-- Insomniacs will do practically anything to get a good night's sleep. Count sheep. Wear earplugs. Play soothing music. Change pillows, mattresses. And, yes, pop sleeping pills.
Now there's a new high-tech offering for folks who have trouble nodding off. It's the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach I've been testing for several weeks (there's nothing like sleeping on the job).
Zeo combines an adjustable wireless headband "smart" alarm clock/sleep monitor with a Web- and e-mail-based "7 Step Sleep Fitness Program."
The plan helps you identify negative factors that may affect sleep — anxiety and stress, health issues and interruptions from bedmates, kids and pets. Whether it can also help resolve those issues long term remains to be seen.
You might lose a night's sleep over the $399 price; Zeo is sold only at MyZeo.com.
Zeo wakes you with more gentle sounds than most other alarms. It can also be set to rouse you at "a natural awakening point" of up to half an hour before you'd otherwise come to life.
But its chief purpose is to help you catch some z's in the first place. Zeo does this over a period of weeks and months. It collects nightly statistics on the nature of the sleep that you're getting. You supplement this by filling out a "sleep journal" online. ("How much was your sleep disrupted by someone else? How did you feel today?")
The coaching part of Zeo, which comes through e-mail and when you go to MyZeo.com, is tailored to the results. For example, if it finds it takes you less than 7 minutes to fall asleep, it may mean you're sleep challenged and can use extra time in bed. If the time is over half an hour, Zeo recommends you get out of bed and find something soothing and stress-free to do.
Zeo, based in Newton, Mass., was created by a group of sleep-deprived Brown University students in 2003. It's taken this long to come up with something the sandman might approve of. The company says Zeo is based on sound scientific sleep research. Still, there's a disclaimer stating that Zeo is "neither a medical device nor a medical program and is not intended for the diagnosis or treatment of sleep disorders." Here's how it works.
•In the bedroom. Each night, you don a lightweight, soft and stretchable hypoallergenic headband that communicates wirelessly with the bedside monitor. Sensors inside the headband measure electrical activity in the brain. The sensor pad needs to be replaced every three months. Zeo supplies a replacement in the box. Replacements cost $15.
I felt goofy wearing the headband the first night or two but got used to it after that.
Zeo measures how long you slept in hours and minutes, how long it takes you to fall asleep, and, since you're unlikely to remember, how many times you may have been wakened (for at least 2 minutes) during the night. It also analyzes the depth of your slumber: the time you were in light sleep, deep sleep (for physical restoration and growth) and REM sleep (dreamland).
Results are combined into a so-called ZQ score between 0 and 120. Typical scores vary by age (86 for someone in their 20s, 74 for someone in their 40s, 57 for someone in their 70s, etc). The idea is that just as a bathroom scale may help motivate you to lose weight, watching your ZQ might push you to follow Zeo's sleep fitness plan.
I consider myself a sound sleeper but was fascinated by my recent seven-day averages: a ZQ of 75; 23 minutes to fall asleep, 6 hours and 43 minutes of overall sleep a night. You can press buttons on the monitor to view sleep data from the night before or the last week. Stats are graphed in a display on the monitor but are much easier to view online.
Indeed, you're encouraged to upload fresh stats to the Web using the 256-megabyte SD card Zeo supplies, enough capacity for thousands of nights of data. (An SD card reader is also included.) That's the basis of your coaching.
•On the Web. After giving your age, job and family info, and so on — all factored into the how-you-sleep equation — you're asked to choose up to three sleep goals (waking more easily in the morning, having more energy during the day, and so on).
You're also quizzed about other influences: the age of your mattress and pillows, how many days a week you hit the snooze button more than twice, whether you worry about work, world events, finances or family matters.
Zeo determined that I already have a good handle on two of the steps in its seven-step plan and could skip them ("relax your way to sleep," "build your bedroom sanctuary"). But Zeo recommended I come up with a more consistent sleep schedule and get to bed by 10:15 p.m. Not likely.
Understanding precisely how well you sleep could well be an eye-opener. But changing habits is hard, and you'd have to commit for months before judging Zeo's ultimate effectiveness. Zeo is an interesting product that may help some insomniacs. Everyone else can just sleep on it.