Workplace

How to hack your ZZZs, according to a sleep startup co-founder

Eight Sleep co-founder Alexandra Zatarain talks about a typical day in her life and how she optimizes her sleep.

​Eight Sleep co-founder Alexandra Zatarain

The key to good sleep, according to Eight Sleep co-founder Alexandra Zatarain, is routine.

Photo: Eight Sleep

This is the sixth installment in Protocol's Calendar Series, where we take you inside a day in the lives of the world’s biggest tech execs: the meetings on their agenda, how they manage their time, their best productivity hacks and what they prioritize in a busy day. Read the rest of the series.

Alexandra Zatarain is the co-founder and VP of Brand and Marketing at Eight Sleep, a sleep technology company with a smart mattress and smart mattress cover that use machine learning and other AI-based algorithms to help improve users’ sleep. (It raised $86 million in its latest funding round last year, led by Tesla-backer Valor Equity Partners, putting its valuation close to $500 million.)

Zatarain and her husband — Matteo Franceschetti, who is also her co-founder and Eight Sleep’s CEO — are, unsurprisingly, very regimented with their sleep schedule. Even if she’s busy, Zatarain shuts down her computer by 7:30 p.m. and eats dinner as early as possible to make sure she has time to digest. She and Franceschetti also stopped drinking alcohol three years ago, partly because it affects their sleep. Most nights, they’re in bed by 9:30 or 10 p.m. and up by 7 a.m., giving them a total of eight or nine hours of sleep. Even on the weekends, the latest the pair will go to sleep is by 11 p.m.

That’s the key to good sleep, according to Zatarain: routine. “I lead a very boring life,” she said. “Basically, it’s work or workout, sleep.” She said she sleeps so well, she doesn’t even use an alarm anymore: “My body just wakes up on its own.”

Zatarain has these tips for people trying to sleep better: If you sleep in the same bed as someone, try to go to bed and wake up together. Having two different sleep schedules can disturb your or your partners’ sleep. Also, make sure you’re managing the temperature in your room and bed.

She thinks it’s unrealistic to ask people to stay off their screens before bedtime and instead leans toward recommending things that can be realistic, sustainable habits. Instead of asking someone to stop drinking, she would recommend that they stop drinking at least an hour or two before bed. “You will feel a huge change,” Zatarain said.

Zatarain spoke with Protocol about a typical day in her life, April 29.

Her schedule has been edited for brevity and clarity.

7:30-8:30 a.m. | Workout

This is a new thing that I implemented this year where I put my workout in my calendar, because I felt like if I didn’t, I just wouldn’t work out. I do it more for my mental health. It’s the best source for me to de-stress, because I’m not on my phone for those 30 minutes to an hour. What I’m doing now that I’ve gotten a lot into is Tonal.

8:30-10:30 a.m. | AZ focus time block

I iterate on my calendar maybe every quarter, auditing and looking for moments where I’m most energized to do certain types of work. I also look at which meetings are energy-takers versus energy-givers. That focus time is what I identified as a time when my team isn’t as active yet. Usually they start being active on Slack by 10 a.m. Eastern. So it gives me this moment of the morning to review any materials that I have to prepare for my day, do my own focus work, review agendas.

We document everything in the company, especially now that we’re remote. So if I have a certain meeting that day, the person who is leading that meeting would have sent an agenda the night before. So I have to review that in the morning.

10:30-11 a.m. | Check-in: Marketing launch

Right now, we’re preparing for a product launch. These are non-recurring, random drop-ins, like, “Let’s do an update, see how things are going across a bunch of different areas.” They’re definitely an energy-giver. For me, I get very energized from working on product launches. I think the whole team gets motivated by it, so it’s a great way to start the day.

11 a.m.-12 p.m. | Eight Sleep all-hands

Every Friday, the entire company gets together. Our head of operations, Joe [Aranda], actually puts together an entire presentation for the company. And we always start the all-hands by reminding everyone of our mission to fuel human potential through optimal sleep. It’s a moment to remind everyone of, “Why are we here? Why are we doing all this work?” A lot of times, we’ll also surface tweets or customer support messages that came through the week about how much they love the product and how it helped them.

After board meetings, we’ll also update the company on what we discussed, overviews of any decisions that were made. We want to be as transparent as possible with everyone in the organization because they’re all stakeholders in the company.

12-12:30 p.m. | Performance marketing check-in

I check in with our performance team two times a week. And then we have individual check-ins for each channel. That’s the moment when we review how we’re doing against our advertising budgets, how each channel is performing, what adjustments we have to make and whether we’re pacing toward our goals. That meeting leader prepares all our numbers, and then we review them together to make any decisions.

12:30-12:45 p.m. | Product speed boat

That’s a meeting for another product line, Span Health, that we actually announced recently. We acquired a new company that specializes in the digital coaching space, and so we’ve just been working on integrating the products to our own product line and introducing that product more widely.

1-1:30 p.m. | Team 1:1

This was a 1:1 with one of my direct reports, our director of Brand Marketing. I have quite a few direct reports right now, about 10 people, and I meet with them each once a week.

1:30-2 p.m. | Candidate interview

The biggest thing I try to understand [in candidate interviews] is why they want to work at Eight Sleep. We are a mission-driven company, and sometimes that sounds like fluff, but it really is true. People at Eight Sleep are tied to the mission, and they want to work at a company that is building what we’re building. So I’m trying to assess that fit.

2-2:30 p.m. | Dog walker — Alex C.

I have the dog’s schedule on my calendar, just to make sure that the walker will arrive home, have the door open and get the puppy.

2:30-3 p.m. | New programs sync

That’s another thing we started recently. My team has been working on conducting educational sleep fitness sessions with companies, so we touch base on how we’re doing. With everything we do, the company has goals and metrics that we’re using to measure success. This is a new initiative, so we’re talking about how it’s doing and what we need to iterate on to continue growing that as an opportunity.

These sessions are composed of two main things: The first is an assessment of how the organization is doing in terms of their sleep. That’s my favorite part because we are using a clinically validated survey. It’s called the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. This is a tool that is already used in clinical settings to assess the quality of sleep of individuals. Team members can respond to it anonymously. It helps us present to the entire organization a comparison of how you’re doing versus the benchmark on metrics including sleep hygiene, sleep quality, energy levels throughout the day, etc.

3-4 p.m. | Team 1:1

I never cancel 1:1s. The way I frame it to my team is, “You are the owner of this time.” Unless you tell me you don’t need this time with me, this meeting is going to happen. I honestly find my 1:1s to be super productive because my team comes prepared with talking points. It’s not about checking in on projects, but it could be anything from professional development to feedback.

4-4:30 p.m. | AZ — Sabina

That’s another check-in. I started that day with a wider team check-in for a new product launch, and this one is more a check-in with the person on the marketing team that’s leading that product launch.

4:30-5 p.m. | Review of website design backlog

My team oversees the ecommerce product, which is basically our website EightSleep.com. So this meeting is just reviewing what the web team is working on.

5-5:30 p.m. | Product design review

We’ll look at the priorities of what they’re working on, and then also review any designs.

5:30-6:30 p.m. | XFN dependencies — weekly sync

New product launches take a lot of our time. This is all the teams in the organization that need to be involved for this product launch to happen. We have a sync at the end of the week where our program manager makes sure we’re all aligned and anything that we had to do during the week got done.

The owner of the meeting will share a document the morning of or a few hours before the meeting, and the document will outline anything that we’re going to review that day and any materials that you’d have to read. By the time we get to the meeting, we’re just running through questions that came up because we can leave notes and comments in that doc asynchronously.

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