Eight Sleep founder Alexandra Zatarain on what it means to be 'sleep fit'
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Eight Sleep founder Alexandra Zatarain on what it means to be ‘sleep fit’

Over the next two months, we will be sharing a series of conversations with founders and technologists at Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. This is the second in a series of weekly conversations we recorded at the event. To hear more, subscribe to all those conversations on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotify, or via RSS on your podcast app of choice.

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We talk a lot about physical fitness. But what if we cared more about sleep fitness?

That’s the question fueling the work of Eight Sleep, a health and wellness company that uses smart mattresses and technology to help people sleep better. On the latest episode of the What’s NEXT podcast, Samsung NEXT’s Brandon Hoffman spoke with Eight Sleep founder Alexandra Zatarain about what sleep fitness actually is, the science behind sleep, and how her company is working to change the dialogue around how we sleep and how it can improve our overall health.

The root causes of insomnia
The idea for Eight Sleep was a dream-like epiphany from co-founder Matteo Franceschetti — who is also Alexandra’s husband. He just couldn’t get a good night’s sleep and he became determined to solve the problem.

His initial goal was to determine any pattern recognition that could offer more insight into the source of the problem, Alexandra explained. That led to the realization that some of the wearable products currently on the market couldn’t provide the information needed to understand what was wrong with sleep, even if they could help track sleep. Alexandra could see first-hand, from her husband’s sleep struggles, how frustrating insomnia could be.

“That was the a-ha moment,” she said. “There was no company innovating in the space of sleep.”

So the couple set about developing a solution that could do two things: Understand how an individual was sleeping — which meant developing a device that a user would sleep with — and, with the collected information, help that user take actions to sleep better.

“We use technology as our via vehicle to help people sleep better,” Alexandra said. “And we do it by understanding how every individual sleeps and then giving them the right environment that we adjust in real-time to keep them asleep, longer and deeper, and give them the right tools they need to change their habits.”

Testing sleep tech
The first idea to better track sleep was to put sensors on a user’s bed. Eight Sleep developed a “smart cover” with sensors for mattresses, which launched in 2015.

That product launch, while successful, offered the founders more information about what users wanted that the smart cover wasn’t yet doing. “The number-one request that people wanted was for us to manage the temperature and specifically to cool down the bed,” Alexandra said.

For the next three years, the team at Eight Sleep focused on research and development and raised capital to develop technology that could do that work. Now, the most recent product from Eight Sleep — the Pod — includes a temperature regulation feature that beta users said was needed.

The world’s first smart mattress
The Eight Sleep product is unlike a traditional mattress. Most mattresses get hotter throughout the night, Alexandra said. But the top layer of Eight Sleep’s digital mattress has an active grid technology that adjusts according to a user’s body temperature.

“It’s this system of very thin channels through which water flows, and thermoregulates the water exactly to the temperature that you wanted to be,” Alexandra said.

The mattress, thanks to this grid technology, then dynamically changes throughout the night as the user falls asleep, reaches the first phase of a deep sleep, and wakes up. “The pod is actually going in tandem with your circadian rhythm or your metabolism,” Alexandra explained, “to make sure that you never wake up feeling too hot or too cold.”

Eight Sleep also tracks how users are sleeping according to four key metrics — sleep stages, sleep time, toss and turns, and heart rate — and will send messages to suggest ways to improve their sleep. That’s where being sleep fit — in other words, healthy with your sleep — comes in.

“The main way in which we do it is by really gamifying your sleep score,” she said. “It’s what we call a sleep fitness score. There’s no way that if you have a ‘100’ sleep fitness score consistently, you don’t feel amazing.”

Creating an all-in-one solution
To get users on the path toward sleep fitness, Eight Sleep had to develop its own mattress, Alexandra explained. It was only then the company could control the whole sleep experience and be an all-encompassing solution.

A queen-sized bed currently costs $2,500. It’s not lost on Alexandra that this means it’s not readily accessible to just anyone — especially those who already have a solid mattress they’re not ready to throw out just yet for something more expensive. This is also why Eight Sleep mattresses aren’t on sale on Amazon next to $200 beds, she said.

“We’ve decided, even though it may be a higher barrier to entry for anyone who wants to purchase it, we want to own the entire experience,” Alexandra said. “We’re not the cheapest bed out there. People are not buying us because of price. They’re buying us because of the benefits. So we’re mainly direct-to-consumer. ”

The price point of the Eight Sleep mattress will eventually have to come down in order to scale, she acknowledged. Eight Sleep’s first few customers were part of the early adopter crowd. Many of its current members are what the company calls “high performers” and “sleep enthusiasts.”

“These are people who are very aware that health and wellness is important and they’re taking steps for it,” Alexandra said. “They’re using technology as a key part of staying healthy and staying fit. And they know that sleep is important.”

For now, Eight Sleep is trying to mitigate sticker shock and to attract more customers by offering a variety of financing and payment options. And it’s working with hospitals, like Mount Sinai in New York and the University of California, San Francisco, to support third-party research in clinical environments.

Testing their products from a healthcare perspective is how it also plans to educate more people about the benefits of being sleep fit — and the benefits of a smart mattress.

Indeed, proving the benefits of Eight Sleep is what can improve both the growth of the company and the health of its users.

“We know that 84 percent of our members who sleep on the pod say that the pod has improved their sleep,” Alexandra said. “So we lead with that.”

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