David Zax

A View from David Zax

An App to Help You Sleep Better

By measuring your brain waves and tracking your sleep phases, Zeo’s data helps you sleep more soundly–assuming you follow its advice.

  • October 11, 2011

We tend to think of sleep as a pretty low-tech experience. The pillow is, and will likely remain, a decidedly non-digital device. But a company called Zeo thinks that technology can be used to improve not just our daily life, but our nightly one as well. It has developed an app that, together with a headset, measures your brain activity to track the amount of time you spend in different sleep stages.

The idea behind the app is to give you data that will help you get a better night’s sleep. In particular, Zeo co-founder, and TR35 winner Ben Rubin told Reuters, “you want to optimize to get as much REM and deep sleep as possible,” sleep stages that scientists say are more restorative. (Zeo has a scientific advisory board with the requisite impressive affiliations: Harvard, Northwestern, UC Boulder. Plus this guy.) At the end of the night, Zeo will give you a “ZQ Sleep Score” telling you just how well you slept–though that’s probably something you already have an intuitive sense of.

Though the app itself is free, the app alone is useless. You’ll need to buy the headband that syncs with the app, and that’ll set you back $99. That headband (with charge dock) will ship on October 26th. The app works with both iOS and Android.

Zeo has actually been at consumer sleep monitoring for a while, only with a bedside unit rather than a smartphone app. Watch a video about the original Zeo system here. Back when David Pogue first reviewed the Zeo bedside system, in 2009, it cost $400. Now it’s $149. In addition to the online store, you can also buy Zeo at Best Buy this fall, or in Apple Stores in Europe.

The Reuters report alluded to the fact that “not everyone” is convinced of Zeo’s data’s accuracy. Rubin claims that Zeo is 7/8 as accurate as a high-tech sleep lab. But evaluating sleep apparently has a degree of subjectivity; he also said that two sleep experts scoring the same record would only agree with each other 83% of the time.

Rubin first had the idea for Zeo back in 2003, while a junior at Brown. As he told Wired, “The famous words that I eat kind of continuously, I said I can have this done by the end of Christmas break - this was in September 2003 - and it took a solid 4 1/2 years from conception to launch.”

OK, so Zeo tracks your sleep data–but what does it actually do to make you sleep better and feel more refreshed? One of the coolest things it does is wake you at the ideal moment in your sleep cycle. “If you actually look at how someone can feel refreshed in the morning, you want to know their REM sleep, deep sleep, their light sleep and you’re able to map the optimal wake up time within a certain window,” Rubin told Wired.

The other thing Zeo offers is a coaching program that urges you along the path to a lifestyle that promotes better sleep. It’s pretty obvious stuff–exercise more, drink less coffee–but with data backing it up, the advice takes on a certain gravity it might otherwise lack. You don’t want to have that embarrassingly low “ZQ Sleep Score” all your life, do you?

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