Dream Team

The Readiband printed circuit boards

Drs. Hunter and Traci Downs are breaking new ground with Archinoetics

It used to be that only Santa knew when you were sleeping and when you were awake.

Meet Archinoetics.

This award-winning local company is breaking new ground in the science of sleep by creating the first-ever inexpensive monitor that can be used by anyone suffering from fatigue or other sleep-related ailments.

The company was started as a spinoff in March 2005 and tripled in size in its first three years, focusing on everything from brain imaging, infrared sensors and intelligent computing. At the helm is a married pair of doctors, Hunter and Traci Downs.

Traci serves as the business head of the organization, promoting the products and dealing with the public. In her short tenure she has overseen the company’s growth of more than 400 percent, as well as the growth of several subsidiaries. But do not be fooled by her business acumen, she has a Ph.D. in neuroscience that allows her to know of what she speaks.

Hunter serves as CEO, though he would prefer to be known as chief creative officer, and is the inventor of the two, having served as the principal investigator on 20 different awards totaling more than $6 million. He works with such disparate groups as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Army. It was he who created the Readiband, giving everyone accessibility to information that was once only available to the few.

“The device is four times cheaper than anything on the market, and people can wear it all day,” says Dr. Hunter Downs. “It allows them to track not just sleep activity, but how active the person is all day.”

Traci and Hunter Downs with son Aidan, 8. Nathalie Walker photos nwalker@midweek.com

The Readiband looks on the outside just like a Casio watch from the ‘80s, with the exceptions that the digital face has been replaced by a rubber one, and instead of a calculator it simply displays the time in the red blocky numbers that were last seen on the computer in War Games.

But don’t let its retro look fool you. Inside is a complex monitor that reports your activity with 92 percent accuracy. The wearer uses the device for a week then can bring it in to the pharmacy or doctor who prescribed it and get a detailed readout on their sleep patterns, how long they slept and the fitfulness of that sleep.

The device is widely available in Canada and should become available here in the U.S. once it is cleared by the FDA, which Dr. Traci Downs says should happen in the next couple months.

The device records the data that they then input into a computer, where their scientifically validated algorithms produce four separate reports. The first is a graph detailing the activities of your day: when you were very physically active, when you were resting and, finally, when you were sleeping and the quality of that sleep.

The second report puts your stats onto several ranges showing where you fall on the scale of normal, healthy sleep in such categories as length of time in bed actually sleeping, length of time it took you to fall asleep and the number of times you woke up during the night.

The third report breaks down into percentages of your mental fatigue levels, allowing you to know what your risk levels are for accidents, and the final report allows you to pinpoint the day-to-day fatigue patterns responsible for your mental effectiveness.

Once the Readiband is approved, local pharmacies and doctors will be able to print out your reports for you after you rent the band for a week, but for now, this analysis is being done through its subsidiary, Fatigue Science, located across the hall from Archinoetics on the 20th floor of the Amfac building. Here a lack of sleep is looked at with the same seriousness as malnutrition or obesity.

“Once a person becomes sleepdeprived to a certain point, it is no longer under your willful control, and it becomes dangerous,” says Dr. John Caldwell, the senior scientist at Fatigue Science.

In order to make the dangers of missing proper sleep easy to understand for the general public, they compare the impairments of it to something the public has a keen grasp on: blood alcohol content.

Dr. Traci Downs (left) at the Archinoetics office with her tall companion. Nathalie Walker photos nwalker@midweek.com

Once a person exceeds a certain amount of sleep deprivation, their mental effectiveness and reaction times drop, just as if they were drinking. The breakdown is translated into levels of fatigue ranging from sober to a BAC of greater than .11. At these levels, one cannot legally operate machinery or drive a car in this country, yet millions of Americans are doing so with these fatigue-related impairments all the time.

“It is interesting as a society that we are willing to tolerate sleep deprivation-induced cognitive and judgment errors,” says Caldwell. “But if that same person walked into the office and we breathalyzed him and he was drunk, we would fire him on the spot.”

Some may argue that the difference lies in the fact that a person made a decision to drink, and sometimes life just conspires against us and we don’t get a chance to always get a good night’s sleep, or that one can combat tiredness with coffee and other measures. But Caldwell argues that depriving yourself of a good night’s rest is tantamount to the choice to imbibe.

“Why is drinking bad? Because they are not in good shape to do their job, and they deliberately did something that would compromise their ability to do their job,” says Caldwell. “It is the same thing with sleep deprivation.”

This brings to mind all sorts of positions in society where one would be concerned with the mental fatigue of someone providing you a service. From airline pilots to heart surgeons, you would never want them working for you after a few cocktails. Why have them do it on just a couple hours of sleep? To the people at Fatigue Science, it amounts to the same thing. And by creating a device that is accessible to the public at large, they can help stem the tide of the fatigue that currently is tolerated as acceptable by society as a whole.

In Caldwell’s work he has found that most highranking executives forgo a good night’s sleep in order to work more. This leads to dangerous situations where one’s normal logic can be severely impaired.

“It is amazing how many high-powered executives we do reports on and we see they are sleep-deprived, and they are not surprised,” says Caldwell, citing reports of being unable to stay awake in meetings and passing out on the couch as soon as they return home. “I’m thinking, how are they making multimillion-dollar decisions for their company while they are basically drunk?”

Public safety and fiscal responsibility aren’t the only concerns surrounding sleep deprivation. Last season a professional hockey team, the Vancouver Canucks, contacted Fatigue Science to voice concerns over how the rigorous NHL travel schedule may be affecting their team’s performance. We have all heard the stories about the hotels and the late nights, but did this actually factor in to how the team was performing on the ice?

What Fatigue Science discovered is that a fatigued athlete actually reacts 2.5 times slower than a well-rested athlete, so they outfitted the team with Readibands, studied their flight patterns prior to games and made suggestions on how to get the team their best sleep. Then the team changed its habits and travel arrangements according to Fatigue Science’s recommendation.

The next thing the Canucks knew they had emerged out of nowhere to come within a game of winning the Stanley Cup, thanks to a good night’s sleep (and the glove of all-world goalie Roberto Luongo).

As it turns out, sleep and the quality of it that we get affects so many aspects of our lives, and if things turn out how the Downses hope, the Readiband will revolutionize sleep studies here in America, helping untold numbers understand why they have spent so many years counting ceiling tiles and wooly creatures and allow them to go get the help they need.

Or at the very least, we will all finally have the same information as the man in the big, red suit.