October 11, 2012

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!

32 comments:

  1. Does it have a button that makes a seven month old baby sleep like ... well ... something that isn't a baby? A cat, maybe? I think that would be the critical factor in improving my sleep pattern at the moment!

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    1. Ooh, that would be a useful button!

      Though careful with the cat wish... you wouldn't want your baby leaping up on you throughout the night and digging claws into your belly, something our cats were always prone to do.

      And that's so cool you have a (relatively) new addition to the Shadowduck household! Somehow I failed to realize this, so belated congrats!

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    2. What?! You don't keep tabs on the family lives of every single reader?! You haven't browsed through the 17,000 baby pictures on my Facebook page?! Crabby... Honestly. I'm not angry, not angry at all - I'm just very, very disappointed.

      #;-)

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  2. My sleep varies, but it is mostly okay. Whatever it is my brain waves get up to at night, I don't want to know. As long as they're still waving, it's cool.

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    1. Love that... may your brainwaves keep waving happily for many decades to come!

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  3. This seems like something that I would love to have just for the "wow" factor. How cool would it be to track your brainwaves! I thought this was something that could only be done in some scientific environment (and I've always wondered how people fall asleep in those atmospheres...)

    VERY cool!

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  4. At this point, i'm often so sleepy, i don't want to know! Besides, i'm up for middle of the night feedings of orphaned kittens, and nothing Zeo could do about that.

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    1. OK, those Zeo development folks definitely need some sort of kitten and baby feature, though something that can get up and feed wailing felines or humans without waking the person underneath the headband would take some clever engineering!

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  5. I usually sleep pretty well, and considering I already wear a bite plate and ear plugs, I'm not sure I'd want to add a head band to the mix. Getting ready to sleep at night already seems like a bit of a production.

    Husband & I have been using the Sleep Time app on our smart phones. It's interesting, but I don't necessarily find it that useful. That said, I am basically just using it to look at the analysis every morning. Sleep Time is also supposed to wake you at the optimal point in your sleep pattern, but since I sleep with ear plugs, that doesn't really work for me.

    Fun story though: The first night I figured there was no point in setting the alarm, since I wouldn't hear it. Husband said "Set it anyway!" So I chose bird song as my alarm, because I figured if I actually could choose a sound to wake up to, that would be one I'd enjoy. As predicted, I slept right through it, but my husband was entertained by our cats instantly waking and searching desperately for birds in the bedroom.

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    1. OK, now an alarm that summons cats with bird chirping seems like a very entertaining way to wake up!

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  6. I was very interested until I got to the $20 replacement headbands. A freebie with ongoing costs...not so exciting. Also, I have doubts I could adjust to the headband, since they give me headaches when awake nowadays. But home technology is always exciting!

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

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    1. Still worth it to me because I figure I can learn a LOT in 90 days, and if I need occasional tweaking after that I should be able to afford an occasional $20 bucks. But I'm with you, I love tech gadgets!

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  7. I find my sleep quality is directly dependent on how much crap I eat. Also those tiny human beasts that share my house. (Um, not so tiny anymore...) If I could get the near 3 year old to sleep through the night more than 2 nights in a row I'd be in heaven. Oldest is an amazing sleeper though. In fact, we have 2 distinct sleep styles in our house. Son and hubby fall alseep in minutes and sleep forever. (Son averages 11 hours a night, hubby would like that but averages 9.) Daughter and I take longer to drift off and don't stay under nearly as long (she averages 9-10, me about 7).

    Zeo sounds interesting! Sleep science fascinates me. And while I don't suffer insomnia, my office mate does so I'm sending him over here.

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    1. Oops, sorry, thought I replied to this earlier... maybe I need more sleep?

      Interesting that the guys in your house are such championship snoozers! And hmm, I'll have to investigate and see if junkier eating days are having a negative impact, thanks for the tip!

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  9. I'd be curious to see what kind of quality sleep I get after finishing off "Fifty Shades of Grey" before bedtime. ;)

    Heather McGraw
    www.TheFitIt.com

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    1. Ha! Would love to see the REM activity that night!

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  10. Craziness! Who know something like this existed?! To be honest, I am not sure I want to know what my patterns look like. :) But then again, it is totally fascinating.

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    1. As long as the headband can't access my actual thoughts... but I'm betting some day that's coming too!

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  11. Weirdly, my one real talent in life is being able to pass out, er, fall asleep anytime anywhere. knock on wood, I've never had to deal with insomnia but I've seen the toll it takes on people in my life so I'm glad that stuff like this exists to help!

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    1. Good for you, the ability to conk out at will is indeed a useful talent! Though lets check back in a few decades... :)

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  12. I'm really having hard time when sleeping.I think this zeo can help me.I'll get this one.

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    1. And I, in return, will think about eating more jicama!

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  13. I can fall asleep just fine...it's waking up and staying awake two to three hours later that gets old. I've tried ALL KINDS of things and the only thing that works is either a drug like Xanax (which I don't to take) or an over-the-counter product like Zzzquil (basically Benedryl) I chalk it up to perimenopause as I used to sleep like a champion. I am also getting acupuncture, which has helped me in a variety of other ways, especially with anxiety, but so far it hasn't helped me sleep. I am not sure I'd have the patience to do the whole Zeo process, but it is intriguing. Oh, and I have a great before-bed routine, I don't watch TV at all, I turn off my computer/phone a good hour before bed, and so on and so forth.

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    1. I definitely think hormones can mess with us! I too was a champ at sleeping until perimenopause.

      Good luck with the middle of the night awakenings, those are such a pain!

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  14. Dear Crabby - one of the best posts ever!!! And on one of the subjects I like most!! Second favorite was your link to one of your earlier posts about getting psychotic from white noise. Amen, sister! On old refrigerator did this to me for months. When the fridge went away - so did the 'radio' and 'voices'.

    Fran Lebowitz has an essay in her book, Social Studies, titled Why I Love Sleep. She says something like..."Sleep is like death, but without all the responsibility." How true! Blissful oblivion sans hangover or ill effects!!

    The prospect of a good night's sleep becomes something akin to the holy grail once you reach any age past 40. So - if you can log 9 hours, I say BRAVA!!! And - no, there is almost NOTHING better you could do with that time. Ok - some things of possibly equal importance, but not greater.

    And, just relax you 20 and 30 somethings reading my reply... While you THINK this will never happen to YOU, just wait....... First, you have a couple of tough nights (maybe spurred by thinking about work or an upset or something you watched on TV before bed)and you don't quite 'bounce back' the same way you did in college after an all-nighter; next decade, these little bouts become more frequent, you can't exactly nail down the cause, ("is it hormones? or the bad food I ate?" you ask). You start cutting back on afternoon caffeine. Before you know it, out comes the chamomille tea, hot milk and theta wave music CDs. Then - you are up at 3am wondering how long it will be before the morning paper arrives. Wait! No - no one gets newspapers these days... BUT - you DO start wondering whether it's too early to make noise; should I just turn on a light, get dressed and go to work?; or - is it too late to take a sleep aid?????

    So - heck YEAH, I'm gonna hop on line and see how to get me one of these! And I don't even care if they DO monitor my thoughts or anything else in there because it will still be totally worth it :):):):) Thanks so much, Crabby!

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    1. You crack me up!!!

      I especially hate the pre 4am thing; if it's after 4 I figure I can get up, but there's nothing worse than waking up hoping it might be close enough and it's like 2:15. Sigh.

      And now I'll have to go down and see if my refrigerator has anything to say on the subject!

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  15. Welllllllllllll... I used to sleep better but with age it has been a challenge... Honestly, I prefer not to know! ;-) I already know the friggin hormones are part of it! :-)

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    1. Sometimes ignorance is bliss! Or at least less irritating than knowledge.

      I actually found I was sleeping better than I thought I was, thank goodness.

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  16. One thing that I have found helping my sleep is taking a combination of ZMA and Valerian root before bed. I feel well rested and energetic the next day!

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    1. yes i agree on this while its really good about sleep, if you can sleep properly then your body will relax and you can comfortable with your work passage of time.
      Cyclogyl

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