I'm still waiting for the technology that finally does away with my need to sleep. But since I do need my nightly dose (I've tried going without, and it's ugly), I'd like to make sure I'm doing it as efficiently as possible. A new device called the Zeo promises to help stamp out bad sleep and wasted time in bed, by bringing deep analysis of sleep patterns, formerly the province of professional sleep laboratories, into the home.
The Zeo comes in two parts: a bedside unit that looks like an alarm clock, with a handsome blue-on-black vacuum-fluorescent display; and a headband with a fairly low-profile black box mounted on its front. Strap on the headband before bed, and as you sleep, it wirelessly transmits data about your brainwaves to the bedside unit. In the morning, the Zeo gives you a "ZQ" rating -- a score for your night's sleep ranging from 0 to 120. The concept is simple, but having a quantitative measure of sleep quality that you can keep an eye on over a period of time is a boon to those who want to keep an eye on their nights; one of the traditional problems with sleep, of course, is that you're not conscious to observe it firsthand.
During the night, the Zeo's display shows a real-time graph of your sleep, showing phases of wakefulness, light sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep, and "signal could not be acquired" (this is when the headband fell off). There's something fascinating, and oddly reassuring, about waking up and seeing a nice chart of what you've been doing for the last few hours while you've been knocked out.
The Zeo includes a regular alarm clock function, albeit with a rather annoying choice of wake-tones to choose from; and also what it calls SmartWake mode. In this mode, it keeps an eye on your sleep cycles and wakes you at some point within half an hour or so prior to your set alarm time, when it thinks your brain is most amenable to being woken. This may be just the thing for some people, but I'm not a fan. Like the Sleeptracker watch, which I've also tested and set aside, it seems to consistently want to wake me as early as possible: if I set my target time for 8 am, with a 45-minute window, the buzzer sounds at 7:15 every morning. I'm sure it's just me.
All the data can be uploaded to myzeo.com, where a fairly attractive online software package allows you to track and chart all the fascinating details of your sleep. You can plot graphs correlating quality of sleep against day of the week or bedtime; and, if you fill in the optional sleep-journal data, against factors like alcohol consumption and how tired you felt in the morning. Strapping sensors to your head, letting them scan your brain every night, and uploading the data to the web won't appeal to the mind-control paranoiacs among us, of course.
For those who want it, the web site takes the hand-holding even further, with a 7-step personalized "sleep fitness" coaching program that makes specific prescriptions about areas you need to work on in your pursuit of better sleep. (The purchase of the $399 device includes six months of access to the coaching site; if you still need more, $99 buys an additional six months.) As for me, I'm content with the small glow (a glow of pride, I'm sure, not just of well-restedness) that I feel when the machine tells me I scored a 114 last night.
114! Beat that.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.