The scoop: Zeo personal sleep coach, about $200 ($300 if you subscribe to the personal coaching service), by Zeo.
What it is: Usually when I fall asleep testing a gadget it's not a good sign, but in this case falling asleep is part of the test. The Zeo system includes an alarm clock combined with a headband with sleep sensors and wireless transmitter. The system tracks your sleep patterns during the night, noting when you are awake, in light sleep, deep sleep or REM (dreaming) sleep, and for how long. When you wake up, the system gives you a ZQ score, and giving you data on how long you slept in those different modes. Sleep data is stored on an SD card, which can be uploaded to the myZeo Web site, which also lets users create a personal sleep journal to track sleep patterns daily. If you've ever been curious to see the types of sleep that you're getting, and for how long, this device is an easy-to-use way to discover this data.
Why it's cool: The headband attaches easily and doesn't disrupt you during your sleeping periods (it can adjust if you think it's too loose or tight). When you are ready to fall asleep you put the headband on, and the system immediately starts tracking your "time to Z", and then notes the different modes of sleep. The headband has a good wireless range as well -- during my tests I had to leave the bedroom to take care of a crying baby, and the headband didn't lose the connection with the Zeo. When you wake up the next morning, you can input how you feel on a scale of 1 to 5, which is also stored on the data card. Uploading the data was simple to the myZeo Web site (after registering), and the personal sleep journal was easy to use. The system also includes a sleep wheel, which gives you the average ZQ score based on your age -- imagine my surprise when I saw that my scores were slightly above average. I'm not sure if that's a statement on my good sleep performance (even with three young kids and all the caffeine I drink I get between seven and eight hours of sleep a night), or rather the poor sleep performance of the rest of the world.
Some caveats: The alarm clock is nice, but I would have preferred waking up to a radio station, or even an auxiliary jack-connected iPod rather than the "soothing sounds" options of the Zeo. I'm sure there's evidence to suggest that waking up to a quiet melody is better than the Crazy Morning Zoo crew, but I would have liked that option. Also, the site and coaching areas didn't offer me ways to improve certain areas of sleep, but rather gave general tips on how to improve overall sleep (don't drink caffeine, don't read in bed, sleep in a dark room etc.). In my case, half of my sleep pattern was spent in light sleep, and I wanted to find ways of getting more deep or REM sleep. Having the data was great, but there didn't seem to be a next step on what I could do with that data.
Bottom line: I'd recommend this as a starting point if you find yourself with sleep issues, which you could then bring to a doctor for more serious conditions (like insomnia or sleep apnea). Since I didn't have major sleeping issues (other than finding out what I already knew, that I'm a light sleeper), this was more of a fun device to try out for a while.