COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | PHIL BAKER

A sleep tracker that lives up to its name

ResMed is a well-regarded San Diego company that makes medical devices to help those with sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea. When I learned the company had developed a sleep monitor for consumer use, it piqued my interest. After all, ResMed probably knows more about sleep disorders than any other products company.

I’ve tried several devices that claim to do much the same, such as multifunction watches and fitness trackers and one that uses a headband. While they all provided some basic information, they were generally cumbersome to use and provided sketchy information that wasn’t all that helpful. The results just weren’t the effort.

The S+ from ResMed is different in many respects. Most significantly, there’s nothing to wear. It’s a rather large device, about the size of a clock radio, which sits vertically on your nightstand. The device is a rectangular white cube suspended at the top of a vertical rectangular frame that is tiltable to better aim at the user’s chest. It can be used with or without the frame, as long as it’s higher than the mattress.

Another difference is that its detection capability is much more advanced. Its internal sensors are able to detect breathing patterns and body movements using very weak radio signals. It doesn’t matter which way you are lying, with your back to the device or flat on your stomach, or even if there’s a person beside you in bed; it’s that sensitive and discerning. Other sensors in the unit measure ambient light, temperature and noise level.

When you go to bed, you open the S+ application on your phone or tablet (it works with Apple and Android) and connect it to the device using Bluetooth. You answer a few questions each night, such as how many cups of coffee and alcohol you had during the day and your exercise level.

Then you touch the sleep button on your phone and the display slowly darkens and — in theory — you go to sleep. The normally green light on the S+ shows it’s connected to Bluetooth, and slowly turns off so as not to distract you.

All through the night, the S+ monitors your sleep state, whether it be light, deep or REM, plus the number of interruptions and time spent awake. When you wake up in the morning, you can see a comprehensive analysis of your sleep patterns for that night, along with a score between 0 and 100.

The information is also uploaded to ResMed’s website where you can view it in more detail. The information is tracked with the room’s environment to look for correlations.

The results provide colorful plots, both linear and circular, and a comparison with others in your age category. There are also recommendations to improve your sleeping. You might be advised to drink less coffee or reduce exercise just before bedtime. The recommendations are more general tips than actual medical advice.

At first I found this frustrating, but as ResMed explained, it’s because the FDA prohibits companies from dispensing medical information. I spoke with one of the developers and learned that ResMed continues to assess your information from the S+ over many weeks and, if there is a serious problem, it will offer to provide you a report that you can take to your doctor.

The S+ also provides ways to improve your sleeping, both falling asleep and waking up. You can fall asleep listening to a variety of audio tracks, such as the sound of surf. An alarm can be set to wake you up within a range of time when you are in light sleep, making waking up as pleasant as possible.

The sleep score provides an overall number, the higher the better, but it is not necessarily indicative of a serious disorder. The score is a combination of factors that makes it simple to chart your progress and for ResMed to characterize your sleep. Typically I got a score of 60-70, not real great.

While I used the product for just two weeks, ResMed will continue to provide me with more tailored advice over time, as it learns more about my sleeping, habits and environment.

After two weeks of use, I ran into very few problems. The monitor was easy to set up using the included USB charger that also powers your phone. However, the Bluetooth connection dropped between the tracker and my iPhone 6 a few times, showing a red light on the tracker. The disconnection may be related to iOS 6, which has had difficulties with Bluetooth.

Compared to all of the sleep devices I’ve tried previously, this is by far the best. It requires no contact or need to wear anything on the body, it measures many factors that affect your sleep, it helps you go to sleep and wake up, and you benefit from the company behind it that has extensive knowledge about sleep.

The product costs $149, quite reasonable for all of its capabilities. (www.resmed.com)

Related: What the S+ has to say


Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer," published by Financial Times Press. Send comments to phil.baker@sddt.com. Comments may be published online or as Letters to the Editor.

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