Will a high-tech bed actually help you sleep better at night?

That's a question I've asked a few times as a journalist. In the past, I've tested beds that ship in a box, one that adjusts itself as you sleep, and a few that have mobile apps. But I was really curious about a new model called the Sleep Number 360 smart bed. For about 45 days, I slept in a king-sized model and, frankly, felt a bit like a king the entire time.

There were a few bumps and bruises, and I'm not talking about hitting a shin against a door jam when the friendly techs installed it (and then took it back--that was a sad day). Overall, I was impressed by how the 360 bed provided a wealth of data, but my final discovery at the end of the test is that the bed is smart for an entirely different reason.

First, about that tech.

The model I tested is called the Sleep Number 360 P6, which costs $3,199. (Basic models cost $999.) There's a few unique twists to discover. One is that a night light senses when you leave the mattress at night and turns on automatically. As you sleep, the P6 makes slight adjustments based on your sleep number setting, which is all about firmness. My wife likes a soft mattress, I like one that is not that far from a piece of plush plywood.

In the app, you can review tips and suggestions based on other connected gadgets, which are all tied to your Sleep IQ score. For example, if you use a Fitbit, you can connect it to the Sleep Number app and then monitor your sleep score based on how often you worked out during the day. For me, I started noticing a distinct correlation between staying up too late and watching television and a lower sleep score, versus going on longer walks instead and going to bed earlier. (Both Sleep Number and Fitbit can track your sleep.)

Almost like clockwork, my score would drop the later I'd retire and when I skipped the walks. I started going to bed at the same time every night, and I slept much better.

At first, the P6 had some bugs, and I had to work with Sleep Number to resolve them. One was that, after a week or so, I noticed the bed would not change its firmness level. It was likely a Wi-Fi glitch in my house. Later that same week, the night light feature stopped working. I chalked it up to networking bugs and something to do with my phone or the app.

Interestingly enough, after those bugs, we settled in (pun intended) for another 4-5 weeks of testing. The app worked great, and we found that a slightly lower setting for firmness worked best. Something clicked. It was fun monitoring my sleep score, adjusting settings, and experimenting. For example, I started biking earlier in the morning and not walking as far with our dog at night. I used my Fitbit to compare my workouts to my sleep quality and felt a combination of biking in the morning and walking at night worked best.

Having this data available proved invaluable, though, for a reason that requires a little scientific explanation. From brain science, we know that habits and patterns form based on the information we have available to us, and then how often we repeat those patterns. This is why I once tested a Fitbit for several months and always maintained 10,000 steps per day, which has led to a lifelong pattern. (Even our border collie mix is in good shape as a result.) Better information means better decisions which means better health.

During my test, having the app (and a browser version, which I used during work hours) meant I could think more about sleep and plan differently. What we think about tends to become where we focus and improve, and that's what happened to me.

That said, I feel the Sleep Number 360 is smart for a different reason. Obviously I've never tested a bed as a journalist more than a few weeks, but I could see how having a bed that adjusts firmness would lead to a longer-lasting bed. Most mattresses I've actually owned did not seem the same at all after even one year (or even after a few months).

The 360 is one high-tech bed that would make sense for more than just a few years. Because of the way it works--adding air to improve firmness--it is smarter than most beds. I actually slept better on it in the end as well. Even without the smart settings.

Published on: Aug 14, 2018