The month of May has been dedicated “Better Sleep Month” by the Better Sleep Council. If you don’t like that group and you prefer to follow the guidelines of the National Sleep Foundation, you just celebrated Sleep Awareness Week (April 23-29, 2017). Either way, there’s no better time to look at some new products that want to help you get a better night’s sleep.
I’ve previously written about two other devices – the ASTI Sound+Sleep SE sound machine, which provides 64 different sounds to help provide a white-noise-like effect; and the LIVE sensor by EarlySense, which tracks your heartbeat, breathing, stress levels and sleep stages to give you data about how much (or how little) you’re sleeping.
Since then, I was also sent two additional sleep-related products. First up – the Nightingale smart home sleep system, by Cambridge Sound Management. The company prides itself on being experts in sound masking, which is a little bit different than providing a white noise environment. The company makes sound masking products for other businesses that want to help reduce conversational noise in the office, in a board room or doctor’s office waiting room, for example.
The Nightingale system is a foray into the consumer market, aimed at providing a sound masking system for sleeping purposes. The system consists of two wall outlet plug units that also provide pass-through outlets for plugging in other electronics – so you don’t have to sacrifice two outlets in a room to utilize the Nightingale plugs. The two units then provide sound masking for common indoor and outdoor noises that cause people to wake up during the night – including a snoring partner.
Once the two units (covering up to 300-square-feet) are placed within a room – optimally, you’d like to place them in opposite ends of a room if possible – you connect to the Nightingale app (iOS and Android supported) to select different “sound blanket” options. By answering some questions in the app about the nature of the room (for example, the type of flooring, or whether this is in a child’s bedroom or adult bedroom), the app can recommend the proper sound blanket for maximum effect. If you want, you can also choose to play sounds, such as a waterfall, loons, crickets, etc., if you don’t like the sound of the sound blanket provided. The sounds come out of the Nightingale plug-in units, and you can adjust the volume of each unit separately if a sound is too loud or too soft. The units also include lights to provide a night-light effect if desired, including different color options (white, blue, green, red or yellow).
In my test of the system during a night’s sleep, I chose one of the “sound blanket” profiles, which sounded a lot like a regular white noise machine. I’ve talked with officials at Cambridge Sound Management who insist that sound masking is different than white noise, but to my untrained ear I couldn’t tell that much of a difference. Regardless, I was able to get a good night’s sleep with the Nightingale system working. I listened to the nature sounds and was amused by the Whale Songs option (if anyone likes to listen to whale songs as they go to sleep, send me an email). The beauty of the options is that you have several to choose from – whether it’s white noise, crickets, rainfall or other choices.
Connecting the app to the plug-in units proved difficult in my testing. The app recommends that you connect the units to an existing Wi-Fi network, but the UI for this process is flawed, especially if you mistype a password or can’t connect initially. For some reason, switching to the Bluetooth option then negates the ability to try and reconnect the units to Wi-Fi at a later date. Even a hard reset of the two units proved impossible to then try and reconnect to a Wi-Fi network. The system still works via Bluetooth, provided your smartphone is in the same room.
However, not connecting via Wi-Fi then limits your options for connecting the Nightingale to other smart appliances, such as an Amazon Echo (Alexa) or Ring video doorbell. In order to do this, via the If Then, Then That (IFTT) system, the Nightingale requires that you be on the Wi-Fi network. Since I was already operating the system via Bluetooth, with no way to reconfigure for Wi-Fi, I couldn’t take advantage of these options. It’s possible that I had received one faulty unit that prevented the system from connecting properly to the Wi-Fi, but regardless they should make some improvements to the UI to account for user error when typing in Wi-Fi passwords.
Grade: 4 stars (out of five)
More beauty sleep via sleep data tracking
The Beautyrest Sleeptracker is similar to the LIVE sensor, in that it tracks your sleep while sitting in between your mattress and box spring (the location of where you place the sensor is slightly different). The Sleeptracker system comes with two sensors, so you can also track a partner’s sleep if you want. Each sensor connects via cable to a processing unit, which plugs into a power outlet. A mobile app displays data from the system, which is also uploaded to the cloud when you connect the system to your Wi-Fi network (you register for an account for free via the app).
The app asks you some demographic questions (gender, age, height, weight), as well as sleep pattern questions (typically how much sleep do you get, what time do you normally go to bed / wake up, do you have pets, do you sleep alone, etc.) to set up the profile for the sensor (in theory, if a dog jumped on the bed, it wouldn’t track its sleep that night).
When you’re ready to fall asleep, you push a button on the app, and the system goes to work. If you like to read in bed before actually falling asleep, keep in mind that this time will be added to your “time to fall asleep time”, so it’s more accurate if you push the button on the app after you’re done reading and about to fall asleep. In my first night with the system, it recorded an hour or so for me to “fall asleep”, which included some reading time.
The app can also play some white noise (in case you don’t have one of those other machines), or several other sounds (airplane cabin, camp fire, city streets, gentle waves, rain forest, room fan are some examples). If you like listening to music while falling asleep, you can choose a specific song from iTunes (at least on the iOS version I tested).
The app gives similar data to the LIVE sensor – it records your heartbeat, breathing and sleep cycle stages (light sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep). As you accumulate nights, the app will graph weekly and monthly data for you to analyze. Beautyrest also offers a premium service ($30 per year), which stores unlimited sleep data (the basic app only stores six months of data) and offers advanced sleep analysis reports and the opportunity for personalized dynamic sleep coaching.
Like almost every other home device these days, the Sleeptracker can tie into an Amazon Alexa system. This gives you the ability to use the Alexa to start or stop a sleep recording (in case you forget with your phone), as well as ask the system “how did I sleep last night?” for sleep data.
Overall, the Beautyrest system is a slight improvement over the LIVE sensor on the hardware side. After a few nights with the LIVE sensor, I had connection problems that required me to unplug and re-plug in the device before it could connect to the app. On the app side, both systems gave me plenty of data and suggestions/coaching, but didn’t really go the next step on analyzing that data to either detect potential health problems or tell me whether the data was good or bad. For example, is one hour of deep sleep a night good or bad? How should I get more? How do I reduce the amount of times that I’m waking up during the night? The apps provide a bunch of data, but is missing the analysis that would make the devices even more valuable. I suppose that’s what the premium services are for, but am skeptical that this option would provide those answers.
In the end, these systems can be very useful if you’re experiencing some sleep problems and want to see if it’s affecting your health, but where you go from there would likely lead to either a doctor or other sleep expert that these systems don’t provide. I like how they can tie into other health-related systems and smart home products, but those benefits are still minimal at the moment given the state of smart home control systems.
Grade: 4.5 stars