Sleep and I have a sometimes erratic relationship. Some nights I deal with insomnia, and I might sleep 4 or 5 hours at best; other nights I’ll need to catch up on sleep so badly that I’ll pass out for 12 or more hours. Ideally, I should get 8 hours sleep per night. Obviously, what I’ve been doing isn’t ideal.
Is it that I’ll sometimes read for a bit in bed on my iPad before crashing? Is it that I can usually be found watching TV in the living room or sitting in front of my computer right before it’s time to go to bed? Is it that my mind is usually going a thousand miles a minute, and it’s not easy for me to slow things down enough to sleep? I don’t know, but I’m sure all that plays into my problem. What I do know is that whether I get 4 hours or 12 hours, the result is the same — I wake up groggy and I hit the snooze on my phone at least 3 or 4 times.
That brings us to the Withings Aura Smart Sleep System, a connected alarm clock that not only sends you to bed with gentle light in “optimized colors [that] promote secretion of sleep hormones” and soothing white noise, it wakes you with simulated sunrise light programs and “specifically engineered wake up programs”. But there’s more. The Withings Aura also measures the temperature in your bedroom, the light environment (luminosity) in your bedroom, and the ambient noise in your bedroom to see if there is something specific that is messing with your sleep. On top of that, if you add the optional sleep sensor accessory (which tucks under your mattress), you can also measure your sleep duration, sleep cycle variation (i.e., Deep, Light, and REM sleep), and time awake before falling asleep. The sleep sensor is supposed to work with the Aura to determine the best time in your sleep cycle to wake you so that you are the most refreshed. That sounds pretty incredible, right?
So let’s start with the Aura and sleep sensor, then we’ll talk about my experience.
I received the full package which includes the Aura connected alarm clock and the sleep sensor. You can read the online user guide here, but bear in mind that it seems to have been written before Aura worked with the Android Withings app.
The Aura alarm clock/light is composed of white plastic with a gray fabric cover on the bottom. The Aura measures approximately 11″ tall x 5.5″ wide by 4.75″ deep. I was a little bit surprised that there wasn’t a cover over the lamp portion of the Aura; it seems like a great place to catch dust.
I have built-in shelves and cabinets along the walls of my bedroom, and I was a little bit concerned that the Aura wouldn’t fit under my fixed shelf; I needn’t have worried.
The sensor pad goes under your mattress; you’ll want to line it up so that the pad is in the general vicinity of your chest, as it will be measuring your resting heart rate while you sleep. I found this a pretty impressive feature, as the only “resting” heart rate I’ve been able to measure previously was in the middle of the day when I realized I’d been sitting still for a while; this should be much more accurate.
Connecting the sensor and power plug into the back of the Aura is a simple matter of inserting both into the back of the alarm; according to the user manual, you are supposed to plug the sensor mat into one of the two USB ports on the right of the power plug, and your phone can go into the one on the right of the power cord. Since I only have one sensor mat, I’ve been using the extra power port to charge my tablet; that doesn’t seem to be causing any issues.
The first time you plug in the sensor, you’ll see a bright blue light and you’ll hear what sounds like a little pump going off. I assume this has something to do with the sensor calibrating itself, and both stop fairly quickly.
Next comes the set up: In the Withings app (available on iOS and Android) you’ll need to add the Aura as a new device.
Side note: I’m already heavily invested in the Withings ecosystem — I purchased their scale in 2011, I purchased their blood pressure cuff in 2012, and I purchased an Activité in 2014 — so this makes four Withings devices I now own. In case you couldn’t tell, I like having health devices that play well together.
Here are the setup screens; they walk you through the process, and it only takes a minute or two to complete. Probably the hardest thing was getting the sensor mat under our thick and heavy mattress without it folding upon itself — but I got it done! As you saw in my picture above and in the setup picture below, you are supposed to leave the end of the sensor (at the seam) hanging over the side of your bed.
On the software side, once everything is hooked up and paired, you can go into the Withings app and schedule your alarm times as well as the brightness of the light and the volume of the white noise played as you fall asleep. If you have Spotify, you can enjoy specially curated playlists. If you don’t have a Spotify account, you can still take advantage of over 20,000 web radios stations for “an energizing wake-up or soothing sleep experience”.
It should go without saying that if you don’t already have a free Withings account, you’ll need to set one up. If you forget any of the steps for starting a sleep program, lowing sounds, or dimming the lights, you can refresh yourself with a quick walkthrough under the Aura information portion of the Withings app.
Like a traditional alarm clock, the Aura will display the time by the side of your bed; you can adjust the clock display’s brightness, too. The one thing that surprised me was that the clock’s light is white, which seems to defeat the purpose of having the red light to fall asleep to. Heck Kev’s $12.99 alarm clock that has the most hideous BEEP BEEP BEEP alert even has red numbers. The good news is that you can set the clock to not show the time when it’s dark, but I like the convenience of actually being able to see the time when I look at a clock.
Moving right along …
I like that if I tap the top of the light I get a traditional white light reading lamp; that’s pretty handy when I’m doing things in the bedroom that require more light. You start the sleep program by either putting your hand on the top of the light and holding it there until the red glow starts, or you can do it directly from the app.
I did have some issues with my touch not always registering on the lamp, though. For instance, it might take more than one pat on the top to turn on the light, or when I’d touch the lamp twice, the light might not go off. The most trouble I ran into was the long press that is supposed to start the sleep program; 2 out of 5 times it wouldn’t register, so most times I’d just start the sleep program from my phone. many of these issues would be solved if the Aura had physical buttons on it, but I suppose the cost of that would be a less sleek device.
I had one other issue — my phone seemed to drop Bluetooth communication with the Aura quite often. I’d know this was happening because I would enter the app to set my alarm, and the option would be grayed out. A box would pop up asking me to connect my Aura, and it would simply reconnect.
I’m an information junkie, so here’s what I like the most about using the Aura: I get a report on the temperature in my bedroom as well as a report on noise levels.
Here’s another look at the report on sleep conditions in my bedroom — the bright light is because of the sun coming through my windows.
Here are the sleep results from a couple of nights — you can see my true resting heart rate as well as the length and quality of my sleep. If you wear a Withings Activité or use their Pulse, the Withings app is set to automatically override the sleep information those devices gather, using the more accurate Aura sleep information. Unfortunately, it’s obvious that I am not getting a full 8 hours of sleep each night, but it’s better than it could be, and I’m working on it.
It usually takes a little while after opening the Withings app for the sleep report to populate, but when it does, it is generally pretty informative.
While Kev was traveling last week, I was able to test the Aura with the nighttime and morning lights as well as the sleep and wake up music activated. I liked how the progressively dimming red light lent itself to getting me settled in and ready for sleep. I also enjoyed the progressively quieter ambient sounds as I fell asleep — it all added up to a very relaxing sleep and waking experience.
The one bad thing I found was that snoozing the alarm in the morning was a simple matter of tapping the top of the clock — that’s a little too easy to activate. Granted, the whole idea is that you won’t need to use the snooze, but in my case, old habits die hard.
Kev doesn’t like any lights (with the exception of natural sunlight) in our bedroom, so I was leery about using the light and sound features once he came home … and that brings up the one objection you might run into if you aren’t the only one using your bedroom — what if your partner isn’t on the same sleep schedule? For instance, if you have to be up at 6 am and your partner doesn’t need to be up until 8? Having a progressively brighter light in the morning with music playing is likely going to disturb them even more than a quickly hushed alarm. In that case, you may need to proceed with caution. Ideally, you would both be getting up at the same time; if that’s the case, you can even add a second sleep sensor to monitor your partner’s sleep.
I’ve found a lot of value in the sleep stats generated by the Aura with sensor mat, and I find that I look forward to seeing my stats each morning; it makes me more mindful of the amount of sleep I get as well as its quality. I can’t say that I won’t deal with insomnia or restless nights in the future, but for now — even with its caveats and quirks — the Withings Aura is helping me to make sure that the environment I’m in at night is the most conducive to sleep as I can make it.
The Withings Aura retails for $189.99; the package with one sleep sensor is $299.95, and the package with two sleep sensors is $369.95. The Aura sleep system is available on the Withings site as well as from Amazon.
The Withings Aura has a one-year manufacturer warranty against defects and workmanship in the materials when the Aura is used normally and in accordance with their published guidelines.
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample
What I Like: Ambient noise and dimming light that leads to restful sleep with alarms that wake you up with sun-like light; the addition of the sleep sensor allows for insights into your sleep patterns and sleep environment that might not otherwise be available; Can connect with Spotify for special playlists as well as internet radio stations for wake-up music
What Needs Improvement: It’s expensive; If you have a partner who doesn’t like light or sound in the bedroom, some of the Aura’s features may not be utilized; There’s no cover over the lamp portion — it’s just an open well; Clock has white numbers rather than red; Control touches on the lamp aren’t always recognized; Communication drops between the phone and Aura at times