The High-Tech App I Never Knew I Needed for a Good Night’s Sleep

Beth Stebner


For all of the articles I’ve written on how to get a good night’s sleep, I’m admittedly awful at taking any of that advice to heart.

I’ve shamelessly sacrificed good sleep for just one more episode of “The Good Wife,” and checking my email one last time before going to going to bed kind of feels like the rebelling I never did in my teenage years (thanks, Mom and Dad). But once I realized I started needing a few triple lattes just to get through my day, I knew I had to reassess how I spent my nights.

So when I heard about Sense, a Kickstarter-backed sleep system that claims to help you sleep better by not only tracking your behavior while you’re catching ZZZs, but providing insight into why you’re feeling tired the next day, I had to try it out for myself.

“Sense does something more than just track your sleep,” CEO and founder James Proud tells me. “It helps you understand why you slept the way you did and helps you make more informed decisions about your sleep environment so you can sleep better.”

The device ($129 at Amazon) is a futuristic-looking little white orb inspired by Ai Weiwei’s Olympic coliseum in Beijing, and it glows any number of colors to let you know whether you’ve reached peak sleeping conditions. Hover your hand over to see red (LOL, you’re never getting to sleep), yellow (meh, not ideal), or green (do pass go, do collect a good night’s sleep), and measures factors that affect your sleep, such as noise, light, humidity, and temperature.

There’s also a little “Sleep Pill,” a fob that you tack onto your pillowcase to track motion (Sense comes with one, an additional pill for your partner is $49). You can also set a “smart alarm” in the app that analyzes your sleep cycle and wakes you up within a half-hour window when you’re closest to waking. Grimacing, I set mine for 6 a.m., scheduled a backup alarm just in case, and went to bed.

MORE: 30 Tried-and-True Ways to Get Better Sleep, Now

When I first plugged in the device, I got the Angry Birds–colored red. At a balmy 78 degrees, my brownstone apartment and all of its radiator heat was way too hot, far too noisy, and as dry as the Prohibition Era.

The smart alarm woke me up at 5:53 a.m., which, according to the app, was when I was in the lightest cycle of sleep. I definitely felt less groggy. But then I checked my “sleep score,” the number that ranks how you slept, in a range from 1 to 100. If anything was off—like your room was too bright or too noisy—you get a lower score. My first night was 53 because it was kind of like the Gobi Desert in my apartment and too bright (admittedly, a good problem to have in New York City). Still, something had to be done.

sense sleep app review

Photo: Courtesy of Sense

Over the weekend, I did a complete overhaul of my bedroom that would’ve made Liz Lemon proud. I invested in curtains (albeit Ikea curtains) and a humidifier, and traded my old jersey sheets for some truly glorious breathable cotton ones from Casper. Next, I washed my down comforter and got new pillows, something I should have done many moons ago (please don’t judge too harshly). My window was cracked open to alleviate the heat. And I started charging my phone on the other side of the room so I wouldn’t be tempted to check it compulsively like some tech-addled Rain Man.

MORE: Our Editors Share How They Fall Asleep Fast

The little orb glowed green every night before bed, and I woke up to a sleep score of 72, then 75, then 82. I felt unstoppable. But then I plateaued, and for the next three days, I averaged between 74 and 79 each night.

Proud tells me that it’s not so much about the number, but the cumulative quality of your sleep and realizing where you can improve to get the most Rip Van Winkle–y sleep you can. Some days will just be better than others, depending on your stress, what you ate, and how many coffees you downed.

It was eye-opening to see how much I actually toss and turn every night (which explains my crazy bedhead in the morning) or how at first even when I was getting seven hours of sleep, I was really only sleeping soundly for two of those hours.

MORE: What Your Sleeping Habits Say About Your Sex Life

On one hand, the device is just an LED-colored way to tell me what I probably could have figured out on my own—a cool, dark room is better than one that contains a marching band playing John Phillip Sousa marches. My sleep conditions weren’t ideal to begin with, and simply making a few tweaks like consciously uncoupling from my iPhone made a huge difference in terms of how well-rested I felt the next day.

And the app is limited to telling you things about how you’re sleeping—it’s certainly no dream magician that can mysteriously turn me into a well-rested and adjusted human person. Proud tells me that Sense’s developers are continually upgrading the app’s algorithms so it becomes smarter and more intuitive in time, meaning that the more I use Sense, the better it’ll get.