One of my New Year motives was to pay attention to my sleeping patterns. After all, according to recent studies it could be a matter of life and death. At the very least, it seems to extend your time before the eternal slumber and make life better for you and those around you.

I’ve always been a night-owl. I suppose it’s my curiosity that keeps me up late. I don’t want to miss a memory whether it’s a social experience, a great television show or a ground-breaking tweet. For the past several years, I’ve been operating on below–average sleep habit of less than seven hours each night.

Not surprisingly, most Americans are seriously sleep deprived. In the age of always–on computers, cell phones, video games and multi-channel universes, it’s hard to shut down. With general frustrations caused by work, family, finances and a thousand other thought streams, lack of sleep is not good for your health.

Several studies indicate that lack of sleep can affect your life in many ways – despite the daily nod or exhaustion that populates our conversation.

Some of the more interesting troubles include;

  • Heart Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Colon Cancer
  • Obesity
  • Hormone Imbalances
  • Breast Cancer
  • Lack of Focus
  • General Irritability
  • Lack of Empathy

“Sleep is just as important to our overall health as are exercise and a healthy diet,” said Carl Hunt, the director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research in Bethesda, Maryland. The center is part of the National Institutes of Health.

My 2011 Christmas Present to Myself – The Zeo

It might have been several nights of restless sleep or those successive nutty dreams about tornados that caused me purchase a Zeo Sleep Monitor.

I discovered the Zeo in an editorial in Wired magazine. The article explored several technologies that allow us to “quantify ourselves.” With advances in new technologies, there are several simple in-home devices on the market and more on the way (inevitably most of these will probably end up connected to the network). In fact, we’re now able to monitor our heart rate, blood pressure and a variety of other metabiological data including our sleep patterns.

The Zeo costs about $200 and can be ordered from their website or Amazon.com. I figured the benefits of this research would be worth the cost. Besides, it seemed a bit more entertaining than an expensive sleep study at the hospital.

I was excited about receiving the new gadget and when it arrived at the office, I was pleased to see an elegant packaged product with easy–to–follow instructions.

At a glance, it looks and performs like a high-tech alarm clock. There are several custom alarm tones, an adjustment for brightness, however the two stand out functions include a head band to monitor your brain waves while you sleep and an SD memory card which inserts into the side of the monitor.

Ben Rubin, CTO and co-founder of Zeo describes the evolution of this interesting appliance and the science behind the device.

“The idea is that we are actually tracking and measuring your sleep, it’s like a little sleep lab in your home. It shows you your sleep phases throughout the night, how much deep sleep, how much REM sleep which is important for memory restoration, deep for body restoration. We take that information and give you coaching advice and guidance and hopefully lead you towards a better nights rest.”

He also notes that the head band technology was one of the challenges to make the Zeo consumer friendly. After all, traditional sleep studies usually include more than 20 electrodes attached to your head and an uncomfortable hospital environment.

He continues in an interview with Wired writer, Curtis Silver.

“It starts with small silver sensors, which are conductive, coated over fabric. That silver conducts your brain wave activity into an electronics module, for signal processing and application. Brain waves are about five to 75 micro volts and have to be amplified 5000 times to be read. That raw brain wave information is transmitted via wireless to the bedside display.”

At first, I thought the head band would be uncomfortable, but the soft velcro adjustments make the experience hardly noticeable through the night. Right before you go to bed, you take the head band off the charging cradle which is on top of the Zeo and you attach it to your head. Over the night, the data streams like a wireless network and delivers data that includes measurements of brain waves that denote light sleep, REM sleep and deep sleep. It will also monitor how many times you wake up through the night and keep track of your wake times.

In the morning, you can view a graph on the Zeo that shows your various sleep phases and you will also see what they describe as a “Z-score” – a measurement of your quality of sleep based on averages for the various stages with deep sleep and REM sleep – the most important stages for memory and body restoration.

What’s more impressive is how this company has merged an appliance with a personal website.

You can remove the SD card and upload the data to your personal Zeo website that organizes the data into a colorful graph that tracks data each day. You can add personal journal notes on the website and view your scores as they relate to national averages too.

In addition to the interesting online display, the personal MyZeo website also offers personal sleep coaching in the form of occasional emails and personal instruction – although I haven’t had the need to delve that far into their services.

So far, I’m doing pretty good. Perhaps the simple act of monitoring my habits will improve my attention to this facet of wellness and I find myself looking forward to tracking the data as it relates to different habits throughout the day.

This past weekend, it was cold and I attended a party at MeadowView which included a few glasses of wine. I stayed off the computer when I got home and had one of the best nights rest in a long time. In fact, I got a 108 Z-Score.

My graph (taken from the MyZeo personalized website) demonstrates it didn’t take me that long to fall asleep (about 3 minutes). After 9 hours and 12 minutes, I experienced a light sleep for 52% of the night and REM sleep (there were plenty of dreams) for 30% of the time. Most impressive was the hour and half I spent in deep sleep which probably improved the quality of my day the most.

It occurs to me the Zeo probably won’t be a part of every night’s journey into the land of Morpheus. In fact, it might be fun to loan it to my family and friends to compare notes. Perhaps we’ll see the evolution of these products with a social element to encourage more conversations about our habits.

Nevertheless, the fact we can monitor this important time of our lives may lend us to pay more attention to the value of sleep. Besides, it’s a great alarm clock with the added value of monitoring an important part of our lives and I have to admit, it’s kind of fun…and uber-geeky to boot!

Arianna Huffington recently spoke at the TED conferences and shared her great idea for success citing a good night’s sleep as one of the most important considerations for a well balanced and creative lifestyle.

Have a good night…and a better tomorrow!