Need Sleep? Can Zeo Help?



So, do you get enough sleep?

Many Cranky Fitness readers have probably come to loathe that question. You guys tend to be well-informed, health conscious, and busy (not to mention clever, kind and adorable). And the answer to "do you get enough sleep" may frequently be "no, goddamn it, I don't!"  Yet you've already read the grim statistics on how screwed you are, in 87 different ways, if you're prone to insomnia.  And you've googled for sleep hygiene tips and you've tried most of the suggestions at some point or other and you still can't sleep.

Yet strangely enough, scaring the pants off of people by detailing all the dire health consequences of not sleeping is a really crappy way to help them drop off when they are staring at their ceilings at 3 a.m.!

So fear not, those of you who are sleep-deprived. This review of the Zeo sleep coaching system is custom-crafted to avoid making you feel any worse if you are not sleeping, and it will not pester you with suggestions you already know.

Now what the heck is a Zeo, what does it do, and should you think about springing for one? 



The Zeo Review, short version:

What it is:  The Zeo is a gadget that "tracks the quality of your sleep and then gives you a personalized assessment and expert advice to help you improve it." It has a headband that monitors what kind of sleep you're getting... none, light, deep or REM. It sends that information to either your smartphone or a bedside monitor, which then syncs with your computer to give you access to data and personalized email coaching on how to improve your sleep.

How much: If you are not lucky enough to be the beneficiary of a health blog review opportunity, the Zeo starts at $99 for the version that works with your smartphone, up to a $149 version that has its own bedside monitor. (Disclosure: my Zeo was provided for free).

Would Crabby recommend you buy it?  Yes she most certainly would!!!!  The technology was impressive, and a lot of thought has gone into the coaching and the website.  It can't magically deliver you sleep, and accuracy is not 100% perfect, but over time it does an excellent job of helping you figure out exactly how well or poorly you're sleeping and what factors might be at play.  Whether you then take their suggestions and implement them... well that's up to you, but the Zeo breaks it down into simple steps and helps a lot with motivation.

Tired of Counting Sheep?

 Seriously, three? That's all ya got?


Great Things About Zeo:

There is a ton of helpful data on the stages of your sleep cycle delivered in a useful way.

Because here's the thing: REM and deep sleep are the most restorative cycles, but how do you know if you're getting enough?  Especially if you feel like crap even after logging enough hours in the sack, it could be that something your doing is screwing around with your most precious and beloved sleep cycles.

With the Zeo thingy, you can see each night's sleep in detail:



This was a crappy night.  See all that orange? Orange is not what you want to see.

And here was a much better night:



Hmm, still a lot of orange but... wait, nine hours of sleep Crabby? Seriously? Don't you have anything better to do?

And that brings me to the next cool thing about the data, which is that you can look at your sleep history over time, and can exclude nights from coaching that were too weird for one reason or another.

As it happens, in my case, they're ALL pretty weird; I consistently alternate between crappy nights and good nights.  My average is pretty average, but I arrive at it in a really bizarre fashion.

Ability to Track Factors that May Affect Your Sleep:


There's a journal that is pretty quick and easy to do each day. It's customizable, yet works by asking multiple choice questions so you can zip right through it.  You can also take notes on things unique to your situation that you'd like to experiment with. Eventually you can graph how factors like coffee consumption, night time activities, etc, are impacting your sleep, and you can get an intuitive feel pretty quickly once you start paying attention. Does your afternoon green tea mess with your REM?  Does doing HIIT in the morning mean more deep sleep at night? These are issues you can investigate if you are as obsessive curious as I am.

Email Coaching:  I'm only in stage two of seven stages, but I'm finding this to be a great feature.  This is a slow, thorough, long-term approach to improving sleep, so it goes one factor at a time, giving suggestions and helping you note if they help. These include resources like relaxation mp3's and sleep research articles and questionnaires.

It's easy to let even things you "know" might affect your sleep slide, but when you have an email full of targeted information and suggestions, it helps provide motivation to actually implement some of the tips you've been ignoring.

Early Triumph: For example, I used to use white noise machine to drop off at night, but let that routine slide once I discovered that my Sharper Image white noise machine was making me psychotic. But a Zeo reminder about the whole issue got me to haul out an old boom box and play a lovely waterfall mp3 for an hour, and voila, it cut my drop-off time dramatically.  Was this new info? No!  But was I motivated enough before to use that knowledge? No! So thanks, Zeo!

Comfort and Ease of Use: A few quibbles below, but overall, it was much simpler to use than I feared and once I got used to the headband I didn't even notice I was wearing it.

Alarm: There is an alarm function that's supposed to "wake you at the optimal point in your sleep cycle." I haven't tried it yet, but sounds nifty if it works!

Online resources: There are lots of these, including Zeo community forums, a knowledge center where you can get advice from experts, a blog, and special resources for hackers/developers.

Customer Support: I had a couple of questions and emailed them and they got back to me.  It seems there are actual live humans involved in this operation!

Integration: There's a free app available called Withings Health Companion that will integrate Zeo data with information from other biometric devices or tracking systems like RunKeeper, BodyMedia Fit, and Withings smart scales and blood pressure monitors.

Price: I'm pretty sure these things used to be quite a bit more expensive--I'd been curious but was waiting for the price to drop. Now that they're $99 bucks for the kind of technology that rivals an uncomfortable and expensive night in a sleep lab, I'd say Zeo is a bargain.


What Could Be Improved:

Ah yes, always with the whining!  But this is Cranky Fitness after all.

Ability to track custom factors: You can take notes on each night, and theoretically can track a couple more custom factors in your graphing. But you can't set the name of the factor or specify what the values mean, making it pretty useless, at least for me. You just get generics like "Environment 1" which didn't work well for my interest in noting what sort of exercise or dietary factors might be affecting my sleep.

Help with Neurofeedback and Lucid Dreaming: I found it frustrating that given the machine was tracking brainwaves and knew when I was dreaming, that there is no way I could discover to harness this information for purposes other than straightforward vanilla sleep monitoring.  I like to PLAY with my toys!

Accuracy:  Well, it's not 100% --there were a couple of nights where I drifted right off but Zeo had me twiddling my thumbs for an hour. But then the accuracy of a sleep lab isn't 100% either.  Sometimes brainwave patterns are difficult to interpret.

Also, the Zeo uses a sampling algorithm rather than running continuously, so if you have sleep apnea, it may not catch it.

But if you use Zeo over time to look at patterns, accuracy on any one night becomes less of a factor.  Overall, the data seemed consistent with my subjective impressions and the Zeo folks have some impressive validation studies to back up the accuracy of their device.

The headband may take getting used to: The first few nights I had it either too tight, giving me a headache, or too loose, in which case it failed to record.  But I settled in after a few nights.

Need for replacement headbands: A replacement headband with new sensors costs $20, or 3 for $50; they recommend replacement every 90 days. This seems somewhat of an expensive pain in the ass. but it may be that continuous use of Zeo isn't necessary once you've gone through the 7 steps.  And in that case periodic bouts of $20 tweaking may well be worth the price.


So, how do you all sleep?  Would you be willing to don a headband to discover what your brain waves get up to at night, or would you prefer not to know?

Cartoon: Someecards.com; Sheep by Graphics Fairy; I forget where I found the coffee cup, sorry!

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