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Get Data You Can Sleep On

As a night owl with a day job, I wake up most mornings feeling groggy, sleep deprived and unsure if I really slept at all.

Thanks to my Zeo, an alarm clock that tracks my sleep through my brainwaves, I can confirm that I do sleep—but, apparently, not as well as a 30-year-old should.

"You're sleeping like a 50-year-old," Michael Breus, a sleep expert who sits on the scientific advisory board for Zeo, told me after reviewing my sleep data.

Half of Americans say they don't get good sleep every night, according to a National Sleep Foundation survey, providing a market for the Zeo, a high-tech "personal sleep coach" meant to help you gauge and manage the quality of your Z's.

Using a sensor strapped to your forehead, the Zeo measures your brainwaves while you sleep and wirelessly transmits the information to a bedside alarm clock, which displays a graph showing your sleep cycle.

When you wake, the alarm clock tells you how much time you spent in each of the sleep phases: deep sleep, which is the most physically restorative; REM sleep, which is best for mental rejuvenation; and light sleep, which fills in most of the rest of the night. The Zeo tells you how many times you woke up during the night, which sometimes you don't remember doing. It tells you how long it took you to fall asleep, and how long you slept overall. And it combines all of that information to produce a sleep quality score, called a ZQ.

My average ZQ over a seven-day period was a 66, well below the average for other 30-year-olds, which is 80 (though, as Breus pointed out, it is on par with the average for 50-year-olds, which is 67).

I may not need a machine to tell me I need to go to bed earlier, but sometimes it helps when the evidence is in your face.

"The biggest thing that my patients get from this is learning how important their bedtime is," said Breus, who runs a clinical sleep practice in Scottsdale, Ariz., and is the author of the sleep health book "Good Night."

One of the most useful aspects of Zeo is that you can upload your sleep data to myZeo.com, which produces graphs analyzing patterns in your sleep.

The next step in the Zeo process, for an extra fee, is personalized sleep coaching. Through e-mails, the coach may advise you to do more exercise to improve your deep sleep, or to cut back on caffeine and alcohol to improve REM, or to count back from 300 in threes to quiet a busy mind.

If your sleep data seem highly irregular, the coach may suggest you see a sleep specialist. Though the sensors are as accurate as those used in sleep labs, Breus said, the Zeo is not meant to diagnose sleep disorders.

So, for $199 ($299 for unlimited coaching), is Zeo worth it?

If you're curious about how well you're sleeping, it's an impressive and easy-to-use machine. The headband sensor, though it takes a night or two to get accustomed to, is surprisingly light, soft and unobtrusive. Filling out the daily sleep journal requires some commitment, so the most useful part of the Zeo—analyzing how your lifestyle affects your sleep patterns—depends on how disciplined you are about uploading that information to the Web site.

But finding out your ZQ alone—especially if it's pegging you 20 years older—may be the wakeup call you need to improve your sleep habits.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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