Sleep is an essential function and is both the gateway and the key to our health. It allows our body and mind to recharge. Good sleep also helps keep our immune system strong so we can fight off infection and disease to stay healthier.
If you’ve read any of my recent articles, you know that I’m on a new health journey of sorts. For the past few years, I’ve struggled with bad headaches and I was recently got a diagnosis of sleep apnea.
I’m going to share my personal experience with hacking my way to better health through a foundation of better sleep as well as introduce you to some of methods and routines that worked for me — including a revolutionary bed designed with technology made by Matteo Franceschetti’s company, Eight Sleep. If you suffer from insomnia, sleep apnea, or other medical conditions that are potentially serious health issues, you should consult your doctor. We all have different genetics and biology, so there are many ways to approach the problems outlined here. I can say that simply redesigning my bedroom with blackout curtains, removing my phone, or committing to be more disciplined about my sleep time and routine didn’t work for me. Getting a proper night’s sleep can be more complicated, especially as we age.
I saw a neurologist who did an MRI and scanned my brain for possible tumors. I consulted a cardiologist for my carotid arteries and got a complete heart check up and blood panels. Thinking I could have an infection in my teeth causing headaches, I saw my dentist who did a full 360 scan of my teeth and gums. I thought my problem could be eye strain or an outdated prescription, so I had my eyes examined by my optometrist. Am I allergic or sensitive to certain foods? I talked to a nutritionist about food allergies and took several sensitivity tests. I saw an endocrinologist for hormone and blood sugar levels. Finally, after several months and thousands of dollars in medical expenses, my insomnia and apnea were getting worse. It was like my own version of the Groundhog Day movie with poor sleep, fatigue, exhaustion, and migraines every day on repeat cycle.
The cardiologist actually tipped me off about the apnea as I was totally unaware of it at first. My heart checkup revealed that I had unusually high blood pressure, heart flutters, and high red blood cell count. Because of my (relatively young) age and the fact that I don’t smoke, the doctor cited that something was strange and that I shouldn’t be having this kind of trouble. He pressed me about my sleep habits and I realized that I had a vague memory of waking up during the night but it was fuzzy.
The cardiologist sent me to a pulmonary specialist, who gave me a sleep test. It was clear that I was experiencing sleep apnea. This means that I was waking up 10 to 50 times each night without knowing it. In my case, my jaw and tongue were relaxed and falling back into my throat and blocking my airway. Without air to breathe for several seconds, my body would sense that I was suffocating, and then jolt me semi-awake and I’d start breathing again. This pattern probably repeated all night — every night for months. No wonder I was fatigued and getting headaches.
The doctor prescribed a CPAP machine for me to take home. It is a small electric box and air compressor with an air hose that flows oxygen through a mask to my nose and mouth that I wear at night. This keeps air flowing into my lungs so I don’t stop breathing and I can get a full night of uninterrupted sleep. Unfortunately, after three months of trying, I couldn’t get used to the CPAP machine and sent it back. The air flow was uncomfortable and dried out my nose and mouth. The mask made me feel claustrophobic and I was depressed thinking that I had to wear this thing to bed for the rest of my life. I felt frustrated and hopeless. What I didn’t know at the time — and what the doctor didn’t explain to me — was that I had other options to cure my particular case of apnea.
Please remember that this is my personal experience and your own results may vary. You could have serious sleep apnea and the CPAP machine is saving your life. I support you and I’m happy that you found a solution. But for me, I believe my doctor was being lazy for not properly explaining other options. I came to terms with realizing that I had to take responsibility for my own health if I wanted things to change. If you want to see different results, you have to do something different.
Here’s what I did that actually made a difference:
- I cut out all desserts and food/beverage with too much added sugar. This does not include regular fruit and veggies as well as other foods with natural sugar. My philosophy is that if it grows naturally and you don’t overeat it, it’s not bad. That said, I also make my decisions based on how food makes me feel. I’m eating almost no bread and dairy these days (except for eggs) for this reason.
- I’m doing intermittent fasting. This means I skip breakfast and don’t eat my first meal until about 1:00 p.m. Also, no in-between snacking because this raises my insulin levels too much during the day and messes up my energy. I also try to eat my last meal before 7:00 p.m. so I don’t feel full going to sleep. Eating too late at night causes occasional acid reflux.
- I go to the gym and lift weights five days a week. My rule is, I can miss one day but not two days in a row. I’m doing bench presses, squats, curls, etc., with heavier weights as well as walking on a treadmill for a mile. Consistency and quality reps are the key.
- I’m taking vitamins like D, B, L-lysine and plenty of electrolytes with magnesium via a drink mix called LMNT. I started taking cold showers, doing the Wim Hof breathing method and cold plunging.
- I got a new pillow and a bed that gives the proper lumbar support. Find something you like. The bed I chose is from Eight Sleep (this is not a sponsored endorsement) because it thermoregulates my body temp, tracks my sleep, and has other useful tech.
The result of all this so far is that I have lost 15 pounds in the first three months of changing my diet, exercise, and sleep habits. I’m feeling much better and my apnea is gone. No high blood pressure or heart flutters. I really do feel happier and healthier. My clothes fit loose and more comfortably. I have more energy and a higher sex drive, and I don’t get down or have as many days when I’m feeling depressed. I’m not saying life is perfect. I still have bad days with high stress and anxiety. But I feel more prepared to face the day and battle back if I have to. I’m on a good path doing what I can to have a better quality of life for me and my family.
In my case, it was a combination of several new behaviors that lead to better sleep and health. Since I spend about eight hours a night recharging in bed, I wanted to make sure I was optimizing my sleep. I am always intrigued when founders and innovators shake things up by disrupting an established industry, but I’m even more invested when they make something that improves my quality of life by several exponents.
For Italian athlete turned business founder Matteo Franceschetti, optimizing sleep and maximizing hours he could work during the day was what led him to create a brand of sleep technologies that help improve body restoration times. What he inadvertently did, however, was disrupt the sleep industry by making mattresses and bed accessories cutting-edge, sexy, and interesting.
Franceschetti grew up in Italy and from a young age was a prolific athlete. He was a skier, played tennis, and ultimately ended up racing cars. This is where he credits the genesis of his obsession with personal performance.
As a young man, Franceschetti believed himself to be on the trajectory to follow in his father’s footsteps and go into law, but it wasn’t something that really interested him. After doing a bit of personal research, he learned of lawyers who worked in the business, entrepreneurial, and tech space and that sort of law piqued his interest more.
“I never really loved the idea of becoming a lawyer like my dad, because I always wanted to do business,” he says. “I read this article [about] these lawyers who were doing business … M&A, and IPOs, working on the biggest transactions in the world. And as I read that I said, this is what I want to do, this kind of lawyer is interesting to me.”
While Franceschetti had discovered his passion, there were a few obstacles in the way of his pursuing that trajectory. The first was that he’d need to graduate from university with honors and the second was that he’d need to learn to speak English. Perhaps the competitive drive was already there from years of racing, but Matteo went for his goal without hesitation. He studied hard and did graduate with honors, and he later took the money he’d made from an Italian startup company and moved to the U.S. to learn English and pursue his passion.
Once in the U.S., Franceschetti got a job at a law firm and began his two years of interning before he could take the bar exam. That time however coincided with a large business boom in Italy where solar technology companies began to come in and buy land and this piqued Franceschetti’s interest a bit more than law.
At first Franceschetti was working on a startup company with a co-founder after work from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., but eventually the startup began to make enough money that he was able to quit his job at the law firm and pursue the life of an entrepreneur. His mother wasn’t thrilled about this idea. Matteo’s father had recently passed, and it seemed like a tough time to leave a well-paying job at a law firm to seek out the life of an entrepreneur, but Franceschetti made the move without fear.
As he chased the entrepreneurial life, he, along with business partner and his wife, created a prototype of a new mattress. They invited some friends over for a pajama party to try it out and one of their friends was so impressed they handed Franceschetti and team a check for $25,000.
Franceschetti’s motivation was a deep need for compressing the quality of sleep so that he could sleep fewer hours and still be rested and restored to maximize his work performance, and this is something that I think many people identify with. In today’s fast-paced society, it seems that everyone is hustling and having a couple more hours in the day is a luxury that can be a game changer for people who are working hard, trying to build something.
After doing some research, the team found out that the number one thing consumers wanted was heating and cooling technology to help them sleep better at night and stay asleep. Any sleep expert will tell you that quality, uninterrupted sleep is the best for your body and mind. But for Franceschetti and his team, a cool gel mattress wasn’t cutting it.
“What we learned is that temperature is the big elephant in the room in terms of sleep performance,” he says. “True temperature, you can fall asleep 20 percent faster; you can wake up 40 percent less; toss and turn 40 percent less; get 20 percent more deep sleep. The other thing we learned is a fixed, flat temperature during the whole night doesn’t work, because your body temperature changes. And so, you need a device that is able to capture your biometrics and in real time adjust the temperature based on those.”
What the Eight Sleep company did that is so unique is create a mattress, or a pod as they call it, that has little veins in the mattress through which differing temperatures of water can circulate throughout the night. These little waterways enable the mattress temperature to fluctuate dependent upon the sleeper’s desired preference. Their app allows for consumers to choose the temperature they want to have at what point in the night, and the technology within the pod actually measures the sleeper’s heart rate, respiration, and sleep stages to maximize comfort. What they’ve done in theory is allow for consumers to sleep for six hours and get the same quality of sleep you’d get sleeping eight hours on a regular mattress.
While their idea was sound and the research to back it up was compelling, Eight Sleep’s path to success, just as it is for many other startups, was fraught with challenges, one of which was a difficult path to be accepted into the Y-Combinator program.
“We got rejected twice,” Franceschetti says. “We got admitted the third time. I think we became a [case study]. They still pitch us (the partners) to say, never give up, keep applying because even if we don’t take you the first time or second time you could be admitted the third. We applied the first time, we put a lot of effort [but] we didn’t get in. We apply a second time with a lot of effort … no answer. The third time there was a new partner and we met him, and he said, ‘Oh you should apply.’ And I said, ‘No I don’t want to apply again, it takes a lot of time and we already got rejected twice.’ And he said, ‘No, no no, you have to apply.’ So, I go back [to] my co-founders and we debate if we should apply or not and what we decided is we will [fill out] the application, but within an hour. No more than an hour. We apply and they invite us for an in-person presentation.”
The team went for the presentation, but their product is sizable and bulky and not easy to transport. Franceschetti says that usually you want to show the product to get into the program. So, they rented a truck and bought all the pieces of a bedroom, and they created a bedroom scene in the hallway of Y-Combinator. At the center of that bedroom was their sleep pod prototype. Franceschetti tells me that he thinks they got admitted just for having the courage to build a bedroom in the middle of the Y-Combinator office hallway.
After completing Y-Combinator, Eight Sleep had sold 8,000 units in pre-orders but then came the challenge of manufacturing, which Franceschetti admits the team didn’t know much about.
“We were trying to really start manufacturing and the development in China, but things are not really going as we wanted,” he says. “So, I go to my wife, and I say, ‘I’m going to China.’ And she asks when, and I say, ‘Tomorrow.’ And she says, ‘When do you come back?’ And I say, ‘Once I fix it.’ Bottom line I went to China for a couple of months where we identified all the partners for manufacturing.” During that time, Franceschetti was able to get the manufacturing operations together, but it was a stressful time. Delivering 8,000 units of a brand-new product isn’t a small thing.
There were other learning curves and hardships as well. Franceschetti tells me that he didn’t know much about hiring or manufacturing when the company started, but he was determined to learn. He believed that his product was valuable, and he wanted to figure out a way to get it to market. I admire his determination. He calls it naiveté, but I think it’s courage.
I ask him what kind of advice he can give to aspiring entrepreneurs and he says, “Never give up. It will be a rollercoaster. There will be ups and downs. It’s part of the game. What I have learned when there are big downs, then there will be big ups, so it’s just a matter of keep going. It will not be linear. You should not expect it to be linear. It will be painful and it’s just a matter of going through it. When it’s working you really feel that the market is pulling you, when it’s not working, you are really pushing. So, when you find a product/market fit, you will not realize why things are just happening. Growth is stronger than expected, sales are stronger than expected. When there is no product/market fit, you are there working six to eight hours a day to push something that people don’t end up buying. So, push and pull is an eye-level framework that you should look at and when you start seeing something pulling that could be the early days of something big.”
Part of what Eight Sleep is doing that appeals to me most is the health benefits of effective sleep hacking. I’m at an age where I’m really focused on my health and longevity. I want to be around longer for my family, for my kids, and I also want to be able to be the best I can be in my career and in my relationships. Getting good sleep is crucial to not only performance and maximizing your day, but also to your mood, your mental health, and your overall wellness.
“Health is based on three pillars. Nutrition, fitness, and sleep,” he says. “And actually, the first pillar is sleep, because if you sleep two hours per night, there is no nutrition, you will start eating carbs to compensate and you cannot train. So, sleep is really the foundation of everything. Then there is nutrition and then there is fitness, but they are after sleep. There is plenty of medical evidence that sleep has a major impact on your longevity, on your heart rate, your blood pressure … on everything you do. There is evidence that the way you eat is directly correlated to sleep. Meaning when you’re sleep-deprived you have different types of cravings, in particular for junk food. So, sleep is the foundation of health.”
More of my chat with Matteo Franceschetti here: