Sleep Is a $5 Billion Industry — And This Sleep Specialist Believes it’s.
The Right Time To Adopt An Entirely New Approach.
Daniel Erichsen spent about a decade working as a doctor for sleep and primarily treating patients suffering from sleep apnea or insomnia.
His career drastically turned in the last quarter of 2012 after he was dismissed from his position as a hospital doctor in Oregon. Erichsen, 42, a physician, had stopped prescribing sleeping medication to patients and, for the majority of the time, did not recommend them for costly and lengthy tests that Erichsen considered unnecessary.
Erichsen did not suddenly become anti-medicine. He grew up in Sweden and was the child of a doctor and a nurse. He knew what he wanted from life from a young age. He attended the Karolinska Institute, a medical school in Stockholm. He then moved to New York for his residency in 2007 and completed a sleep medicine fellowship at The University of Chicago.
After years of listening to patients’ stories of difficulties with insomnia and their determination to locate the supplement or essential oil or yoga, herbal tea or prescription medicine that would cure their problems, Erichsen concluded that the patients weren’t the issue. Instead, the case was in the way they were treated.
“This wasn’t working for people,” Erichsen stated in an interview with the media from the house he lives located in Eugene, Oregon. “I did not right fit into the system anymore. The system wasn’t a right fit for me.”
Sleep is a huge business. According to the market research firm Imarc, the world market for insomnia will reach $5.1 billion in 2017 and increase to $6.1 billion in 2028. This includes the cost of prescription medications and sleeps aids available over the counter, medical devices and various treatments.
Imarc reported in its annual report that the Covid-19 pandemic, which struck in the U.S. in early 2020, “generated unprecedented changes in lives, including social isolation and innumerable work challenges and family obligations” and was viewed “as a major stressful event that impacted the sleep patterns of millions and strengthened the market growth.”
Before the pandemic, the tech industry discovered various ways to make money from the need for sleep and the human desire to improve it. Sleep trackers are everywhere and are embedded into watches like Apple Watch and Fitbit devices. The bright ring is made by Oura company, which revealed at the end of April it has raised an investment round with a $2.55 billion value, less than a month after it sold the 1 millionth ring.
Numerous apps for meditation, like Calm, Headspace, and Breethe have content created to help people rest.
Other apps, like those supported by venture capital firms, promote cognitive behaviour treatment for insomnia or CBT-I. This therapy is intended to alter how people view sleep and includes changes in behaviour, such as restricting sleep and controlling stimuli. Participants are encouraged to get up after being awake for a specific period.
CBT-I apps comprise Sleep Reset, developed by Simple Habit, and Dawn Health, which announced in March that it has raised “strategic funding” from early-stage company Kindred Ventures.
Dawn stated that insomnia is a problem for approximately 49 million Americans and causes the healthcare industry to spend $84 billion and $100 billion worth of “safety incidents and lost productivity.” CBT-I programs generally last between two and three months. Dawn offers a price of $249 for the first three months, and Sleep Reset is currently priced at $255 for that same time.
What if insomnia is an anxiety disorder?
Erichsen stated that he’d used CBT-I with patients throughout his career as a physician, and it was occasionally successful. In other instances, patients would initiate the program, but they would never hear from them again. For some, the strict restriction on sleep was an essential element of order. For others, it caused additional anxiety and stress, yet another failure to discover a cure.
After hearing numerous stories of those who struggled with insomnia, Erichsen believed that the medical profession had misclassified insomnia as an illness of sleep, combining it with anxiety, depression and psychotic disorders.
Erichsen was the first to recognize the issue differently. Patients who came to his clinic were afraid. They’d had a few bad nights of sleep due to stress or illness. If normal sleep didn’t come back and they went into panic mode. They believed something was off and that they’d lost how to go to sleep. The dark, gloomy internet abyss was filled with stories of the long-term health risks they could face if regular sleep did not return.
It was fear that was the most common factor. Instead of referring to insomnia as an illness, Erichsen prefers to describe it as a fear, which is a different way of explaining how to treat it.
“Think of the implications,” Erichsen stated. “When we say, ‘Oh, you have to take medications to sleep or exercise or do all these things,’ you’re worsening the phobia.”
After being ejected from his practice as a physician in the year 2000, Erichsen began working as a full-time sleeping coach and an evangelist dedicated to changing the perception of sleep. He fills his channel on YouTube, The Sleep Coach School, provides educational content seven every day, and shares the same podcast discussion format. The app is called BedTyme, which blends education with personalized coaching.
In addition to the content that he makes available for free on the internet, all of it is inexpensive. A group-oriented program dubbed “Insomnia Immunity” costs $259 each month. An hour-long call with Erichsen is 289 dollars (or $169 for a phone call with an instructor), and BedTyme is $330 per month.
Erichsen has yet to seek any outside financing and has said that the company is challenging to make money because it’s not scaling like a tech firm. There’s plenty of one-on-one coaching offered to every customer.
“It’s very involved work,” Erichsen stated.
The goal, Erichsen said, is to assist people in finding their way without the need for months upon months of expensive assistance. In between two and four months, he added that most clients are ready to take on the world on their own.
“We celebrate when somebody graduates and says, ‘I don’t need you anymore. I can be my coach,'” Erichsen declared. “From an economic perspective, there’s no issue. They’re ambassadors for the company, and we’ll find someone else to collaborate with.”
Erichsen acknowledges that his strategy still needs to be established. His YouTube channel has a small audience of 7,000 people, up from 4,000 at the beginning of the year, while his coach practice is not large enough that he does not believe that the sleep medicine community is aware of his existence.
“My friends who are doctors think it’s nice, but they don’t fully understand it,” Erichsen declared. “We’re so far off the radar that nobody in the medical establishment knows what we’re doing.”
CNBC has reached out to a second sleep expert for an industry view on Erichsen’s strategy. Michael Breus is a clinical psychologist and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. He is the director of The Sleep Doctor website, which was founded in 2008 and is described as “a leading authority in the field of sleep health.”
Breus was looking at Erichsen’s site and sent his opinions via email.
“This sounds like a disaster,” Breus wrote, stating that Erichsen’s strategies “will give many people false hope.” Breus declared that he attributes “little to no merit” to the notion that insomnia is best described as an anxiety disorder. After reviewing the website, Breus said Erichsen needs to show evidence of the effectiveness of his strategy. However, Erichsen “seems to feel just fine about now marketing himself with a new method and theory.”
Erichsen said that despite not providing information, his YouTube channel has an “abundance of interviews with people who have found benefits with the way we approach insomnia.” He also said he does not use the majority of industry metrics since these “lead to the idea that sleep can be controlled and that we should achieve a certain sleep score or number after putting in a certain amount of work.”
“The more I chased sleep and slept, the less I did.’
There has been some controversy in the media.
The month of May was when Saniya Warwaruk, who’s training to become a Dietician at the University of Alberta in Canada, presented a TEDx talk at her university. The theme of the conference included “Finding light in the darkness.”
Warwick, 33, was coming off a long-term bout of chronic insomnia, which she recently wrote about in a first-person account to the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.) website. The month of May 2021 was when Warwaruk experienced several lousy nights’ sleep and woke up at 3 a.m. and could not go back to sleep. The struggle continued, and she began taking supplements.
“Then came the appointments — the blood work checking for tumours and hormones, the electrocardiogram, the sleep study,” she wrote. “Aggravatingly, the results proved that I was in good health. However, the more I snoozed for sleep and slept less, the less I did.”
As she explained in her TEDx talk when you would attempt something new and fail, “you crank up the anxiety and the fear, which leads to more insomnia and so on and so on and so on.” She also tried CBT-I, which led to “the darkest days of my life,” she said to CNBC when she spoke to them in an interview.
After months of insomnia, anxiety that never stopped and brain fog, Warwaruk, married, went to stay with her parents in Calgary as she needed additional medical attention. When she returned home, her spouse came across Erichsen’s thoughts on the internet.
After watching Erichsen’s videos, Warwaruk was able to see the difference. While CBT-I made her adhere to sleep restrictions or get out of bed when they were up for fifteen minutes during the night and to avoid daytime napping, Erichsen advocated gentler strategies, which were designed to decrease the intensity of the road to recovery.
She set a sleeping window for herself that allowed the sleeper to a set time every night but not be required to be confined to less than six hours in the beginning.
Warwick was quick to discover how to teach her brain to believe that she had nothing to worry about it could be possible to reverse the cycle. Instead of continuously seeking solutions, she got up each day like she didn’t suffer from sleep problems. She worked out, socialized with her friends, and focused on her studies even when her sleep wasn’t the best. She gave up trying to get her rest.
“No pills, treatments, therapies, teas, sleep hygiene, nothing,” she declared at the TEDx event. “I was no longer to chase after sleep.” She even sat down to watch TV shows in the middle of the night when she was awake, “breaking the cardinal rule of no blue screens.” Her preferred show for TV was “Seinfeld.”
This was when she began to fall asleep. It didn’t happen all at once. There were a few bumps in her journey, but her sleep problems did not have to be accompanied by excessive anxiety over not sleeping. She shared her story in 15 minutes in front of a tiny crowd in Alberta.
You need the YouTube link to Warwaruk’s presentation to locate it. TED has marked it “unlisted,” so it does not appear when you search for it. This is TED’s explanation, that is available in the video:
TED did not respond to a request for comments.
Erichsen stated that TED’s decision is “the first sign of friction” he’s seen regarding his strategy. While he’d like to know the content available to anyone to read, Erichsen said he understands why there might be opposition. Medical professionals have defined insomnia in specific ways, he explained and that organizations such as TED aren’t willing to promote views that are viewed as anti-science.
One of his most popular podcasts is called “Talking Insomnia,” featuring those who have made it through the struggles with his program or a different one. In the spring of this year, he launched an ebook titled “Tales of Courage: Twenty-six first-hand accounts of how insomnia ends.”
Warwick was one of several case studies featured in the book. Another one is Beth Kendall, a 54-year-old Minneapolis native who claims she has been suffering from sleep disorders for 42 years. It started at age 8 when she moved with her family to a room upstairs in the attic.
Kendall’s insomnia was intermittent throughout her life. Through college and her professional life as a ballet dancer and flight attendant, the sleep cycle would come and go for long periods and leave Kendall frustrated, confused, and searching for answers. She relates her experience as a “medication merry-go-round” and how she ended with a cabinet packed with every sleeping pill you can imagine. Before, there were all the teas and so many, “I could smell them right now,” she said to Erichsen.
Kendall was also a CBT user. In a blog post on why sleep restrictions don’t make sense for everyone, Kendall wrote about the feeling of failure and guilt that came with her first attempts led to sleep becoming more complicated and transformed her into the status of a “walking zombie.”
“It was a bit of torture,” she admitted when interviewed.
Before stumbling across Erichsen in the past few years via social media channels, Kendall’s health was improving. She was in the body and Mind space, and became certified for tapping an art that relies on the power of acupuncture. She realized that insomnia was a mental disorder and that the code needed to be altered.
Kendall started blogging about sleeping. People would email her because her ideas seemed to resonate. It turned into coaching on a casual basis and eventually authentic coaching, which included working on sure of the latest apps. (Kendall served as my instructor in an app earlier in the year.)
This past October, Kendall began her very own 8-week fitness program called Mind. Body. Sleep. Each week, clients get numerous short videos that contain lessons that explain the reasons why insomnia occurs and what we can do to prolong or reduce it, and also how one can cope when they are awake, even during the night. Additionally, she offers individual coaching sessions and sends periodic emails reminding clients that anxiety-related feelings are normal and that progress isn’t linear and that sudden feeling that causes you to feel jittery before bed is called hyperarousal.
“The beginning of the journey is very educational, laying down the accurate knowledge,” Kendall explained. “At the end of the program, I also talk about what leaving insomnia looks like and some of the patterns.”
Kendall’s message, which echoes many of the ideas of Erichsen, is that sleep is easy; however, insomnia makes it seem complicated. We attempt to correct this by doing even harder; after failure, we try more. What we need to do is to do less.
Attention can be the source of oxygen insomnia requires to live. Try to stop it, she says and observes what begins to change.
“Sleep is a passive process that happens in the absence of effort,” she writes in one of her messages to clients. “There is nothing you need to do for it to happen.”