In college at Brown University, Ben Rubin had an odd nighttime ritual. He would hook himself up to an old polysomnography machine, a refrigerator-size device that clinics use to diagnose sleep disorders. He wanted to create a wearable alarm clock that would measure brain activity and wake the user in an optimal phase of light sleep. Before he graduated, Rubin cofounded a company called Zeo, and in 2009 it began selling the first consumer device that detects the user’s phase of sleep.
The $200 device consists of a fabric headband with embedded sensors that pick up electrical signals from the brain and send them throughout the night to a base-station clock next to the bed. In the morning, the clock displays the amount of time spent in light, deep, and REM sleep; the number of awakenings during the night; and a score that incorporates all these values into a single number. Accompanying software provides suggestions to improve sleep quality, and users can further explore their sleep data on Zeo’s website.
Zeo’s sleep monitor is one of a growing number of consumer tools designed to monitor health and fitness, and Rubin has become an advocate for the idea that people can take more control of their health. “These tools give people the ability to do that,” he says. “People don’t value sleep as they should.” —Emily Singer