You know nothing about nearly a third of your life. Sure, you think you have some sense of how you sleep, but you really don’t. We’re notoriously inaccurate in estimating how long it takes us to fall asleep, how long we’re awake in the middle of the night, how long we dream and how much deep sleep we get. And the total hours you sleep are only one factor of many in determining the quality of that sleep and the restorative effect it will have on you. Even worse, if you want to improve the quality of your sleep, all you’ve got to go on is general advice, while the one thing we know about sleep is that we’re all different.
What you need is data. That’s what Zeo provides. It’s a clock-radio-sized device that sits on your bedside table, with a comfortable wireless headband that you wear while you sleep. The headband measures electrical signals from your brain and can distinguish between four states: awake, light sleep, REM sleep and deep sleep. The base station records all this, and displays all the data in easy to understand charts, as well as recording it on a SD card that you can plug into a computer to upload to a very good website for tracking and analysis. (It’s also a great alarm clock, which can wake you at the time when you’re most ready to wake, which may be some minutes before the set time)
I was given a Zeo when it first came out last year, and I’m hooked. I knew I was a poor sleeper who is plagued by too-vivid dreams, but here’s what I found out with Zeo: 1) I get very little deep sleep (often less than 10%), which is the most restorative type. My wife, meanwhile, usually gets more than 25% deep sleep over the same period. 2) When I think I’m tossing and turning all night, I’m usually not. The wake periods are typically short, and I am actually asleep between them. 3) There are simple things I can do to improve my sleep, even if I’m not sleeping any more hours.
To that last point, Zeo is all about running experiments on yourself. Take a couple weeks of baseline data to measure day-of-week cyclicality, and then start changing things. For me, the difference between one glass of wine and two a night is an average of five points of “ZQ” score (I average around 80). Cutting off screens (email, web, even reading on the iPad) a half-hour before bed and turning to a paper book also adds about five points. I’d hoped that exercise would add to my score, but it didn’t. Three milligrams of melatonin before bed has a small but positive impact, which may well just be the placebo effect. 11:30 is better for me than 12:00, but 11:00 is no better than 11:30. And so on.
If you’d like better sleep and want to be smart about how you go about it, Zeo is the perfect tool. And even if you don’t have one, subscribe to the Zeo blog, which is full of smart data- and science-driven advice and discussion about sleep quality and how to improve it.
[Wired's Chris Anderson graciously wrote a review of the Zeo that several commenters mentioned, replacing the previously reviewed and now unrecommended WakeMate. --OH]
A Zeo user’s graph tracks his experiment with polyphasic sleep patterns