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Hands on with the Zeo Mobile Sleep Manager

We got a first look at the Zeo Sleep Manager system ($100) a couple weeks ago and decided that we had to get our hands on it to see just how well this thing works. The “manager” consists of a Bluetooth-enabled motion-sensing headband, a bedside charging dock, and a free app for iPhone or Android devices. All together, this system helps bring you scientific information on your sleep, ensures that you wake up at the optimal time in your sleep cycle, and lets you see patterns in sleep habits that might help you improve your sleep quality over time. We tested one out to see just how well it measures your sleep and whether the SmartWake alarm really helps you wake up brighter and more bushy-tailed. 

The system uses TruTrack technology along with the Soft Wave sensor headband, both based on sleep science and research, to track how much you sleep and whether the sleep you actually are getting is good restorative sleep, or less-restorative light sleep. Amazingly, the sensor headband can detect which stage of sleep you are in (wake, light, REM, or deep) based on movement and then transmits that information wirelessly to your smartphone. After you’ve slept a night with the sensor headband on, you’ll be able to see a full bar graph of your night’s sleep, including how much time you got in each stage and what times of the night you were in each cycle. That information is also wirelessly transmitted to your user account on Zeo’s Website, where you can add more information in your sleep journal to see long-term patterns and in turn, improve your own sleep. After a night of sleep with the Zeo headband on, users can simply rest the headband in the charging dock and the headband will be ready to go by the time you’re ready to sleep again. 

We tested out the Zeo Sleep Manager system for a solid week so that we could give you our own impressions on just how well the system accomplishes its goals and whether it’s a worthwhile investment for you. Our overall conclusion is that the Zeo system is very good at what it does, but that may not be as valuable to some as it is to others. We’ll explain why. 

First off, we found setting up the Zeo incredibly easy. I plugged in the docking station so it could sit on a bedside table, placed the headband in the charging spot and waited until the green light was no longer flashing. I then downloaded the free app that goes along with the system and input settings like my desired alarm time and whether I wanted to use the SmartWake alarm or not. After that, turn Bluetooth on on your smartphone and you’re good to go. The headband felt a little strange at first, mostly because I’d never worn a headband to bed before, but once I actually fell asleep I didn’t notice it at all. The SmartWake alarm woke me at 6:38 in the morning, about 40 minutes earlier than I would normally get up, but I felt surprisingly awake and it was not difficult to get out of bed. The assumption is that I felt better because the SmartWake alarm woke me at the most optimal time (within 20 minutes of my alarm, per the settings options) in my sleep cycles. 

When I reached for my iPhone, the app was ready for me with a ZQ sleep score and a surprisingly detailed bar graph of how I had slept that night. The sleep score breaks down how much time you had in Deep, REM, Light, or Wake and gives you the number of minutes or hours you spent in each cycle. The more Deep sleep you get, the higher your score. This is mostly used to help individuals determine what they feel is their optimal sleep score, which they can then aim for. My average sleep score for the week was 93, but I felt best after a nice 8.5-hour sleep that gave me a score of 100.

To make the most of your sleep graphs, you can log on to your Zeo account online every morning and enter information about last night’s sleep, including if you felt any anxiety when you went to bed, how much caffeine you had that day, or whether you exercised before bed. By doing this one extra step, users can begin to see correlations between lifestyle factors and sleep patterns over time. I didn’t use the Zeo long enough to notice any patterns, but I did notice that I get the most deep sleep in the first half of the night, meaning I should probably be extra careful not to interrupt those hours of sleep. 

For most people, the most useful part of this system at first will be the SmartWake alarm. While it can’t help you get more hours of sleep, it uses the information transmitted by your sensor headband to set the alarm off at just the right time so that you feel more rested and awake. We found that even if it woke us up earlier than we had planned, it was always easier to get up with the Zeo system than with our alarm set at a specific time that was the same every day. The usefulness of the actual sleep tracking and sleep graphs will likely come after a month or two of using the system; at first the charts are more interesting than useful. But like they say, information is power. 

That brings us to our conclusion about the Zeo Sleep Manager system. We found that the Zeo system did everything it intended to extremely well and seemed to be very accurate. It also helped us wake up more refreshed and without the feeling that we could be right back into our dreams if we just put our head back on the pillow. The catch is whether having a smarter alarm system and possibly being able to improve your sleep quality over time (with information from the graphs, seeing patterns, etc.) is worth the $100 price tag to you. If you don’t have any sleep issues, we’d probably say it might not be worth it. But, if you’re someone who sleeps 7-8 hours a night but still wakes up tired, we would definitely recommend this system to help you wake up more easily and figure out what your “sleep stealers” are and how you can improve the hours of sleep that you get. 

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