Scott Hanselman

Review: Zeo Personal Sleep Coach

December 02, 2009 Comment on this post [21] Posted in Reviews
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imageThere's been jokes for years asking if I sleep. I do tend to stay up late and I get a lot done between 2am and 5am, but I sleep quite nicely, thank you.

However, I've always been fascinated by sleep. How long does it take me to fall asleep and how deep do I sleep? According to my wife I can fall asleep mid-sentence and I have personally slept through no less than three earthquakes.

DSC_0330 by ComputerZenHere's a shot of me being beaten in my sleep by my two sons.

I'm already plugged into other devices like my insulin pump and my blood sugar meter, so I've been used to testing my system and getting a number, then acting on that number.

When I heard about the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach, I knew I needed to check it out. It's basically a fancy clock radio with a headband. The headband has a pad and a number of metal contacts. You wear it - like a heartbeat monitor for your head - while you sleep. It's weird the first day, but meh, you get over it.

The headband recharges in the top cradle of the device, and when it's on you it transmits data back to the base station. There's an SD card slot with data card. You login to the Zeo site and upload the data occasionally.

 myZeo Personal Sleep Coach - Windows Internet Explorer

The site is quite fancy and lets you look at your sleep from a number of dimensions. The Zeo measures how long you are in Light Sleep, Rem Sleep or Deep Sleep. You can see in this chart below that I had an awesome REM night on Friday. This is totally true. I was dreaming up a storm and knew it. When I woke up I was impressed that the Zeo had picked up up. I dreamt for over 3 and a half hours that night, compared to only 90 minutes the previous night.

myZeo Personal Sleep Coach - Windows Internet Explorer (3)

This chart view shows how much time I spent in each phase. notice how it only took a few minutes to fall asleep. I'm known for this and the Zeo also picked up on this as well. I went straight from awake into deep sleep in about 10 minutes.

myZeo Personal Sleep Coach - Windows Internet Explorer (4)

The best part - the part  I most enjoyed - about the Zeo is the SmartWake feature. It's an alarm clock, but instead of waking you up at 8am, for example, you tell it to wake you up near 8am at the best time for you. You ever wake up right in the middle of a dream or right when you're in really deep sleep? SmartWake will watch how you're sleeping and wake you up +/-30 minutes of your preferred time. For me this really worked. It totally woke me up at the right time and I found I awoke more refreshed than usual.

The worst part of the Zeo, really the only bad part for me was that after 5 straight days of wearing the headband it began to "burn" my forehead. These weren't bad, but there were red marks that were significant enough that my wife said "what happened to your head." These weren't just pressure marks but tiny, minor electrical irritation or burns. I've not heard anything about this irritation on the web or on their site, so perhaps I'm just hyper-sensitive to the tiny bit of electricity that powers the sensor. I mention it just because it would prevent me from using Zeo every single day. I'd probably use it only 4 times a week as each day this mark got worse. Your mileage may vary.

UPDATE: Zeo responded in the comments and in a private email, and a few of you in the comments pointed this out as well. The marks after wearing the band are very likely something allergic, not "burns" or electricity related. Here's what Zeo said in a private email, and I think this makes a lot of sense. I'm likely a statistical anomaly, but either way, the marks clear up in a few hours and won't keep me from using the Zeo:

The most probable cause of the irritation is either a dirty sensor pad or acne mechanica.  The headband can get dirty over time due to a build-up of oil, dead skin, sweat, lotions, etc.  Depending on your skin type, this can result in irritation.  If you think you have a dirty headband, we recommend either replacing it or hand washing it with a mild detergent such as Woolite.
With regards to acne mechanica, we consulted with a dermatologist who advised that there is a small percentage of people who get irritations from the normal contact and friction of wearing anything on the head or face.  This can include hats, caps, and even the Zeo headband. We wanted to make sure you were aware of this possibility.

They've also got a Sleep Coach online that will analyze your sleep patterns as well as some questionnaire data and suggest specific ways you can improve your sleep. While using the Zeo was really fascinating and a valuable experience for me, for me it just confirmed that I sleep awesomely.

There's a 30-day risk free trial right now where you can use the Zeo for $19.95. If you keep it it's between $200 and $249 depending on whatever specials they are running. I haven't decided, but since I have no sleep problems and even according to the Zeo itself my "ZQ" showed I do just fine.

That said, just take a look at the site. These folks really dig sleep. The Sleep Info Center is impressive in its scope and I found it a valuable read. I haven't decide if I'll keep it, but I will say this, if you're into analysis or you have any issues sleeping, you can't beat a $19.95 trial. I'm really enjoying the experience.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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December 02, 2009 14:57
There's a similar product which uses wrist bands instead called aXbo

It doesn't seem as if it's possible to upload information from the aXbo to a web site, so the product you mention might be better for analysis. However, the aXbo does have the "wake-up-near-some-time"-feature, which in my opinion is the key feature to look for.

(I have no relation to the company or product).

Kind regards,
December 02, 2009 15:35
Scott, the feeling refreshed when you wake up is possibly (maybe even likely) a placebo effect. It's similar to how you wake up feeling refreshed and alert for the first day at a new job, or have some other exciting event planned for the day.
December 02, 2009 15:42
On a related note, there's an iPhone app called <a href=">Sleep Cycle</a> that triggers your morning wake-up alarm when you're in a light phase of sleep.

You set a hard time when you have to be up and it uses the accelerometer in the iPhone to determine when it's best to wake you near that time.

I haven't tried it yet - I'm a little surprised that your movements are enough for it to record adequate measurements - but it's certainly interesting.
December 02, 2009 16:19
Something related I heard about on the radio the other day is Light Sleeper, clever but expensive at 125GBP!
December 02, 2009 17:10
From memory of high school chemistry, I think it's possible that the burn marks aren't directly caused by the electricity. What's happening is that the electricity, the metal contacts, and your sweat are causing a reaction and forming a mild acid or maybe oxidiser.

Try cleaning your giant forehead before you go to sleep.
December 02, 2009 17:59
I second @Fonseca-Ensor. You're having a reaction with the metal, amplified by mild oxidation. Washing might reduce it, but it will probably remain, just like some women are "allergic" to jewelry made of particular metals.
December 02, 2009 19:19
I don't think the waking thing is a placebo, given that the body sleeps in intervals and comes in and out of deep sleep (often into a waking state, we just generally don't remember them because their so brief) the alarm concept would be that it is going to wait until you are just coming out of a sleep cycle before it goes off.. there's plenty of sleep specialists who will tell you that you'll feel a ton better if you wake like this.. this is generally why we have 8 hours sleep, the cycle is usually every 2 hours so it breaks up nicely.

My sleeping pattern is pretty terrible, I used to sleep perfectly fine until I was about 22, since then I've really struggled getting to sleep, usually takes me about an hour, and waking is never a nice experience for me.. I feel really frustrated that I have to get up, still feeling really tired.

I always remember not being great at getting to sleep, when I was younger if we ever went camping, or I slept over at a friends house or vice versa, I couldn't believe that my friends would literally be talking and the next minute fast asleep.. to me that is so 'alien'.. I lay in bed and just cannot fall asleep, the worst times are when I am absolutely tired out, yawning and gritty tired eyes, really obviously tired but just cannot fall asleep, its horrible..

But then there are times when I get back from work, and its maybe 8pm and I'm completely tired out, and if I put my head down I'll fight to stay awake.

Sleeping is an art I've never mastered :(
December 02, 2009 19:46
Only you can prevent forehead fires.
December 02, 2009 20:19
Crazy, this might actually help me. Depending on how vivid a given dream is of a morning, I sometimes wake up with a stonking headache.

People have any idea if its in the UK?
December 02, 2009 22:10
I just read about the WakeMate this morning, which was favorably compared to the Zeo, but at a much better price ($50), and without the forehead marks! I'm hoping to try it soon - I'd love to get good sleep for once! I'm going to wait till it ships though, and make sure it gets good reviews by consumers, before I shell out for it.
December 02, 2009 23:10
Grrr, they don't ship out of USA :-(
December 02, 2009 23:33
I like the feature that wakes you +/-30 mins from your set wake up time. In the case of +30, this might come in handy:
December 03, 2009 6:04
For a second there I thought it said you got 9.24 hours of sleep for the week of November 27...

So if you are indeed sleeping, maybe you should post a tutorial on the @shanselman bot that posts on Twitter 24/7, appendix or no.
December 03, 2009 16:25
I am very interested in this product.
There seems to be a promotional code field on the site when you purchase the product.
Did myzero offer you and us a promotional code? If so what is it?
Thanks, My company loves your blog and I ask my employees check your blog daily.
We appreciate the time you take to write your blogs.
Merry Christmas.

December 04, 2009 1:01
Hi Scott - We're excited that you've enjoyed your experience, the data, the website and SmartWake. We've poured years of development into all of those pieces.

We'll be in touch with you separately regarding the marks you're noticing - there are a few potential causes, but this is very uncommon. In fact, Zeo has received the CSA safety mark, and meets other safety regulations that require electronics to be designed so that things like burns cannot occur.

If anyone else has questions about anything Zeo, please feel free to reach out to me directly at


December 04, 2009 10:31
Derek@Zeo - Thanks for your comment! I've updated the post with some of the info you emailed me.

Steven - No, they haven't offered a promo code, but I'll ask.
December 04, 2009 22:46
If only your boys were old enough to lay into for wearing this device. Hahaha, no matter how cool, and it is cool, this still looks ridiculous to sleep in.

I'm excited to see the change in your blog posts when your sons hit their teenage years.

This is for sure--your passion for tech is uncanny.

December 05, 2009 0:31
Thanks for sharing your experience with the ZEO personal sleep coach. This seems like a pretty cool product—I am definitely interested in learning about my sleeping patterns. Have the suggestions they provided helped you sleep better?
May 28, 2010 20:11
If you are looking for insomnia therapy online without a device you might want to check out My sleep specialist recommended it and it has been working for me so far.
July 25, 2010 0:01
I've also slowly developed what appear like burns on my forehead from the Zeo. I've worn it just about every night for months. The skin is raised, red, smooth, and sore like a burn, not like an allergic reaction would appear. The skin is also very dry and constantly peels on these spots (like a sunburn does), and I have to wear my hair a certain way to hide the problem because concealer makeup won't do the trick. The spots (one on each side of my forehead) are about the width of a dime. I do sleep on my stomach so push the headband deeper into my skin than many users might do. I am planning to go to a dermatologist if this does not improve. It's frustrating because I otherwise have really enjoyed this device. I'm going to avoid wearing it for a while and see if this reverses, but the spots have been there for over a month now.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.