Zeo’s demise, a wakeup call for Sleep Wellness?

Zeo headbandThis article is based on a LinkedIn discussion that was started by Paul Sonnier, founder of the Digital Health discussion group.

Zeo has closed shop. Mentioned here & here and shown in the video below, Zeo is the company that provided a well known direct-to-consumer (DTC) sleep monitoring and coaching system that claimed to take the “science of sleep out of the lab and put it into your hands.” While speculation abounds as to why this happened (see comments in this group discussion: http://bit.ly/ZeoDHDiscuss), it does highlight some of the challenges in this dynamic consumer digital health market segment, which represents 70 million people in the US alone.

While spending heavily on marketing, Zeo was being challenged by other consumer-focused, non-clinically validated or FDA-cleared solutions. Building their own single-purpose device was a cost-driver that many new and existing entrants were not burdened with and, according to some reviews, still delivered comparable results, typically without the need to wear a headband. Here’s an example comparison of Zeo, BodyMedia, and the Sleep Time app: http://bit.ly/MsrdMeSleep.

In The Smart Refrigerator & Smart Medical Device, I compared the $4,000 smart fridge with a $40 iPad mount and argued that proprietary medical devices are more expensive to  develop and more limiting in flexibility than those based on defacto and open platforms. Rather than endorse systems from GrandCare, Waldo Health, and Intel-GE Care Innovations, I see more potential in developing systems around Android and iOS. (mHealthTalk editor)

With a high price point and increasing segment competitors, who produce similar results at lower cost by re-purposing or adding features to existing platforms (e.g. BodyMedia, Jawbone UP), Zeo’s demise may have been inevitable. Other players, for example SleepRate, use third party product hardware—like the Polar heart rate monitor—thus obviating hardware cost to them altogether. Even more prevalent are the standalone smartphone apps from companies like Sleep Time (by Azumio) and Sleep Cycle, which simply require that you place your phone on your mattress. These last types offer extremely low barriers to market entry and can therefore reach the most consumers, who may be cost-averse short-term users.

All of that aside, there are some very serious issues to consider with the consumer sleep “monitoring and coaching” aka “wellness” segment as compared to the food-, fitness-, activity-, self-, health-tracking segment of digital health (aka Quantified Self). I’ve previously written about hype in that segment ( http://bit.ly/MassHype), but feel differently about this one. The problem with hype here is that marketing terms like “monitoring” and “coaching”—or one headline that stated “Zeo Brings Sleep Science Out of the Lab, Into Your Home” http://bit.ly/ZeoSleep —imply that there is a diagnostic aspect to the products. But this is not the case as none of these products are clinically accurate, medically validated, or FDA-cleared.

What do you think? (Please join the LinkedIn discussion to comment.)

  • Is the consumer sleep wellness approach that was pursued by Zeo and continues to be by others providing value to consumers beyond novelty?
  • Is there risk that consumers could have a false sense of security and go undiagnosed for serious conditions, e.g. sleep apnea?
  • Does Zeo’s demise represent a market correction for the consumer sleep wellness segment?
  • Does it reaffirm the importance of clinically-validated solutions—either used in the home or a sleep lab?



5 thoughts on “Zeo’s demise, a wakeup call for Sleep Wellness?

  1. *I was very pleased with Zeo because I learned things about my sleep I couldn’t otherwise know, e.g. how little deep sleep I was getting. Normal at my age, but certainly related, as we know from Matt Walker’s research, to memory problems. I just was getting into trying to learn more when the device stopped working and the company closed down, and now I can’t find a support group at all to explain how to fix device. How irresponsible is this? I read about Zeo in the MIT alumni mag, as a new invention by alums, and now they have ditched me. Down with the capitalist system.

    1. Susan, I surely understand your disappointment after finally finding something that works for you. Given your need and interest, you may be one of the first to discover an alternative solution. If so, please come back and post something about it here. If I find something first, I’ll post it. Thanks for your comment. 

  2. iWinks is developing a new headband that has some similarities to the Zeo. It uses a combination of EEG and accelerometers to monitor your sleep patterns. We are going to make the raw data/ scored sleep data publicly available; the data gets collected on the headband and gets sent over to your smartphone via bluetooth. Battery life should be much better than the Zeo, with charging only needed once every few days.

    We are creating a community of dreamers, sleepers and developers to find as many innovative uses as possible for the technology. Check us out @ iwinks.org or on facebook.com/iwinksorg

Comments are closed.