogginess from melatonin. Seeking the best treatment for my insomnia, I tried to enroll in a top-tier sleep clinic but found myself on a 6-month waitlist, which I later found out is typical. This experience inspired me to digitize sleep clinic techniques to make them more convenient and accessible and build a program that doesn’t rely on pills or supplements. I was one of the first members to go through our early beta program, and the techniques you’ll find in Sleep Reset eradicated my insomnia and sleep anxiety.

As for the Simple Habit company culture, we intentionally hire mission-driven people. Everyone on our team is inspired by our vision to increase the quality of life worldwide, and we believe the best way we can do this is by improving our members’ sleep as quickly as we can.