Do you ever lie in bed, unable to drift off, thinking of all those articles about how a lack of sleep is so bad for you? Ah, the tragic, sleepless cycle. Countless apps and even more gadgets promise to help you catch more Z’s, and fitness trackers claim to tally the number of hours you spend in slumber land. Sleep Number’s It Bed, a smart mattress, also promises to track your sleep and offer recommendations so you get more rest. We spent several months snoozing in the It Bed. Here’s what we thought.
Black boxes in a box
Like the many online mattress companies, Sleep Number will ship the It Bed to your home in a tall box. You can unfurl it atop a regular platform-style frame or buy Sleep Number’s base; the queen size is $499. It will take a bit to decompress. Usually that’s it for a mattress-in-a-box, but the It Bed has a few more steps. For one thing, you’ll want to make sure the mattress is facing the right way. (A somewhat easy-to-miss tag tells you which side is for your feet.)
The box also comes with some additional tech: an “ActiveComfort module” and a “power module.” The first has connectors on either side that attach to air hoses in a pocket at the foot of the bed. They’re color-coded, so you can make sure you’re hooking things up correctly. The hoses hook up to each side of the bed, so you and your partner can chose different firmness levels. Then you’re supposed to cram everything back into the pocket and head to the other end of the mattress. That’s fine, as long as you take a picture of label on the bottom of the black box; you’ll need it later. There you’ll find the cord for the second module, which you’ll attach and then plug into the wall. Now that your bed has power and pumps, you’re ready to download the iOS or Android app. Don’t put the sheets on yet.
When it feels just right, you’ve found your sleep number.
The app takes you through the pairing and calibration process. After giving it your personal deets (age, height, weight, and preferred number of hours of sleep), this is when you’ll need the number on the pump’s label. It will take a few minutes to inflate the bed. Then you hop on, and the bed starts decreasing in firmness. When it feels just right, you hit the button and voila, you’ve found your sleep number. If you overshot the mark, you’ll need to get out and re-inflate before trying again. Then you’re supposed to try it for 30 nights to get acclimated.
From changing your sleep number to reviewing your stats, everything happens in the app. Unlike with the Beautyrest Sleeptracker, a slim device that goes between your normal mattress and box spring, the tech is in the It Bed itself. Sensors collect data, including things like your heart rate, breathing rate, and movement. Obviously, none of this is a replacement for the diagnostic equipment at a sleep clinic; it’s aimed at those without sleep disorders. An algorithm analyzes the information provided to find your SleepIQ — a number that tells you how well you slept the night before. Much like the individual firmness levels, both people using the bed get their own SleepIQ scores. Initially, there would be whole nights where the bed wouldn’t record any sleep information, but we found this improved over the course of several months.
The It Bed can pair with fitness trackers such as Fitbits and some smart devices, such as a Nest thermostat. While it can figure in the information these sources provide, it can’t exactly communicate with them to make changes. If your SleepIQ is better on days you go for a run, the app can remind you, but it won’t adjust your thermostat to 66 degrees each night, even if that’s your ideal temperature for a great rest.
We used a Fitbit in conjunction with the mattress and found it had some issues pulling data from the tracker. Neither item nailed it when it came to pinpointing exactly when we fell asleep. If we read in bed for an hour, it would peg a few minutes after we got under the covers as the start of our sleep. (One of the things the app tells you is how long it thinks it took you to fall asleep.) It was generally good at knowing when we woke up, though. On a day we worked from the bed, fighting a cold, it clocked our “in bed” time at 14 hours, 28 minutes. The overall SleepIQ score was a 39, as much of that time was “restless,” but we still apparently logged 11 hours and 46 minutes of sleep.
A daily graph shows your “restless” times. A green bar is interspersed with yellow blocks, indicating the times you might not have been fully asleep. There isn’t a lot more information provided, though. Was it a noise that woke you up? The cat jumping on the bed? While the microphone-less It Bed wouldn’t pick up sounds, it might be able to register an extra six-pound weight suddenly plopping on the mattress. The graph’s red blocks show when you’re out of bed, which is maybe good for sleepwalkers? The day’s stats also include your average heartbeats and breaths per minute. A monthly view gives your average SleepIQ score and averages of your restful and restless sleep, time out of bed, and breaths and beats per minute.
The mattress couldn’t tell the difference between sleeping and reading.
Just how often you’ll look at these numbers probably depends on the kind of person you are. If you constantly track your steps, weight, and other health data, this might be interesting to you. Otherwise, you might see your scores hover around a certain number and quit checking in. Chances are, you won’t need an app to tell you when you’ve gotten a terrible night’s sleep. The app does want you to keep coming back, though, by offering sleep tips that seem fairly common sense – like suggesting you keep your bedroom a bit cool and listing foods that contain tryptophan.
The truth is we didn’t notice a huge difference in firmness between, say, 50 and 100. The It Bed starts off kind of squishy and only gets softer. After a few months, we had an issue with one side of the mattress: It kept deflating like a leaky air mattress. We spent some time on the phone with Sleep Number trying to troubleshoot the cause, switching around hoses and re-inflating. We never quite figured out what was wrong (Sleep Number swapped us for a new mattress), but there is a huge difference between a sleep number of 100 and five, let us tell you.
The It Bed does offer a bit more versatility than a standard, one-firmness-fits-all mattresses you get from online retailers. But that firmness isn’t reactive. It’s not going to inflate or deflate based on your SleepIQ. That’s something Sleep Number promises with its more-expensive 360 bed. It has a motion sensor that attaches to your pillow — meaning you can toss it aside pretty easily during private times. If you don’t want the It Bed tracking your every motion, you’ll need to unplug it or put it in “privacy mode.” Sleep Number may anonymize and keep your data private, but it could be weird to find your “sleep” marked as restless Saturday nights, Sunday mornings, or whenever.
In terms of price, adding the pump and sensors makes the It Bed only a bit more expensive than Leesa or Casper. A queen-size It Bed is $1,099, while Leesa costs $940 and Casper costs $950. That’s not too much more than buying a $100 Beautyrest tracker in addition to an unconnected mattress. If you want the details on your every toss and turn, the It Bed will give you a fuller picture than a fitness tracker alone.