Okay, you caught us. We've been sleeping on the job, but only because we want to help you, dear reader, to get a better night's sleep and ease out of bed the next day, no worse for the wear. Come along with us into the world of sleep-enhancing and wakeup gadgets, where there are snake-oil salesmen trying to sell you a sack of goods, and others peddling products that actually work. We're here to help, testing out this stuff, subjectively determining which of these devices are legit, and which ones merely add pointless bells and whistles to your nightly cycle. Here we separate the best from the rest, searching for the perfect devices to help us sleep, perchance to dream.
We'll rate each product with Z's, with five Z's (ZZZZZ) being a complete relaxation-inducing miracle, and one Z leaving us frustrated and tired. 1. Pzizz: Available in either software-only ($29.95) or in a attractively-designed mp3 player ($147), Pzizz talks you into sleep or a nap, but frankly, the voiceover announcer was just distracting. Akin to hypnosis, he coos you into slumberland with a duration you can set, telling you to wake you up at the end, after which an alarm sounds. He seriously says: "Thoughts are just thoughts and not reality," while so-called soothing music plays. Worst of all, he kept mentioning my body, pronouncing it "baw-dee." Maybe with the voice turned off, some sleepers might find the new-agey music soothing, but for me, uh, no. Too distracting. Rating: Z [Pzizz]
2. NeverLate Executive Alarm: I never considered sleeping to be a group sport—until I got married. This sophisticated $59.95 clock/radio can handle even the most complicated sleep schedules for two people. You can set seven different daily alarms, different times for different days of the week, and separate alarms for your special someone. It lets you plug in your music player via aux input, and you can augment its weak speakers with your choice of powered speakers out of its headphone jack. It's even sporting a USB port in the back, but alas, only to power devices such as those USB humping dogs; no data transfer. Its reverse backlight was too bright even on its dimmest setting. Even so, if you have complicated schedules, are a power napper or need complete control over your life, this is the clock/radio for you. Rating: ZZZ [American Innovative]
3. Roku SoundBridge Radio ($250) I've tried all kinds of clock radios and alarm clocks, but none are as unobtrusive as this Roku SoundBridge Radio. It does great things, such as connecting via Wi-Fi to your PC and streaming audio from there (but no AAC tunes from iTunes), or playing Internet radio stations from all over the world. But its best feature by far is its ability to slowly fade out its music when you go to sleep and ease into the music the next morning. That, combined with niceties such as kickass sound and a super-easy-to-use on-off/volume control, makes this a big winner and sleeper's friend. If it just had Sirius or XM satellite radio, it would be perfect. Rating: ZZZZ [Roku Labs]
4. Sleeptracker Pro: If you don't mind wearing a watch while you sleep, try this. It works with an on-board motion sensor, and by using proprietary algorithms it can tell if you're sleeping deeply (what researchers call "delta sleep"), or at a lighter stage. You assign it a 20-minute window to wake you up in the morning (or choose up to 90 minutes with this new Pro model), and it picks a time in that window when you're sleeping your lightest to wake you. At the end of that cycle, if it hasn't detected a light sleep cycle within your designated time window, it goes ahead and either awakens you to a vibrating alarm or a noisy one, your choice of one or both. We tested it on two subjects here at our Midwest Test Facility, and both found that it woke both of us up when our bodies were most ready for it, resulting in a more refreshed return to consciousness.
This past month, Sleeptracker introduced this Pro model we tested ($179), and you can now download each night's sleep data onto a PC. It can only store one night's data at a time, so you'll need to download that onto your PC each day. With the included software, you can then see how well you slept last night, statistically speaking. Check it out:
Notice in the six sleep sessions shown here (we tested it for 12), the hash marks indicate a light sleep phase, and the spaces between those marks are the deep sleep phases. We found it fascinating to see how well we slept all graphed up in front of us like that. That's right, the one who gets up at 6am is me, and all because of you fine readers. On one of the days, i got up at 6 but set the alarm for 10, and the result was wakeful dots added about every 8 minutes while I was working. So there it is, proof that I am indeed awake while writing!
This Sleeptracker actually works, picking just the right time to wake us up every morning. I also liked its quiet vibrating alarm, waking me up without disturbing my lovely wife. And, it's a kick to see exactly how well you slept, downloaded into your PC (sorry, no Mac version yet). No, the Sleeptracker's tricks can't totally make up for getting just six measly hours of sleep, but it made me feel way better than waking up to the SCREEE-SCREEE-SCREEE of ye olde clock/radio. Rating: ZZZZZ [Sleeptracker]