The tracker gave me tips and data on how to get more rest at night
I'm a poor sleeper — which frankly puts me in the company of one-third of all Americans. The point is, I get very little sleep, I move around and I wake up in the middle of the night. Living in the heart of New York City probably doesn't help — there are cars that honk all night long, lights from neighbors that worm into my bedroom and just random chaos. Deliveries at 2 am to the grocery store across the street doesn't help. But what did help? The SleepScore Max — and believe me, I am not a fan of smart, sleep devices. This one sold me.
The SleepScore Max is $149.99 and comes with very little in its box: there's the device, a small flat guide, and a USB cord. Points for simplicity. For anyone who has tried connected sleep devices in the past, I expected a cord that would run under my mattress, or something that would need to touch me as I (tried to) sleep. Max (we're on a first name basis now) instead sits on a bedside table near your bed — and close to it. And it picks up your movement, your breath and other data points as you're sleeping.
When plugged in and paired with the SleepScore Max app (iOS and Android), there's just a small green light that glows on the front of the tracker. When it's actually working, however that light disappears. I'm sure this is to minimize any distractions or light noise as you sleep. But on the first night I wondered if Max was actually working. Unplugging the device, restarting the app, and so forth helped me enough to understand this was just its way.
I did need to spend some time with app, which wanted to know a number of details about me and then put me through four surveys, with about 7-19 questions each to get a sense of what time I tend to go to sleep, how easy is it for me to wake up in the morning, even what side I sleep on when I go to bed. Some questions seem a bit like I'm setting myself up for future advertising — like what brand of mattress I use — but I found the questions helpful. They actually made me think about what could be affecting my mid-afternoon energy dips.
Working while you sleep
The great thing about Max is it does all the work while you sleep. You don't have to download data, don't have to attach something before you go to bed. You just click the 'plus' button in the app, make sure your Max is connected, and then click "Start Sleep Tracking." The app will even warn you if an alarm is not connected.
While you slumber, Max reads data points including how long it took you to fall asleep and how long you spent in different sleep states from light to REM. When you wake up gives you the results via a graph, timeline and also a summary.
The app does come with an alarm, which I used. I was concerned that having the app running all night, with the alarm, might cause the daily alarm I have programmed into my iPhone X to shut down. But both worked. However: SleepScore Max is designed to help you sleep better, and also wake up more refreshed. So if it senses you're moving into a light slumber, and you're close to the time the alarm will sound, it will wake you up a bit earlier. That irritated me. Three more minutes are pearls to me. I wasn't thrilled.
Mostly I found Max, and the app, innocuous. I did sign up for notifications — which would pop up throughout the day with suggestions like taking a bath before you go to sleep, or making sure to soak up some Vitamin D during the day from the sun. While I'm sure they would have helped, had I followed them, I mainly ignored the advice. There isn't a lot of flexibility in my schedule: as a parent who works full-time, days are pretty rigid and suggesting I wind things down two hours before I go to bed was not really workable for me. Plus I am not a big fan of baths and I know my dermatologist would have yelled at me for trying to soak up the sun.
The magic information from SleepScore Max comes from the score it creates every night. You're assigned a number between 1 and 100 that is melded from the different data points including how many times a night you wake up.
My first night I hit a 59 — that's just not great. Part of the problem, for me, is that I just don't log enough sleep, about 6.5 hours a day. To get my score higher meant hitting the hay earlier or sleeping later. Without much flexibility there, I knew my score wouldn't change much.
But what did change was the amount of deep sleep and REM or rapid eye movement I charted. REM is the kind of sleep that happens when we dream, and scientists believe this is important to healthy brain activity. I like to think of it as the magic balm that washes the stress and craziness from the past day away — and resets my brain to calm. I chased REM all week. And I was able to increase that from about 90 minutes and 16 out of 20 possible points on REM the first night to almost two hours and a score of 18 the last night of my test.
If you're picking up on the game-like sense to Max you'd be right. The numbers gamify SleepScore Max, particularly since you know a higher number means you're getting better sleep. Since I started my first night with a 59, and ended with my last night at a 74, I was thrilled. There was also the blissful night I earned an 84 — but that was only because I slept longer — long enough to nab a 34 out of 40 points on sleep duration. Sadly, that didn't happen again during my test.
As someone who falls asleep rather easily, but wakes up badly, I found Max really helpful at showing me what was happening while I slept and what may be impacting my ability to sleep better. I'm also a data nut so all those details: the ability to drill down and see how often I cycled through REM, deep and light sleep and even how long I actually slept of course appealed to the science geek in me.
Most of us chase sleep — we drop money on herbal teas, turn the colors and lights off on our smartphones, and meditate. There are also ways to link your connected devices, like lights, to Alexa to create a better sleeping space at home. Some of these certainly help. Nothing likely replaces just getting into bed earlier and then just going to sleep. However, if knowing when you wake up and how often you're hitting deep sleep, can help you change some patterns to get a better night of rest, SleepScore Max is a solid option.