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Meet Alexandra Zatarain, The Mexicana Goddess of Sleep

How are you sleeping lately? Are you losing sleep binging on a Netflix series and then not managing to rest well on an old mattress? Listen up: sleep is the means to an end for a productive life. This is the go-to motto of Mexico born Alexandra Zatarain, co-founder and CMO of Eight, a technology startup that makes smart mattresses. In other words, without a good night’s sleep, we’re basically nothing.

“A good mattress is heavenly. But a bad mattress is a nightmare — literally. Sleeping on an old mattress can take a serious toll on your body, in more ways than one,” Zatarain wrote in a 2016 Huffington Post article titled, “Why Smart Mattresses are the Future of Sleep.”

“Why Smart Mattresses are the Future of Sleep.” Belatina

It seems she was onto a huge idea since the following year Forbes chose the young techie from Tijuana as one of their “30 Under 30” for the annual list chronicling the brashest entrepreneurs across the United States. For many of us, she was a breath of fresh air with the simple promise of a good night’s sleep — in a list of predominantly white men.

The Evolution of the Sleep Technology Entrepreneur

How does someone become a famous entrepreneur? For one she has said she admires strong female leaders like Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey. She also grew up with a father who was an entrepreneur and in an interview with The Expat Woman, she said, “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur because I wanted to have a big impact in the world while having control of my life decisions.” She admired how entrepreneurs can take things from nothing and make them into something.

She was born in San Diego but grew up in Tijuana, where her family is from. She has said that she had always dreamed of moving to New York and “making it” there.” After college she moved to NY and did in fact make it there, she decided that this wasn’t enough. Her dad’s advice to her and her sister was to always keep moving forward despite minor setbacks. Then, her dad suddenly died of terminal cancer at 65 and this took a huge toll on her life causing her to rethink things. She decided to heed his counsel and take a chance leaving her comfortable job in New York to move to San Francisco, where she joined a sleep technology team of three Italians, one of whom would become her husband.

In her gut she had the conviction that the product they were creating would change lives. “My dad had just passed away from terminal cancer and I saw how his life deteriorated and how my mom and brother had to deal with the complications of working while still taking care of him,” she told The Expat Woman. “Because I lived far from home I always felt guilty for not having a way to help my family take better care of my dad. If we would have had a Luna (smart mattress) during those months, my dad wouldn’t have had to sleep covered in heavy blankets that made it impossible for him to move, since that was the only way to keep him warm as he lost strength and natural body heat. If we would have had this product my mom and brother could have monitored my dad remotely, feeling a little more secure while they were out at work.”

She took that sadness and helped covert Luna into a product that went beyond a gadget, one that could truly impact people’s lives. Her first company Luna eventually transformed into Eight, which divides its time between the two major coasts of the U.S. Zatarain has said that no one believed their business idea was viable or that a bunch of foreigners with accents could actually raise money. And of course, they proved all the naysayers wrong.

The seed behind the creation of this futuristic sleep tracking machine was planted when her husband and Eight co-founder Matteo Franceschetti was having trouble sleeping.  He suffers from Restless Legs Syndrome and when they began investigating the sleep market to understand the needs and wants of its customers, Zatarain and Franceschetti came up with the idea of building Eight sleep technology and so began the birth of the smart mattress. They and their fellow co-founders wound up creating one of the first successful smart mattress covers that makes any bed smart. It can monitor your heart rate, your temperature, your sleep phases, and breathing rate as well.

How are You Performing in Bed?

Some of you may be scratching your heads at the concept of Eight. It’s like using a fitness app to measure your performance at the gym. But instead you’re measuring how you’re performing in bed, sleep-wise we mean. Her vision for Eight Sleep was to create a mattress that could track everything from the quality of your sleep (light to deep) to the amount of tosses and turns per night.

“Because we sleep in patterns and cycles, it’s important that our bed is consistently comfortable. Getting in the habit of tossing and turning is detrimental to those. The best thing you can do for your body, and your mind, is to make sure when you lay down, you’re ready to rest,”  Zatarain wrote in the Huffington Post.

To assure comfort, Eight Sleep includes temperature settings that will adjust to your body’s temperature so you’re never too hot or too cold. And if you share a bed with a loved one, different temperatures can be applied to each side. He may like it Alaska cold, while you prefer a toasty Caribbean warm.

The Eight app on your phone synchronizes to a cover that you can slip on over your mattress. This way you can track the temperature of your bed and your level of sleep, determining whether it’s either light or deep. It also tracks the amount of hours you sleep and spend in bed. So the latter refers to those series marathons you like to take. Eight can also schedule a smart alarm that sounds gently within a 30 minute period and gauges the perfect moment for you to wake up. This means that it knows a moment when you are in your lightest phase of sleep so that you don’t feel all groggy when your alarm goes off if you are in a deep sleep phase.

If you don’t feel like napping or sleeping, but just zoning out in bed for a while, there’s also a meditation option. Chill out with the sound of gentle waves and other white noise to help you to disconnect. Like Disney’s movie Smart House, this app can even turn on your lights and begin to brew your coffee when your alarm goes off. Zatarain said she had women in mind when she and her team created these features. They had surveyed customers’ bedtime routines and she noticed women were the last to go to bed due to having a few more responsibilities on their checklist than men.

“The funny thing is women, especially moms, would have one more thing in their routine — lock their doors, turn off their lights, set their alarm, turn off the TV, and we could automate those. Why don’t we just leverage that same Wi-Fi to connect to your home?” Zatarain told The Observer.

Go for the Gold and Get an Eight Mattress

If you want an entirely new mattress, the Eight Smart Mattress is a four-layer foam mattress with great pressure relief and support that is totally space age. Zatarain warns that your average mattress lasts seven years and starts to be less supportive as the pressure from our bodies compresses the foam inside. “Our muscles clench to compensate for the lack, which creates telltale soreness and back pains, which, if left untreated, can become chronic. Old mattresses also sag in the center, which can cause people to toss and turn, trying to get comfortable — leading to a loss of a full night’s sleep, ” she wrote in the Huffington Post.

She goes on to explain that interrupted sleep can lead to interrupted sleep cycles and that sleep-deprived people often overeat due to a rise in ghrelin, the hormone that tells us we’re hungry, and a loss of leptin, which suppresses appetite. Not sleeping also causes cortisol, the stress hormone, to rise in our bodies. A good night’s sleep boosts both our immune system and our memory.

A Peek into Her Everyday Grind

When she is based in New York, her typical day starts off at 7 am. First, she and her and husband wake up, prepare a glass of water with lemon and turmeric and then head to the gym. She is aware that daily exercise improves sleep quality and checks her sleep stats on the Eight app to see how she rated the night before. Of course there are days that she does not achieve the recommended seven to nine hours for adults and has to chug through a nonstop day on five hours sleep. Then they get dressed and hop on their Vespa to commute to work. This saves them 20 to 30 minutes on the subway. Minutes gained for which they spend having breakfast at a nearby café and going over the marketing team’s priorities before they are the first ones at the office. She usually has a 9 am meeting in her office and then mentors entrepreneurs at Galvanize, a tech learning community. She checks stats on their retail launches, reviews KPIs for the week, team meetings, squeezes in calls to her mom in Mexico, eats a late lunch at her desk, jumps into more meetings, and ends her day with a call with a potential retailer.  Mateo and her make dinner together, they brainstorm, have dinner and are in bed by 10:30pm.

The Smarttress of the Future is Here

A bed shouldn’t just be static. It should adapt and improve over time, like software, says Zatarin. Since we spend so much time in bed maybe we should be tracking those 8 hours more closely? I mean, we pay so much attention to how many calories our bodies consume and burn, why don’t we pay attention to our sleep, which happens to be a major health indicator? If we know what our bodies react to around our beds, causing us to take longer to fall asleep or to wake us, this type of technology could help us fix it.

Photo Credit IG @alexzatarainj

Recently, Zatarain and the other Eight owners announced that Echo and other Amazon devices can now interact with their mattresses to control your sleep data. This new version allows you to simply ask Alexa how you slept last night without having to touch the app on your phone. Or, you can ask Alexa to start warming your bed while you are brushing your teeth.  

What healthy habits does she hope Eight inspires in people? To begin with, the importance of a good night’s rest. She believes that it makes you more aware of how you sleep, which is the first and most important step. “It also helps you truly relax in bed with this feeling of warmth and disconnection from the world as your bedtime routine activities can be taken care of on your behalf.”

We can also imagine that since she spends so much time with her husband and co-founder in and out of bed, she definitely knows good bed and relationship etiquette. “We have heard from beta testers that there are couples that it has helped with managing different temperatures in the bed and avoiding fights over blanket-hogging!” So maybe save your relationship and invest in an Eight bed?

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