Technology I like – Zeo Sleep Manager 2/3/12

A couple months back, Zeo was kind enough to send me one of its sleep monitors to try. I’ve been using it off and on for about two months now so I think I’ve finally settled on my opinion of it.

For those that haven’t heard of Zeo, it is a sleep tracking and management tool. It has lots of additional features to capture sleep hygiene (caffeine intake, alcohol intake, etc.) as well as subjective mood and impression, both with sleep as well as through the day at at waking.

Tracking is done with a headband-mounted sensor. I wouldn’t describe it as comfortable, but it didn’t seem to affect my ability to fall and stay asleep, though it did make my wife laugh at me from time to time. The company offers two ways to interface with the headband – a bedside monitor (like a sleep-tracking alarm clock) and a mobile app. The bedside monitor is $149 and the mobile option is $99. Both include the headband and sensor.) I used the mobile (iPhone) version.

For the record, I thought before trying Zeo — and still think — that good, quality sleep is not one my strongest attributes. I stay up too late working and have little kids that seem to take turns waking up each night, with very few nights where they take the night off. To make matters worse, my wife is a medical resident, so typically gets up between 5 and 6 AM.

I was curious to quantify my sleep with what Zeo calls ZQ, or a score it generates based on the different factors of sleep. The factors are total sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep, time in wake, and times woken. According to Zeo, my ZQ is about 80, or pretty much average for my age compared to other Zeo users. This is probably not a perfect reflection of the population, as I think a certain type of person self-selects for the Zeo and that person is likely type A, meaning higher strung, higher stress, and less sleep.

My big gripe with the ZQ score is that it feels too inflated to me. Come to think of it, I’m not actually sure what the total possible ZQ is. I guess it doesn’t really matter but for me, anytime scores for anything hover from 70-90, I instantly assume it is a 100-point scale and then start assigning pass/fail to the scores.

I personally like when apps take advantage of the sensors to adjust display automatically for landscape or portrait.

In terms of the weighting of factors that go into the ZQ score, I’d like to see more penalty points for times woken and time awake. As an example, my average total sleep was 6:50 and this is worth 58 ZQ points. Add in points for REM and deep sleep and you have a decently high score. The detractors seem to be less heavily weighted. Waking up three times through the night only takes away 2 ZQ points and being awake 15 minutes only takes away 1 ZQ point. My subjective feeling is that these detractors affect my sleep quality and should be more heavily weighted. I’m not a sleep expert, but that’s my gut.

In addition to the automatic monitoring and sleep scoring, or ZQ, Zeo also collects subjective information, what it calls your sleep journal (pictured above) that Zeo can then use to provide virtual sleep coaching. What is shocking to me is that you have to go to the website to enter this information, all of which could be collected very quickly over mobile using slider bar-based questions. Being able to see your sleep score in the app is great, but why not allow mobile data entry as well? Because it wasn’t enterable in the app, I didn’t really use the journal much, which I think limited the power of Zeo.

Would I recommend it to a friend? Yes, if you like to quantify yourself or you feel like sleep is something that you want to improve. The key is that you need to be motivated, especially to use the web-based sleep journal, or it’s not worth it. I keep trying tools like this, wanting to collect info about myself, but then stop using them. I think the reason I can’t get hooked is my lack of motivation to collect data just to get back info that I already know (eat better, drink less caffeine and alcohol, exercise more, etc.) Maybe it is in part because the tools are not intuitive or fast enough at entering data? Maybe I’m just not into quantifying myself, as much as a I think I want to be.

I’d love to hear from others that have used this or other sleep monitors like the one from Fitbit or Lark or several others.

Travis Good is an MD/MBA involved with health IT startups. More about me.

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