At this point we’ve seen a myriad of sleep tracking devices. While most of them don’t make any sort of claim to enhance your sleep, they do promise to track, and in turn better help you adjust your sleeping habits such that you can wake up more well rested and ultimately be a stronger contributor to the quality of society.
Competitively speaking there is the LARK, which is a wrist warn device that communicates with your iOS device over Bluetooth. Unlike the ZEO, which comes in a mobile and bedside alarm clock version, the Lark infers info about your sleep habits through movement. The Zeo on the other hand is probably the most powerful of the devices since it includes a head worn brain monitoring device. Nevertheless, it’s also the most inhibiting as a result of adhering a Velcro strap and a small plastic box to your head, which is makes for the most unorthodox of scenarios, that is assuming of course that you don’t already sleep with one of those Darth Vader like apnea machines.
Bridging the gap between those two aforementioned devices is Gear4′s Renew SleepClock. It uses an array of sensors built directly into the unit to monitor you breathing and movement throughout the night. As result, the Gear4 Renew SleepClock must be positioned in relatively close proximity to you and have an unhindered view of your face. It all sounds a bit stalkerish, but I assure you it’s above board – there aren’t any cameras sending a video feed back to big brother.
The accompanying iPhone (or iPad) app, as well as an iOS device is needed to review your sleep data, though it’s not necessary for one to be docked to capture your sleep data. That said, once the app is launched, and the alarms are set, and you hit the “sleep” button, there is a feedback indicator to let you know if the Gear4 can detect you. My test unit was positioned slightly below the edge of my mattress at an angle and appeared to work fine.
The Gear4 Renew Sleep Clock can also double as a bedside companion for your iPad or iPhone as it includes a set of stereo speakers as well as a 30-pin dock. It won’t blast out the highest in fidelity, but nor should you expect it to given its modest size. It will however keep your iOS device fully charged, and is plenty loud to wake even the deepest of sleepers. There are a few built-in alarms – I choose the chirping birds – which can gradually increase in volume if you so choose.
To make the Gear4 Renew Sleepclock iOS device agnostic, the surface, or dock area, is flat. As a result the iPad is more stable than the iPhone when docked. At times it was able to knock around my iPad slightly, but it never became disconnected or damaged.
At the foot of the dock, or just above the LED dimmable clock display, are a set of buttons. The biggest of the bunch is the traditional sleep/snooze button. Centered directly behind that is a power button, which if hit turns off the snooze process. You can probably see where I’m going with this, but a few times, early on in my testing, I tended to hit the power button, resulting in me sleeping beyond the set time. I would have liked to see the power button out of proximity of the Snooze button.
Much like the Lark and the Zeo, you can leave it up to Renew Sleepclock to determine the best time to wake you up. That said, you’ll still need to set an alarm and provide the Renew with a range in which you’d like to be awoken. Once it detects that you’ve entered into a lighter mode of sleep during this range of time, it will begin to gradually increase the alarms audible tone or selected music from your connected iOS device. The idea of course is that you wake up feeling less groggy and more refreshed. It works, though the waking up more easily is probably largely dependent on your personality.
Now, it’s important to keep in mind that any sleep clock is only worth its weight if the data is actully usable. I’ve spoken about this many times before in other similar reviews, and drawn the analogy between a doctor simply providing a diagnosis without a remedy. The key is providing the solution. In this instance, the Renew does provide a bit of feedback on how to tweek your sleeping habits, though the suggestions are rather rudimentary, such as avoiding TV and caffeine.
What is paramount is that you need to achieve a certain amount of deep sleep every night. This is your recovery sleep or when your body heals from the day’s prior work. Put simply, the Renew can tell you if you’re accomplishing what should be 20% deep sleep, or for most about an hour and a half every night. Without it you’ll often wake up feeling groggy and physically tired throughout the day. This is where I found the Renew to be most useful, since prior to my testing, I was clearly not achieving this. So I started by removing sugar from my diet, at least at night, and performed some A/B testing with that in mind. As a result I began to achieve more deep sleep and felt less tired in the middle of the day. It may sound a bit too remarkable, but as it turns out not attaining 20% deep sleep was actually playing a negative roll in my day-to-day performance with work, and physical activity; I often felt sluggish and short of breath.
To further the experience, when you stop your alarm in the morning you can grade your quality of sleep, which bakes into your journal. Within the journal you can note the foods you consumed and the activities you performed that day. This helps you better understand what you need to do to accomplish higher quality sleep.
And much like the other devices of the same ilk, you can review your sleep cycles by looking at the month, week or the day. At a glance you can see how often you woke up, how fast you feel asleep, and what part of the night you hit your deep sleep. The Renew however won’t reflect your REM sleep, which is also a necessary part of the sleep cycle, at least in terms of memory and cognitive ability. It’s hard to say why this isn’t reflected in the overall scheme, but my guess is that this can only be achieved through a brain monitoring device, where as the Renew infers info based on movement and breathing.
I can’t help but emphasize enough that you need understand sleep cycles, before you use this device. Also, it’s necessary that you reflect on your sleep data and try tweaking your habits, as well as a schedule. As a result of using the Renew Sleepclock I’ve become more cognisant of my sleeping habits, and as a result a better rested individual. Furthermore, I’ve recently determined that I’ve become sensitive to the entrance of direct sunlight into my room, despite owning a rather heavy shade. While it doesn’t directly wake me up, it does disturb my sleep, which is clearly reflected in the Renew Sleepclock sleep data.
Gear4 Renew Sleepclock
- Easy to use and setup
- iPhone 4s dock with speakers that doubles as a bedside companion
- Relatively intuitive iOS app
- Power button positioned dangerously close to the snooze button
- Doesn’t measure REM sleep
- Must “see you” to work