Article originally published in German in Tages Anzeiger and Der Bund

 

At the height of the global coronavirus pandemic in 2021, mental health issues increased sharply. Millions of people around the world started experiencing difficulty falling and staying asleep, increased stress levels, anxiety, depression, and intrusive thoughts.

Vincent Martinez, an electrical engineer specializing in biosensors at the prestigious ETH polytechnic university in Switzerland, noticed that many people around him were complaining about chronic stress and sleep problems. Almost inevitably, Martinez himself started to feel symptoms of chronic stress. However, the young engineer wasn’t satisfied with esoteric approaches to stress management like yoga classes and meditation apps, so he turned to science and technology to find a data-driven way to help those in need. 


After two years of development, Martinez and his co-founder Serge Weydert launched Oxa, a t-shirt packed with the latest smart-textile technology to help people reduce their stress levels and get better sleep.

Our main goal was to develop a personalized breathing and sleep coach that helps improve stress regulation and sleep quality,” says company boss Vincent Martinez during a tour of the laboratory in Zurich, Switzerland, where the electronic components are produced. 

 

The Oxa t-shirt (now also available as a bra or a chest strap) comes with built-in sensors that record vitals like breathing and heart rate in real time. The data is processed by a mobile app which monitors your vitals, provides personalized recommendations and offers a variety of breathing exercises which are scientifically proven to help users fall asleep and stay asleep. 

 

Picture this: as you lay in bed, a gentle female voice guides you through an immersive audio experience with resonance breathing patterns that have been shown by recent studies to improve sleep quality. In the morning you read in detail on your smartphone how long it took you to fall asleep, how your heartbeat and breathing changed during your sleep, how deep your sleep was and even how often you changed positions and how long you spent on your stomach, back or the side. A journaling feature helps you better understand how your daily habits impact your sleep.  

 

Shortly after launch, Oxa was nominated by Fast Company as one of the most innovative health companies in 2024. The young company was also selected as one of the top 100 Swiss startups, and its flagship product won a Reddot Award for innovative design. In recent months, the company’s revenues have grown by more than 100% month-over-month. 

 

 Get to know: Biometric Devices for Wellness: Exploring the Best Wearable Options

 

In May 2024, the company launched a partnership with the UK’s National Pharmacy Association which reaches over 90% of the UK population across more than ten thousand pharmacies.

Behind this tremendous growth is a simple realization: sleeping problems are only one side of the coin. To truly tackle sleep, you need to better manage your stress levels throughout the day.

Before its success, there was a difficult period in the company’s life which caused Martinez to lose sleep himself.  When he had to announce several layoffs a year ago and push forward development with the smaller team, this took a toll on the 35-year-old. 

 

In this borderline situation close to burnout, Martinez particularly benefited from the internal know-how in health issues. “When thoughts are spinning and the pressure is high, stress monitoring and guided relaxation exercises are particularly important,” says Martinez. 

 

With the Oxa, the young entrepreneur wants to close a gap between the spiritual-esoteric health offerings like yoga and meditation, and conventional medicine which is strongly focused on curing, and less on prevention. 

 

 

 

Sleep-enhancing

 

“We use precisely measurable indicators and rely on exercises whose effectiveness has been scientifically tested.” 

 

In general, one could say that most people breathe too shallowly and too quickly, which results in our autonomic nervous system being permanently activated. 

 

Simple techniques such as the physiological sigh popularized by Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and tenured professor in the Department of Neurobiology at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, can cause blood pressure to be reduced and heart rate variability to increase within just a few weeks, says Martinez. 

 

To underline that Oxa provides better data than, for example, smartwatches, Martinez and his team work closely with sleep and sleep data respiratory specialists and university hospitals. 

 

Several cardiologists testify that Oxa technology measures heart rate just as accurately and reliably as the much more expensive ECG devices used in hospitals, which creates new perspectives for prevention. 

 

I am impressed by the smart technology generating such excellent ECG signal quality. These tracings are very much comparable to those which are used in the daily clinical settings of cardiology.” says Dr. Mehdi Namdar Cardiologist & Electrophysiologist, University Hospital Geneva. 

 

Dr. Martin Glöckler, Head of Pediatric Cardiology at the University Hospital Bern, Switzerland, says "We tested the 24h ECG quality and it did not differ from medical-grade adhesive electrodes. This technology is exciting.” 

 

One person who relied on the Oxa early on is Helena Hefti from Bern. As a free diver and instructor for breathing techniques such as WimHof and Buteyko, she was initially critical of Oxa because she had experienced too often that the products did not deliver what the marketing promised. Since then, Hefti has changed her mind. 

 

“With the Oxa, breathing trainer I appreciate that I receive precise biofeedback about my breathing directly on the screen and can easily check how individual relaxation exercises affect my sleep quality,” says the breathing expert. Hefti also works with customers who suffer from sleep problems. 

 

According to Hefti, when they go to a hospital bedroom to get to the bottom of the matter, they often cannot easily transfer their findings into everyday life.

 

 That's why it's valuable to be able to observe and improve the situation at home without much effort. Hefti herself now uses Oxa regularly to get a better insight into her breathing behavior. 

 

“We still know surprisingly little about something as fundamental as our breathing,” says the expert. For example, the breathing rate increases significantly when working at a computer screen, which increases the stress level. “Oxa makes such effects visible and shows us how we can take countermeasures.” 

 

Vincent Martinez is convinced that the topics of stress regulation and sleep quality will rapidly increase in importance. 

 

“Employers and insurance companies are also interested in avoiding costly illnesses and absences,” says the entrepreneur, making it clear that he believes an IPO within five years is realistic. 

 

But first the company, which has so far raised a good 14 million francs and currently employs 27 people, needs additional capital to improve the technology and open up new markets. 

 

In the near future, the Zurich start-up will launch a breathing training program with well-known American stress specialist Brian MacKenzie. Collaborations with global technology and textile brands are also planned. 

 

Our priority is to expand our customer base” says Vincent Martinez as he says goodbye and then adds: “So that we all stay healthy.”

 

Angelina Sarycheva
Published:
February 8, 2024

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Get the Oxa Sensor and your choice of garment - lounge-wear shirt, bra, or adjustable chest strap. Your purchase includes access to the Oxa app which gives personalized data summaries and insights, as well as access to breathing exercises to teach you how to harness the power of your own breath.