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WashU Alumni Venture, Dawn Health, Helps People Overcome Insomnia

Cynthia Chong (BU'25)
January 12, 2022

60 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders annually. Rahul Shivkumar (BS ‘16) is no exception. Following his diagnosis of chronic insomnia, he met with numerous physicians and ate prescription sleeping pills, which he described as “[taking] a toll on my mental health.” It was only after a year of trial and error did he find a solution to his medical condition: “I finally discovered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I), which was more effective than any medication.” 

That’s when Shivkumar, along with Varun Krishnamurthy (BS ‘16), decided to co-found their San Francisco-based venture Dawn Health, an app that uses evidence-based CBT-I to help patients overcome insomnia. According to Dawn Health’s website, CBT-I is the “first-line treatment for insomnia recommended by the American Academy for Sleep Medicine.” 

Following a 5-minute preliminary questionnaire, users are paired with a personal sleep coach who creates a personalized program and guides users through cognitive and behavioral techniques to improve their sleep. The app takes a three-pronged approach to treat insomnia:

  • CBT-I lessons that promote healthy sleeping habits.
  • Daily insights that measure key factors affecting sleep.
  • 1:1 sleep coaching. 

Drawing inspiration from his own experience, Shivkumar says, “Our mission at Dawn is to build the new standard of care for insomnia treatment.” Users agree on the app’s effectiveness: the website boasts glowing reviews, including Kevin Lin, the co-founder of video game streaming platform Twitch. Most users begin to see results as soon as three months.  

Dawn also strives to be the most accessible insomnia treatment. Its subscription cost of $60/month is lower than alternatives like sleep clinics, therapists, and prescription medication. Users can also access the app anywhere, anytime. 

Although Shivkumar and Krishnamurthy founded Dawn Health in June 2020, the app has already treated hundreds of patients to date. Their next steps are “focusing on our patients and building an app experience that has great health outcomes for diverse patient populations,” Shivkumar says. “We are working with experts in the behavioral sleep medicine space to improve the program outcomes … the next few months will be dedicated to expanding the team and iterating the product based on patient and domain expert feedback.” The venture hopes to scale up and treat thousands of patients per month.

Reflecting upon his ties with WashU, Shivkumar says, “I was a part of WashU Tech Entrepreneurs (WUTE) all of my years at WashU. The group was foundational to helping me meet ambitious friends that I’m still in touch with to this day!” He was also part of The Hatchery, a course where students get the opportunity to pursue their own business ideas or support others’ pitches. “I felt [the class] was a great primer for understanding the fundamentals of a business and how investors view companies,” Shivkumar expresses.  

You can sign up for Dawn on the Dawn Health website.