Mad scribblings and inexpert musing

The Wakemate: A Review After Three Months

published: 15 Apr 2011 02:04:00PM

tl;dr: The WakeMate is great, if you like waking up feeling rested or hate wasting time sleeping then this is for you.


I'm a hacker, and as you might surmise, there are a few stereotypes and connotations associated with that word. The first being that I spend my nights in front of a computer subverting corrupt governments and stealing half pennies at a time from banks that will never miss them. While the latter half of this is false, I do spend many nights, such as the full six it took to write this blog post over the last three months, in front of a computer screen. The other half, which you may be less aware of, is that hackers are notorious for refusing to cave to the pressures of the outside, be it peer pressure, financial pressure, or otherwise. When someone tells a hacker something is impossible, chances are all you did was challenge them to make it so. As a result, any time someone in my life tells me I need to sleep more often, I'm driven to improve my ability to function on an absolute minimum of sleep necessary to sustain full cognitive function and bodily health.

In order to accomplish this, I use a number of tools and tricks, the latest of which is the [WakeMate][WM] from Y-Combinator company Perfect Third Labs. This review has been a long time coming and not everything about my experience with the WakeMate has been ponies and teddy bears, but enough of it has that I can't say I'd enjoy returning to life before I was using it regularly.

The last thing I want to mention before we dive straight in, is that I am not in any way affiliated with WakeMate with the exception of working for another YC company, loving their product, and being on the mailing list for their nightly and beta Android clients.

Without further ado, let's dive right in...

What Does it Do

WakeMate's device sits on your wrist at night and monitors your activity during sleep. It breaks sleep down into awake, light, average, and deep sleep. It can tell roughly when you're awake, sleeping lightly, or deeply with pretty good anecdotal accuracy. By that I mean, any night when I've gotten up at four to peel the cat off my face and chuck her out has registered on the device.

I've never caught it in an outright lie, so I assume that the data it collects is at least accurate enough for my purposes.

In addition to collecting all this data, the WakeMate will also act as a smart alarm. If you tell it by when you need to be awake, it will do its best to wake you up at the optimal time in your sleep cycle up to twenty minutes before the time you gave. This is the killer feature. The idea that the alarm should get you up as early as you need to be, but not on time. People are often harmed by the snooze button as it drags out long periods of dozing in the morning which in my experience, serve only to leave me feeling rushed rather than refreshed. WakeMate in an ideal world eliminates the need for both the snooze button as well as the true alarm clock.

One of the first things I noticed about the WakeMate was its selection of alarm tones. Normally when picking an alarm tone, I go with the most jarring, teeth grinding, horrid noise I can find in the selection. I do this because I needed to be properly motivated to turn the thing off and not just let it play. However, the problem with this practice is that when you're woken up by the sound of a truckload of pots and pans being dropped out a third story window, you wake up in a jarred and horrid mood. But the WakeMate's selection of tones doesn't have any jarring alarms, nor does it allow you to specify your own. This was clearly done on purpose since part of the product's goal is to wake you up as gently as possible. The WakeMate's alarm tones (all named for colors) all begin in a soft pianissimo and gently crescendo to at most a mezzoforte. The effect of which is more akin to being woken by a lover whispering in your ear and not your younger brother hitting you with his shoes to let you know it's time to get up for school.

The whole product is designed to make you feel good when you wake up and that is an mission which they have largely accomplished.

Another component of the WakeMate is the Wakelytics site which helps you track a your personal sleep score over time as well as give you the ability to tag any night with specific comments. I've used everything from coffee-10pm to couch though I've not actually looked much at what it does for me. That said, if you like game mechanics, leaderboards, and sleeping. WakeMate's top sleepers board might be the place for you to bathe in the limelight.

What doesn't it do

This is both tricky and simple. Firstly, the WakeMate isn't a magic solution that you wear on your wrist in order to ward off oversleep demons. If you're that tired, you'll just sleep through it like any other alarm. It also isn't the best at preserving your data on Android, there have been a number of nights where I lost data due to bluetooth bugs, application crashes, accidentally running the device battery out, and so on. While the betas have been getting better and better about this, it'd still be nice to have a fallback such as not deleting data on power cycle but instead having a dedicated (and somewhat hard to push) reset button. Beyond that, there isn't much advertised that it doesn't deliver. At this point I think they're on the right path and just need to step up on the user experience side

What I'd like to see

The main feature that WakeMate lacks for my desired use case is something I'm going to call a Powernap Button (Feel free to use this if you like fellows.) Which will let me sleep for a single light -> medium -> heavy -> medium -> light sleep cycle and then wake me up. Especially on nights which would otherwise have to be all nighters, this would be massively awesome.

Another awesome feature would be an API to access live WakeMate data about my current sleep. It'd be great to wire up the electric kettle to start heating up once I've entered light sleeping and will soon be woken up and a million other neat tricks like beyond that all they really need is a bit of user side polish and the willingness of people to try new things in order to free themselves of the snooze button.


The WakeMate is a great tool if you want to tweak your sleeping habits and get more out of less sleep. I haven't yet taken full advantage of all it has to offer and the Android client is a little haphazard but constantly getting better. I'd love to be able to hit a website with a request and get back some json data of about my current sleep status. That would be fun to play with.

Comments from the Posterous Version

Jon Schwartz

I've been using the wakemate for a little while now too (I think I was in the second shipment). I have also found the wrist band to be too tight, so I turned it inside out as some people suggested on the WM Blog, that solved the issue. However, it caused another side issue. Now, the wrist band turns off in the middle of the night (switch gets flipped) and I get woken up at the end time instead of the correct time.

The software has gotten much better since version 1 (on Droid 1) and my data hasn't been lost lost in quite a while. Sometimes, I'll have to power cycle the wrist band, but it doesn't lose my data.

I agree, their interface on Android needs a little more spit and polish and I, too, would love api access. I doubt, however, they could offer us real time access as I think the wrist band goes into low power mode when it doesn't detect movement and its not close to wake up time.

There was also that whole situation with the exploding usb charger. I haven't gotten a replacement, have you?

Overall, I agree with your assessment. The wakemate is a great tool, but I still haven't shut off my backup alarm.


I've been using the wakemate for almost a month now. I didn't get a charger with my shipment at all. When I emailed them about it, they said they had issues with them, and are no longer including them at all -- they told me to check and buy one for myself.

Steven! Ragnarök

@Jon, I haven't gotten a replacement either, but USB wall warts are a dime a dozen in my household, so I hadn't even been using it when they sent out the recall. There's lots of little things with the Android app, like not entering portrait mode when I crack open the keyboard to type in my login info. Nothing that makes it unusable in my opinion, but not pleasant by half. Especially not when you're already half asleep.

@KOGI it's a shame they sent you out to Amazon, they should at least recognize one that they accept. So many of the adapters I've found on Amazon have shorted out themselves!

Thanks for your comments guys.


Hy, thanks for your great review! Based on it I have bought a WakeMate, too. I'm an Android user so it would be great to test the nightly Android client builds. But I dont find the mailng list of WakeMate you mentioned? Would be great if you can point me to it. Thanks in advance!

Steven! Ragnarök

@hjwieland it might just take them a while, They currently have one developer doing all the work for both Android and Blackberry platforms. If you're desperately impatient, post your email to @__nil on Twitter as he's the fine fellow running the show. That seems to be the way the last few guys got in. Remember that beta means beta which means occasional loss of data. If you value the stats maybe you should stick with the Market versions. I'm not fussed about the stats, which is why I volunteered to test.


Excellent post, I have found sleep success with the wakemate and have shaved off about an hour a night without as much as a yawn.

You're "What I’d like to see" rocks. I now want things to come alive just I am waking up.