I’ve spent the last few weeks sleeping better than I have in a long time, and I owe it to a little device called WakeMate. This gadget— a wristband that talks to my iPhone via Bluetooth—is an impressive set of technologies rolled into a product that really does what it’s supposed to: wake you up at the right time, in the right way, so that you can get more mileage out of less sleep.

Sound good? Want one? Cool. Keep reading, and find out how you can enter for the chance to win your very own WakeMate!

Sleep Cycles

If you haven’t heard of “sleep cycle” apps before, here’s the basic idea behind WakeMate:

We humans don’t just hit the pillow and plow through eight hours of sleep in one go. We actually sleep in cycles: some periods of deep, dreamless sleep, some periods where we dream, and some where we have lighter, more alert sleep.

The result of ignoring these sleep cycles is pretty clear: our alarm clocks go off at set times, no matter how we feel, and all of us have experienced that frazzled, irritable, half-dead feeling you get from being jerked out of a deep sleep by an insistent alarm. That feeling of grit behind your eyes? The dull buzzing in your bones? It can ruin your entire day.

Sleep cycles vary from one person to the next, and even according to the season, your nutrition, and a hundred other factors. This makes it hard to figure out how much sleep you need, or when you need to go to bed in order to feel rested.

What Does It Do?

WakeMate, and other sleep cycle apps available for the iPhone, aim to help this by studying your movements throughout the night—which correspond to your levels of sleep— and waking you up not at a specific time, but at a specific level of alertness. You set the alarm for the latest you want it to ring, and the software picks the best point to wake you up within a larger “window” of earlier time (a range of about 20 minutes is common).

At its best, this system is a godsend for people who just can’t seem to get up in the morning: it makes you wake up without any fuss at all. Sometimes, you’re surprised to hear the alarm go off, because you’re actually already awake.

Haven’t I Heard Of This Before?

The idea of an “intelligent alarm clock for the masses” became better-known with the introduction of Sleep Cycle, a $0.99 app that read your movements via the iPhone’s accelerometer. You simply placed your phone in the bed near your pillow and it would calibrate to your nightly tossing and turning, waking you up at the ideal time and charting your sleep progress throughout the night. For the price, it’s still a great way to learn about how you sleep and what you could feel like each morning. I used Sleep Cycle for many months and swore by it. That is, until I discovered WakeMate.

The WakeMate Hardware

The secret to WakeMate’s superior analytics lies in Perfect Third’s hardware itself: a blue fabric wristband that packs a Bluetooth radio, a sensitive accelerometer, and a 24-hour battery into a reasonably-comfortable padded design. You’re meant to wear the wristband on your non-dominant hand, and, amazingly, it will work properly whether you sleep alone or with a partner. That’s something that Sleep Cycle, by design, could never do, and which made me unable to use it regularly.

While I often felt Sleep Cycle was accurate, especially since it produces such detailed charts, the WakeMate’s sensitivity is totally unparalleled. There are many reasons for this, but it’s mostly because the device is attached to your body. I discussed the product with Greg Nemeth, one of the company’s cofounders and, currently, its marketing director. He claims that actigraphy, the motion-capture method used by the WakeMate, is up to 98 percent as accurate as the high-end monitoring devices used in sleep research– pretty cool, if that’s the case.

What Data Does It Gather?

WakeMate records data once each minute while you’re asleep and uses this to evaluate the overall condition of your night, which is shown as a number each morning (from 1-100). What’s interesting about this is that you’ll find the amount of time you sleep has nothing to do with its quality. In fact, some nights where I’ve slept under five hours have been better for me than nights where I’ve slept eight or even nine.

WakeMate has a trick up its sleeve to help you identify what you’re doing right: keyword tagging. This allows you to compare metrics (or groups of metrics) across different nights: you’ll start to see patterns in how your environment, or the events of your day, have affected your sleep. I use keywords like exercise, late meal, early meal, tired, sex, bright, warm, cold, traveling, caffeine, restless, dark, and stress.

One small (but very obvious) connection: the two worst nights of sleep I’ve had so far had absolutely nothing in common in terms of duration or environment. But guess what they did share? I had a cup of coffee a few hours earlier.

Analysis: The Science of Sleep

A nicely-designed website called Wakelytics receives your data each morning and immediately lets you see a detailed chart of your sleep patterns.

From the Wakelytics site, you can compare any of your tags directly; maybe you want to see whether cold makes you wake up more often, or whether exercise pulls you into deep-sleep faster. Here, we have definitive proof of something we all already know.

You can also access your actual movement data (more a curiosity than anything else), and compare your scores to the WakeMate community at large, though I don’t really see the point of this.

The WakeMate charts also let you see what hours are most productive for you in terms of sleep. They present a ramp chart which I honestly found difficult to understand at first.

It turns out that the chart is merely indicating the rate by which your sleep score improves on an hourly basis. The idea is that you can look at which hours are steepest and use this to evaluate what part of the night is most productive for sleep.

Overall, I found WakeMate’s charting abilities to be excellent. I couldn’t really ask for any more data, though more is always fun. My only suggestion would be having a way to compare multiple metrics via the graphs— such as being able to see how that hourly ramp is affected by different metrics.

Why the WakeMate Rocks

It Just Might Change Your Life.

Obviously, the best thing about the WakeMate is that it works so well. I can’t tell you how nice that is. Perfect Third gets a big thumbs up for making a product that does exactly what it says it will. Having this kind of data available really can improve your quality of life, and it’s difficult to quantify that in a review.

Stats That Mean Something.

WakeMate’s impressive array of graphs and charts is sure to please even the nerdiest among us.

It Makes Sleeping Even More Fun.

WakeMate’s sleep score and tracking ability ends up making the process of going to sleep a whole lot more engaging. It’s like a game, who can get the highest score? My girlfriend immediately clocked in with an 83, I’ve never gone above a 78, no matter what I do.

Use Your Stereo.

Another thing I really like is that WakeMate doesn’t rely on your phone being in the bed, that way you can place it in a speaker dock for when the alarm goes off.

Chicks Dig Bluetooth.

It’s awesome that WakeMate works even with another person in the bed; right now, it’s the only solution of its kind that does. This is awesome.

No Worrying In Silence.

Thankfully, WakeMate totally ignores the silent switch (and volume level) on your phone. No more silent (or far too quiet) alarms!

Bring the Whole Family.

Because WakeMate’s analytics platform is Web-based, you and a partner (or your entire family) can create separate accounts to track your sleep. Of course, this means wrestling the WakeMate away from them, which is harder than it sounds—after just a few nights, I was hooked!

Where It Falls Short

It’s All Up To You

WakeMate can’t tell you how to improve your sleep—that part is up to you. Thankfully, its tagging system lets you do this fairly easily, though certain things, like knowing the best time for you to go to sleep, are harder to figure out. Nemeth told me that, in fact, the time you go to sleep was one of the most important factors in how well you sleep—and that WakeMate’s other founder discovered that switching his sleep and wake times to just one hour earlier made a huge improvement in his sleep quality.

Battery Life

WakeMate also has fairly poor battery life. Because it needs to be charged every three days or it will simply not last through your fourth night, the WakeMate requires more “babysitting” than I’d like. This is understandable for a Bluetooth radio, though, and Perfect Third is aware of the problem. I’m sure they’ll be able to find a better battery in time. The good news is that, either way, your alarm will still go off, but it will do so at your “set time,” so you’d lose the advantage of sleep monitoring.

Tones

The built-in WakeMate tones are fairly disappointing, and, given the price of the thing, they really feel like an afterthought. I may be biased when it comes to iPhone alarms— virtually none of them have sounds I like, except (ironically) Sleep Cycle—but the WakeMate tones seem especially terrible. Fortunately you can choose any iPod track you want, but this still seems like a prime opportunity to make a premium product feel even higher-end. There’s simply no reason not to have better or at least more sounds.

No Naps

Because the WakeMate’s buffer only uploads data after it’s recorded four hours, the Wakelytics website isn’t able to record naps. However, the WakeMate is still able to wake you from them. I’m told that this functionality is being worked on.

Imagine Rebooting Your Watch…

Each time you use the WakeMate, you must turn it off and then on again: once you’ve woken up for the day, or even if you cancel your existing alarm, the WakeMate is unable to begin a new night until you do so. This ends up being downright weird, because you can shake the WakeMate at any time to wake it up, and thus drain the battery, even if it isn’t capable of actually recording data in its current state.

Design Concerns

The WakeMate’s electronics (about 1.5 inches by 1 inch) are concealed in a flap inside the wristband: a tiny green light indicates its status, and blinks rapidly when it’s first turned on. Unfortunately, the light is often impossible to see: the flap is cut in such a way that it really requires holding open in order to see if the wristband is a) on, but dead; b) on, and waking back up, or c) on, even though the phone claims it isn’t–the solution here is to turn it off and on again. You can certainly imagine why this is a bit more irritating than it needs to be.

Connection Failed

I had numerous issues with getting my iPhone to connect or see my WakeMate, but they were mostly all resolved by having the devices forget and reconnect. Sometimes, though, I’ll see messages indicating that the WakeMate isn’t connected when it is, or that it’s still connected when it’s been turned off. So far, these have been only minor annoyances, but they do make the product feel less polished. It’s also possible that much of this may be the fault of the Bluetooth protocol itself.

Bring Your Laptop

WakeMate charges via mini-USB. a computer cable. Thankfully, it comes with a mini-to-USB-A cord, but no wall adapter. This becomes irritating if one ever finds themselves away from a computer, as I try to be (as often as possible). Also, not knowing how much voltage is okay for it, I don’t feel comfortable plugging just any power-to-USB cable into the thing. So I either have to lug around my laptop—even on the short, three-day trips that I bought my iPad for—or risk not using my WakeMate. And, like I said before, it gets really addictive! Even going without it for one night feels weird.

You’d Better Not Be Going to Android

The WakeMate hardware can either communicate with an iPhone, or … with everything else (meaning Blackberry and Android). Because of licensing limitations from Apple, when you order a WakeMate, you must specify whether you want an iOS or other edition. They’re not compatible.

Conclusions: What I Think

I think the WakeMate is a fantastic product with a few small (but somewhat significant) version 1.0 bugs. It’s functional, works properly, and does something unique and really useful. There are several things I’m not thrilled by including the: USB cable, sub-par alarm tones, and battery life, but they’re easily outweighed by how much the WakeMate can do for you.

I believe just about anyone can benefit from giving WakeMate a shot, and the $59 is a small price to pay for sleeping better. you probably spend more than that on coffee each month.

But if you’re reading this, you don’t have to pay a cent. Read on!

The WakeMate Giveaway

Thanks to Greg Nemeth and Arun Gupta of Perfect Third, I have a brand-new, iOS-based WakeMate ready to give away to one lucky reader. It’s yours for free, and it goes to whoever comments below with the best story about missing your alarm clock.

What I’m interested in are:

  • The consequences: what did you have to deal with?
  • What happened to you?
  • Where did it lead you?
  • What happened to you? Did you end up missing a flight, a train stop, a promotion, or an earthquake?
  • And is there a great story behind why you missed it? Maybe you were passed out from giving birth … overslept after a 30-hour programming bender … had an all-night debate with Danish philosophers … or jet lag from traveling across eight time zones in three days.

Whatever it is, make your story interesting, engaging, and packed with details. Shoot for about 600 words maximum.

I’ll pick the winning story in one week (Friday, May 27, at midnight EST), and if there are too many great submissions, I’ll enlist Arun & Greg’s help!

I can’t wait to get this WakeMate into your hands. So hit us with your craziest alarm-clock experience– and may the best story win!

Good luck, and sleep well!