- Accurate tracking
- Meaningful, useful feedback
- Unobtrusive design
- Needs manual start each night
- Requires phone to be on while running
- Some stability problems
Ever since my Beddit 3 packed in, I've been on the lookout for a worthy heir – something as accurate and unobtrusive. I think the SleepScore Max might be the one.
We've tried no end of sleep trackers here at Wareable, all too often ending in disappointment. A lot of the sleep tracking wearables you'll pick up today infer your sleep quality just from movement data, but this technique leaves open a large margin of error. Bedside sensors like the Withings Aura (RIP) and the ResMed S+ keep out of the way, but we've found these too often fall short on accuracy.
Read this: Best sleep trackers and monitors
The SleepScore Max actually comes from a company called SleepScore Labs, a collaboration between ResMed and Dr Oz, and is powered by ResMed's technology. It's a contactless sensor that sits on your bedside table, tracking your sleep from afar, and also reads things like room light and temperature – the environmental variables that make up what's often referred to as "sleep hygiene".
But it's not just about the data. The value of these devices really comes at the point of feedback. Can the SleepScore Max actually guide you to get better sleep? Mine's been watching over me for a couple of weeks now. Here's how I got on with the SleepScore Max.
SleepScore Max: Design and setup
The SleepScore Max is 150mm tall and weighs just 250g; it's pretty low-profile, covered in a grey fabric that wouldn't look out of place among Google's latest line of products. The Max needs to be plugged into a wall to work, which might limit you slightly when it comes to placement, as it needs to have a good view of your chest to read your breathing. You also want to keep the bottom of the device above mattress level, as this apparently also helps it get a more accurate reading.
The setup process was surprisingly longer than I expected, but for good reason: the SleepScore Max asks a lot of information about you, your health, your sleep habits and your environment. Once you've installed the app – yes it's on Android and iOS – and created an account, you'll be interrogated through seven bouts of questions about your health. You have the option to come back to this at a later time but I'd advise getting it done at the start so the SleepScore Max can get a comprehensive picture of you from the off.
Questions range from "How often do you not sleep well?" to "How often do you have caffeinated drinks?" to "What position do you usually sleep in?" It very quickly starts feeling like an exam or thorough checkup at the doctor's. Putting in the time here will mean the app has more information to feed its algorithms though. This is super helpful for the feedback, which I'll come back to later.
Once that's done, you're good to go. To start tracking you'll need to tell the app when you're going to sleep. This is one of my biggest bugbears with the Max as I can very easily forget to switch it on, especially when very tired. You can leave the app once you've told it you're in bed (as long as you don't shut it down completely), however there's also an option to set a 'smart alarm' within the app that requires the app to remain open, though you can turn the screen off.
The smart alarm lets you set a window of time – anywhere from 15 minutes to 30 minutes – and the app will wake you when it detects you're in your lightest sleep. The idea here is to make you feel more refreshed in the morning. Does it actually work? I really think it depends on the individual, which is something I've been told by sleep doctors in the past.
SleepScore Max: Accuracy
The SleepScore Max uses echolocation – a reflection technique similar to what bats do – firing out ultra-low power radio waves to monitor your breathing patterns and track how your body moves in your sleep. As mentioned earlier, it needs to be positioned facing your chest to work effectively. You should also be between 1.3 feet and 3.9 feet away according to the device guidelines, and to avoid obscuring its view with glasses, books or anything else that you might be tempted to put in its view.
For some nights I put the SleepScore Max up against the Fitbit Ionic, and the Max kept up admirably. When it comes to tracking sleep from the wrist, Fitbit is the one to beat right now. That's because it leverages both heart rate and movement data – mixed in with a big dollop of Fitbit's secret sauce – giving it more rigour than your regular tracker. Ever since I tested it the Beddit 3 has been my device of choice for a non-contact tracker (despite mine no longer working), and I'm looking forward to trying out the new Nokia Sleep, the successor to the Aura, but in lieu of an actual sleep lab and EEG data, Fitbit does a pretty good, if imperfect, job. According to SleepScore Labs, its own tech has been validated against polysomnography, which is the gold-standard lab method of measuring sleep, and over two million nights of sleep data fed into its algorithm.
Each night I noted down the time when going to bed and compared numbers in the morning. It's hard to know when you actually fall asleep due to a form of retrograde amnesia that takes place during sleep onset. Even so, I know the difference between a night when it took me about an hour to fall asleep and one when I drift off straight away, and the SleepScore Max has consistently matched up. It's also been consistently accurate in knowing when I wake up.
There are some occasional stability problems. On one night something went wrong with the tracking entirely, leaving me with a blank entry come morning. On another night I tried using the smart alarm and the app crashed. Thankfully I'd created a backup alarm, but if I hadn't I'd have remained in my slumber. That's not great. The problems weren't consistent, and I'm sure they can be remedied with a software update or two, but still – not ideal.
SleepScore Max: Feedback and guidance
So I can tell you the accuracy of the SleepScore Max is good, but that data is useless out of context. If I got an hour of REM sleep last night, is that good? This is where many sleep trackers fall short; often we're just told how much sleep we got and that's that.
SleepScore uses a scoring system that marks you on sleep duration, wake time, deep sleep, light sleep, REM, and how long it took you to fall asleep. These are all weighted differently and together form your overall score for the night. I particularly like the additional scores for 'Body' and 'Mind' which tell you how much positive impact your sleep had on each, but again this depends on how your sleep stages were weighted throughout the night. For example, on one night I scored an 80/100 for mind, then the next night I slept even longer, but because I woke up more times in the night (allegedly) I actually received a lower score of 73.
There's a hypnogram that shows you exactly how you moved through different stages through the night, and at the bottom of your summary you'll see how light your room was and the average temperature, which are both things that can have an effect on sleep quality.
But all that said, it's all still numbers. Where SleepScore Labs does its best work is in the feedback, and this is where all that data you entered at the start comes into action. The first tab in the app is called 'Sleep guide' and is a rolling timeline of feedback based on your sleep data and general tips for getting better rest. The most useful ones offer up some help and explain how you can improve your sleep quality based on previous behaviour. On one night, according to SleepScore, I unknowingly woke up several times, so it advised I try being a bit more active the next day because "moderate physical activity has been shown to cut down on nighttime awakenings". So I did. And sure enough, the remedy worked.
Some of the advice is a bit more generic, or just offers up random tips. "Did you know that tart cherries can actually help you sleep?" I did not, but fun fact! But SleepScore puts your data into actionable feedback in a way that's easy to digest and not feel overly intimidated by. While I've only been using it for a little over two weeks, I'm told that after 30 days I should start seeing even more insightful feedback, so I'm looking forward to that.
Should you have a serious sleep condition like sleep apnea, SleepScore won't diagnose you, but you can get a 30-day sleep report to take to your doctor. This builds a PDF with a mean average, range and standard deviation of your various scores from 30 nights of data with lots of juicy graphs and numbers.
I'm planning to take this to my doctor once I have enough data to see if it's of any use. My suspicion is that it will work as a vague indicator should I have any related symptoms, rather than a bulletproof medical document, but it's great that SleepScore Labs offers this as an option.
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