A Wrist Watch that Tracks Your Sleep

Experts estimate that 50 to 70 million Americans chronically suffer from sleep disorders. Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders have been associated with adverse health consequences, including a higher risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke, according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

Of course, the watch can't perform magic. "We can't create the hours you are supposed to get if you are only getting four hours versus eight hours," said Lee Loree, managing partner of Innovative Sleep Solutions LLC who thought up the idea of the Sleeptracker.

But I decided to give it a try, to see if I could quantify my sleep deprivation and possibly find it easier to wake up in the morning.

The watch, priced at $179, is made out of flexible rubber. Its size and weight are equivalent to a standard wrist watch, the company said. The older Sleeptracker Pro costs and weighs the same but the stiffer strap, slightly bigger face and metal accents made it a clunky accessory.

At first it was uncomfortable to wear a watch to bed. But, after I realized I was strapping it on too tight, I got used to the feeling of the light rubber material against my skin.

After waking up at 4 am to eat and pray, I set the alarm for a 7 a.m. with a 30 minute window. The Sleeptracker then decided the optimal time to beep or buzz me awake anytime after 6:30 a.m. that it detected a light sleeping moment. If it doesn't detect a light sleeping moment, the alarm will go off at the set time.

It seemed to capture my almost-awake times pretty well: There were many mornings when, as I was buzzed awake from a semiconscious state, I literally thought, "wow this is a good time to wake up."

But as I accumulated a sleep debt as the week progressed, the subtle buzzes and beeps, which I liked because they aren't obnoxious, became ineffective. I slept straight through them and had to rely on two back-up alarms: a Beatles tune and an old-fashioned two-bell alarm clock.

Mr. Loree said that people experience various stages of sleep that include deep sleep and a dream state. "If you are only letting your body get the first part of the night, it shuts down, it crashes." In these circumstances, Mr. Loree recommends narrowing the alarm window to 10 or 20 minutes rather than 40 minutes or an hour.

One of my pet peeves with this watch is that it did not have a snooze function. In fact, trying to change the alarm by 5 or 10 minutes after the original alarm had already rung completely wipes out the data recorded prior to the change. Mr. Loree said that if the alarm goes off before the set time based on the window, then the watch will buzz again at the set time, acting like a default snooze function.

Perhaps the best part of the watch is that you can directly download data to your computer through a USB link-up. After collecting weeks of data showing the duration and quality of my sleep, I got a clear picture of how little sleep I was getting: an average of just four hours per night.

Another finding from Sleeptracker: I found that the average time between my near-awake moments was 40-50 minutes, but as little as 15-20 minutes during my worst nights.

But building those charts was onerous. You have to download the data daily otherwise it will get erased. This was particularly annoying while traveling with the watch because I had to jot down a dozen data points some nights to enter manually later. But Mr. Loree said this requirement was intentional to force users to record the quality of their sleep that night.

He said the Sleeptracker aims to be "a lifestyle modification device," and it's hard to be effective trying to recall all of the factors that affected your sleep over a two week period.

Tracking my sleep allowed me to see patterns. I noticed that the days that I spent five to eight hours in the car driving for work made me a more restless sleeper - the time between my almost-awake moments reduced. I also slept better and longer when I was going to the gym regularly. My sleep deteriorated when I stopped going to the gym because of fasting. As a result, I started walking a mile or two every night to fit in mild exercise.

Still, I found the software capabilities somewhat primitive. I could not add easily more than one entry a day to take into account a power nap. Also, I couldn't screen my best and worst sleep sessions based on factors. I debated entering the data into Excel, but it was too much effort.

The company said new software will be launched in a few weeks that will resolve many of my frustrations. It will have a friendlier user interface, allow multiple users, and will have room to include naps. Users will also be able to add an unlimited number of new factors, screen their sleep data based on 10 factors at a time and download data to a txt file to easily share with a medical professional.

So is it Worth it? At $179, Sleeptracker is pretty pricey for a souped-up alarm clock that has no snooze function and requires daily downloads onto a PC. If you're obsessed with sleep data and price is no object, I'd say wait for the software upgrade to give it a try. But for me, I'm going to try to stick to earlier bedtimes, more gym time and loud Beatles songs in the morning.

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