The couple had been married for decades. But over the years, each started to realize something about the other: He was a chipper, up-at-dawn, raring-to-go person, while she really hit her stride after the sun went down.
Their preferences manifested themselves in various ways. But technology provided a new and deeper perspective to this longtime bride and groom.
“He was a rooster and she was a night owl. They were married for more than 40 years. It definitely gave them something to talk about,” said Ron Andrews, co-founder of Exploragen, the Phoenix DNA lifestyle company that created the SlumberType sleep application that the couple use. “That’s the sort of fun things that we’re hearing right now.”
SlumberType provides users insight on their genetics and the role DNA plays when it comes to the kind of sleep they’re getting and the quality and amount of sleep they may actually need. It’s the first DNA-based application from the biotechnology startup founded by veterans of the medical-genetics industry.
‘A novel way to get information’
Sara Riordan, Shannon Kieran and Andrews merged their knowledge and experience when the trio launched Exploragen in 2016. SlumberType hit the market in July.
Exploragen partners with DNA-testing company Helix to bring SlumberType to life. First-time consumers purchase the app ($24.99) and the DNA testing kit ($80), which is mailed to them. Users send saliva samples back to Helix, which sends them the results four to six weeks later. They are also kept with Helix and used when customers access the app. The results can also be used for a variety of DNA-related apps that utilize Helix. The app is for people age 18 and older only.
SlumberType asks users to track their activities. For example, when they exercised, if they had an extra cocktail after dinner or meditated before bed. Coupled with DNA results, the analysis draws from four key sleep measurements that determine whether a user is a morning or night person, how long it may take him to fall asleep, the duration and quality of his sleep and potentially how these may affect his life.
“Over time, they can see how not only DNA affects their sleep, but how their lifestyle affects it,” Riordan said. “It’s a novel way to get this information.”
The app also comes with alarms and sounds to fall asleep to, like whales and rain forests.
SlumberType is the first of what the trio envision as a series of DNA-driven apps from Exploragen. The decision to headquarter their company in Phoenix rather than the tech-driven area of Northern California was intentional from day one. Andrews cited the high talent pool of professionals willing to work for the right reasons in the Valley’s unsaturated metro area that offers a more reasonable cost of living than the high-priced, tech-dominated, rapid culture of Silicon Valley.
SlumberType is among the newest additions that’s part of a global DNA testing market that’s projected to reach $10 billion by 2022, according to research and consulting firm Grand View Research Inc.
Not only does Exploragen’s app tap into the hot DNA lifestyle industry, it also delves into a human pattern that has the potential to wreak expensive havoc on daily living. According to a RAND Corporation study, businesses loss resulting from poor sleep costs $411 billion a year in the United States, which equals a gross domestic product loss of 2.28 percent.
This is just the start, Kiernan explained.
“Now, someone can track their patterns during the day and before bed. The next release, they can see how those patterns correlate with their life over time. It’s always going to be improving,” Kieran said. “It’s an interactive way for the community to learn about how all of these things impact their sleep.”
Usable and fun
For Stuart Kim, professor emeritus at Stanford University, getting a good night’s sleep is vital to a productive following day. The geneticist has communicated with the Exploragen team over the past few months and has purchased the app. Kim is waiting for his DNA results from Helix, after which he will be able to fully utilize SlumberType. He likes the fact that it’s more engaging than some of the other DNA-related programs out there.
“It has this day-to-day intersection that folds into the genotype, and that makes it more usable,” Kim said.
Kim expects the app will tell him what he already knows: He’s a night owl — he hits his work stride after 10 p.m., and isn’t at his most functional in the morning — and his 24-hour clock is longer than 24 hours as he’s constantly trying to stay up longer than the day before and trying to squeeze in more time in a day.
But Kim looks forward to other news. For example, the app indicates a connection between sleep and some chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity.
“The SlumberType app is nice in that it has all this information that I didn’t really know about things that affect your sleep. … Does being a night owl increase your risk of being overweight or diabetic?” Kim asked. “Sleep is connected to pretty important health concerns … not just (to) feeling more energetic.”
Riordan met Kieran while both were in graduate school at the University of Arizona, and their professional paths met up with Andrews. They decided to merge their skills and knowledge about DNA technology and the corporate world and apply it to the genetics world to bring it to the public stage in a friendly and educational format. Exploragen and SlumberType are the results.
“Our goal is to make it usable and fun,” Andrews said.
By Georgann Yara, Special for The ABG