Ten years ago, Sleep Number gave Medgadget the opportunity to try out their advanced beds. As you’ve probably seen on numerous TV commercials and in retail outlets, Sleep Number beds are known for their adjustable firmness, accomplished by changing the air pressure inside their mattresses. We had enjoyed sleeping on the bed, but found that finding our optimal sleep number wasn’t quick and easy, mainly because we didn’t have sleep issues at the time.
Much has changed over the past ten years. Not only did Sleep Number change its name from Select Comfort in 2017, but in 2015, they acquired BAM Labs, a Silicon Valley startup that had developed biometric sleep sensors and monitoring technology. Since the acquisition of BAM, they’ve been incorporating BAM’s sensing technology, called “Sleep IQ,” into their mattresses, turning them into full-on smart beds. Subsequently, they’ve begun investing heavily in clinical sleep research.
Sleep Number recently offered Medgadget an opportunity to experience what’s changed in their high-tech mattresses and share some of their research findings, particularly in light of COVID-19. We received a Sleep Number i10 360 Smart Bed that comes with the latest features we were looking forward to checking out.
The Sleep Number Experience, 10 Years Later
Despite advancements in technology over the past ten years, a Sleep Number bed is in many ways the same as our previous model. Granted, the bed looks more modern with material that has evolved to provide better passive temperature regulation. And there’s the Sleep IQ smart sensing technology hidden somewhere in the mattress. But it’s still essentially an air-filled mattress that’s regulated by an electronic air compressor. All of our previous observations, from the “new mattress smell” to starting to slip off the edge of the mattress as we rolled closer to it were still present, but these were only minor inconveniences.
The most significant change from our previous model is the inclusion of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in the mattress and the subsequent replacement of the wireless remotes with a SleepIQ smartphone app that both controls the bed as well as provides sleep metrics. With that said, it appears that a wireless remote is still available if a smartphone app isn’t an option for you; you’ll of course lose out on most of the smart features.
Finding Your Best Sleep
In our previous review, we shared that finding our optimal sleep number was the most difficult part of the experience. Thankfully, the inclusion of Sleep IQ in the newest Sleep Number beds make this process easier.
The first method of finding your optimal sleep number is by identifying a “favorite” sleep number through the app. However, this method is a mostly subjective, guided “Goldilocks” process in which the bed will inflate and deflate and you choose your optimal setting based on how your body feels. While this method might work for some users, the bed felt pretty good for us at most settings; we’ve been fortunate to have gained very few aches and pains over the last ten years!
So, facing the same difficulty we experienced ten years ago in finding our sleep number, we put the bed’s Sleep IQ sensing technology to the test to help us out. We had more success using our calculated “SleepIQ Score” (discussed in the next section) to find our optimal sleep number. After a few nights at one setting, we’d systematically switch to a different setting and compare our sleep scores until we found the highest one that also felt subjectively comfortable to our body. While it could still take a few weeks to find your optimal setting, the Sleep IQ app will at least help guide you to determine whether a firmer or softer setting is improving your sleep.
Let’s talk more about the SleepIQ app, since this is the most significant change from our Sleep Number experience ten years ago. It’s a one-stop shop for everything related to your bed and sleep.
As we mentioned previously, the app controls your desired sleep number setting and guides you through finding your optimal sleep number. If you own one of the more premium Sleep Number beds or a FlexFit adjustable base, you can also use the app to control features like a built-in foot warmer, head and foot incline levels, and under bed lighting. These settings can be grouped together and saved as “bedtime routines” to help build consistency in your sleep.
One new feature that Sleep Number added to all their current beds is “Responsive Air”. Responsive Air senses your body when you first get in bed and takes pressure readings once per hour and will slightly inflate or deflate as it senses changes in air pressure due to temperature and/or your sleep position. It’s a subtle adjustment that we heard and felt a few minutes after hopping into bed, and while we can’t exactly say that it worked, it didn’t adversely affect our sleep.
As a bed remote control, the SleepIQ app works well. The design and layout of the app is clean and intuitive to use. The one scenario where an app-based remote control might not work so well is if you have guests who use the bed. In the instance where this happened to us, we had to install the app on an old iPod Touch we happened to have to allow our guests to fully enjoy the bed.
As mentioned previously, the SleepIQ app can also use the bed’s sensors to calculate a composite “SleepIQ Score” from 5-100. This sleep score is calculated from several different factors, such as time to fall asleep, restless/restful periods, and total sleep time. It also takes into account some biometrics such as heart rate, heart rate variability, and breathing rate. While these metrics are impressive, we should note that this technology, known as ballistocardiography, has been around for many years and can be found in far less-expensive devices, such as the the now-defunct Beddit sleep tracker and Withings’ Sleep Tracking Mat. But Sleep Number integrates all the data well into the app, pointing out the significance of each biometric for your sleep and overall health.
The app also does a decent job at tracking sleep trends and providing personalized advice on how to improve your sleep (which of course might include adjusting your Sleep Number bed). When you first set up the app, you’ll have the option of completing several questionnaires to help provide more personalized insights. These insights are displayed throughout the app and inside the monthly “HealthIQ Wellness Report” that is automatically generated. However, we didn’t see exactly how our responses influenced these sleep insights; most of the tips we felt were fairly generic.
Our biggest annoyance with the bed’s sleep tracking functionality is that it tracked and scored nearly every instance when we were on the bed. There were several occasions where we’d lay on the bed while writing an email or watching a movie, and the app would record what it perceived to be a very, very short power nap with lots of movement and a subsequently low Sleep IQ score. While these sessions can be easily deleted, and sleep tracking can be toggled on and off completely, we think that the ability to set some kind of threshold could reduce the number of false sleep sessions that the bed records.
One final note about the app: while your sleep health data can integrate with Apple Health, MapMyFitness, and Fitbit, the remote control functionality can’t connect with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, nor Apple HomeKit. In his bestselling book Why We Sleep, author Matthew Walker describes a smart bedroom that adjusts environmental settings, such as temperature and light levels, to optimize a person’s sleep quality. We think that a Sleep Number bed could be the perfect device to monitor one’s sleep level and subsequently dynamically adjust a smart thermostat, lightbulb, or noise generator via a smart home platform to help a person sleep better, and would bring one’s sleep experience completely full-circle. We’re eager to see if Sleep Number can integrate this into a future version of their app.
More Than Counting Sheep
With the inclusion of Sleep IQ technology, we were also curious whether Sleep Number had any plans on using any of the bed data for clinical purposes. Sleep Number does provide users the option of contributing their sleep data for research purposes and we learned that earlier this year, scientists presented a couple of research posters using data from Sleep Number beds at the SLEEP 2021 Annual Meeting.
We spoke with Rajasi Mills, VP of Sleep IQ Health to learn more about the findings. The first study she shared was about heart rate variability (HRV) data collected from the beds. HRV is a biomarker found in many gadgets we’ve covered on Medgadget and is an indicator for various physical and mental health conditions, as those with a high HRV may exhibit better cardiovascular fitness and be more adaptable to stress. The researchers analyzed data from 18.2 million sleep sessions from 379,225 Sleep Number beds and found significant associations between HRV and age, gender, and even day of the week. For example, they found that HRV declined at a rate of about 2.1 milliseconds per year, until age 50, leveled off until around age 65, and then increased slightly thereafter, perhaps giving this editor clinically-validated rationale for an early retirement. The data also suggested that HRV was generally highest over the weekend and lowest at mid-week, giving this editor more reason for more extended weekends.
The second study was very timely, in that it presented data on the effects of COVID-19 on one’s sleep. Mills shared that data from 1725 Sleep Number bed users (122 COVID-positive and 1603 COVID-negative) confirmed what we only anecdotally knew about the illness – while it causes an increase in sleep duration, average breathing rate, and average heart rate, it also causes a decrease in sleep quality. While the findings didn’t lead to a cure for COVID, they did demonstrate the ability to collect clinical-grade longitudinal data unobtrusively and non-invasively during sleep. Mills shared that the company is investigating using Sleep IQ technology to detect symptoms for illnesses such as, influenza, SARS, and even the common cold.
In the conclusion for our review ten years ago, we posed the question about whether such an expensive bed was worth it. Let’s be real: Sleep Number beds are not cheap. Our bed configuration for just the mattress alone was $4599. Even with the inclusion of Sleep IQ, you still may first want to consider other solutions to help monitor and improve your sleep. But we felt that the beds have improved much: the materials and appearance are more modern and advanced, and the added electronics make it as close as you can get to a smart bed. We just wish it could integrate with smart home systems; with so many lights, noises, and other factors all over our home trying to keep us awake these days, a fully smart bedroom might be just what we need to get the best night of sleep we’ve ever had. After all, your overall health depends on it!
Product info page: Sleep Number 360 i10 Smart Bed…