I’m tired. I’m old and I’m groggy and mentally slow. I don’t get enough exercise, or family time, and I’m sick too often. I don’t perform my best at work, or anywhere else, and I’m grumpy when I don’t mean to be and it’s all largely because I’m so damn tired. Next year, I want to get a better night’s sleep. Maybe you do too. The $US99 Zeo Mobile can help.
Sleep is so strange and mysterious. Why do we need it? It’s restorative, sure, but on a fundamental evolutionary level it’s such a weird process. Why should I have to power down every night? Go without it for an extended duration, and you basically go nuts. Get too little of it over time, and you become fatigued and ineffective. Get too much and you waste your life away. What’s the deal?
So, it’s little wonder that we’re under a deluge of sleep tracking services. The Fitbit, Sleep Cycle, Path, and the Jawbone UP all spent much of last year trying to count your Zzzzzz’s. One of the newest entries is the Zeo Mobile, which is a more portable, smartphone-based version of its bedside sleep monitoring system.
So what’s it tracking? And how does it track?
Most sleep trackers use a simple accelerometer to calculate REM sleep, assuming that you are dreaming as you are moving. Zeo does things a little differently. The headband measures brain activity as you sleep. That helps it break down your important sleep stages: REM, deep and light sleep. (Interestingly, the company also has an accelerometer in the Zeo Mobile, but it’s not in use yet.)
Every night, as you go to bed, you place an adjustable headband around your noggin and fire up the Zeo app on your phone (iOS and Android only for now). Throughout the night, the headband tracks your sleep stages and quality and sends that data to your phone via Bluetooth. The app will automatically upload everything to Zeo’s website, where you can dive even deeper into your sleep data.
The mobile app (and to an even greater extent website) makes understanding all this really easy and interesting. It visualises your sleep each night, segmenting it up moment-by-moment into color-coded bands for deep sleep, light sleep, REM sleep and wakefulness. Green is good; red is bad. Easy!
It also scores each night’s sleep with a Zeo Quotent, or ZQ, score. The ZQ is a little bit of science and a little bit of marketing. But it’s a quick, easy way to gauge your sleep each night, and there’s an age and gender-based dataset for you to compare your ZQ with other averages.
It even has a smart alarm. Choose a time you’d like to wake up, and give it a time window (like 15 or 30 minutes) and the Zeo will monitor your brain waves to find the best time to wake you based on when you are in your lightest sleep cycle closest to your target wake time.
But mostly, this thing is about data. And there was a lot of interesting data to uncover. For example, I found that although it can take me several hours to hit my first REM sleep cycle during the night, when I nap I tended to tap into it right away, and stay in it just about the entire time. This propensity for the body to drop into REM quickly during naps was something I’d read about before in relation to polyphasic sleep, but seeing it take place with my own body made a strong argument for the occasional nap when I don’t get a good night’s sleep.
I also saw proof of something I’d thought for a long time — it takes me an inordinately long time to go to sleep at night. It was often 45 minutes or more from the time I turned on the Zeo and out the lights until I was actually snoozing.
The great thing about learning all this is that it’s not only interesting, it’s largely actionable. Zeo has an online coaching program that helps your analyse the sleep you are getting, and make lifestyle changes accordingly. This component is something that’s all too often missing from, well, all kinds of biofeedback tracking devices. I found that I don’t get a great amount of deep and REM sleep. Some of that is probably booze-related. Some of it probably has to do with the baby monitor beside my bed. Some of it has to do with checking my email right before I go to bed. I loved that it helped me understand not only what was happening, but why and how to change it.
Still. There were several things I wasn’t crazy about. The most obvious thing is that wearing a headband to bed every night is a little off-putting. It was surprisingly comfortable, I expected it to be more awkward. But I was always aware of it. And worse, so was my partner. It’s not a sexy look.
But moreover it has connectivity problems. I mean that in two senses of the word. You’ve got to seat the headphone on its base exactly right for it to charge up. If you’re off, even by a little bit, it won’t charge. This means that sometimes after you put it on and got to sleep it dies in the night, leaving you with incomplete sleep data.
I also had, on a couple of occasions, instances where my phone didn’t receive data from the headband at various points in the night. I’m not sure if this was a Bluetooth problem, or an issue with the headband not being on my forehead properly, or what. But there were gaps.
And finally: I’m a little weirded out by wearing a Bluetooth antenna right on my skull all night long. Hey, that’s my brain!
Should I Buy This
Yes. By all means. Despite a few minor problems, it’s great and I expect it will only get better with time. Zeo tracks hard to capture data, shows it to you in an easily digestible manner and helps you understand and act on those numbers. And it does it all at a great price. It’s a very well-done health and wellness product, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone looking to improve his or her sleep patterns. Sweet dreams.
$99 [My Zeo]