ESTEEM Alum and His Team Develops Sleep-Enhancing App and Tools

Author: Gene Stowe

Somni products

A team of Notre Dame entrepreneurs has developed a sleep-enhancing kit and app designed to boost college students’ healthy rest, memory, learning, and mental health. The approach is based on the research of Jessica Payne, the Nancy O’Neill Associate Professor of Psychology and director of the Sleep Stress and Memory Lab. Matt Berg, who received his undergraduate degree in science-business in 2012 and master’s degree in the entrepreneurship master’s program (ESTEEM) in 2013, and junior Ryan Gannett work with Payne. Their company, Somni, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for kit manufacturing and app development.

Berg conceived the project after he took Payne’s The Sleeping Brain class as a senior and became aware that sleep is the foundation for learning. “I’m very protective of my sleep now,” he said. “It’s hard to get ahold of me after 10:30 p.m., and I nap almost every day because of Jessica’s class and the benefits I’ve seen from it. If I had known all this as a freshman how much more I would have learned and better my college experience would have been.”

ESTEEM Alum Matt Berg

The product includes a kit, designed for convenience both in dorm rooms and on trips, that includes lavender spray, a silk eye mask, organic tea, ear plugs, a humidifying fan, and nasal strips – items chosen after exhaustive pilot studies at Notre Dame because they proved most effective in creating a sleep routine and enhancing the sleep experience. The application includes a sleep tracking feature to help improve behavior and awareness, access to dozens of brief video clips by Payne that cover key insights about sleep, and a way to reorder supplies.  

Under the guidance of Dennis Boyle, a Notre Dame alumnus and founding partner at the design firm IDEO, they have conducted more than a year of pilot studies with hundreds of students and shown that Somni users average an additional 19 minutes of sleep per night – almost a week’s worth across a year – with a 12 percent increase in feeling well rested, a 13 percent increase in alertness, and an 11 percent increase in ability to focus. “Because the benefits of sleep compound, getting 20 extra minutes of sleep each day ultimately leads to big benefits in learning and well-being,” Payne says. The team is exploring other markets such as medicine, business, and transportation.

“Sure, you could go to the drug store to buy eye masks and aromatherapy oils,” says Payne, “but only Somni is backed by the research of a university sleep expert. Somni is a monthly, subscription-based box of tools, including sleep coaching from one of the world’s experts on sleep and learning, a sleep tracking app and more.” 

To participate in the Kickstarter, visit

To hear Payne’s perspective on sleep, view the video below.

Originally published by Gene Stowe at on May 20, 2015.