Ely Tsern of Bryte: “Sleep is personal and dynamic”

Sleep is personal and dynamic. This is what makes it so very challenging. What may nurture restorative sleep for you may disrupt it for another person — even your partner that you sleep with! So, it is important to consider how sleep solutions work based on big-picture scientific evidence as a general indication of effectiveness, but also […]

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Sleep is personal and dynamic. This is what makes it so very challenging. What may nurture restorative sleep for you may disrupt it for another person — even your partner that you sleep with! So, it is important to consider how sleep solutions work based on big-picture scientific evidence as a general indication of effectiveness, but also consider your own personal experience and tailor sensible advice based on your own experience and experiments.


Getting a good night’s sleep has so many physical, emotional, and mental benefits. Yet with all of the distractions that demand our attention, going to sleep on time and getting enough rest has become extremely elusive to many of us. Why is sleep so important and how can we make it a priority?

In this interview series called “Sleep: Why You Should Make Getting A Good Night’s Sleep A Major Priority In Your Life, And How You Can Make That Happen” we are talking to medical and wellness professionals, sleep specialists, and business leaders who sell sleep accessories to share insights from their knowledge and experience about how to make getting a good night’s sleep a priority in your life.

As part of this interview series, we had the pleasure to interview Ely Tsern.

Ely is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Bryte. He served as the vice-president and chief technologist at Rambus, leading new business and technology roadmap initiatives from concept to production, including licensing and IP development and the invention of over 180 U.S. patents.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your backstory?

As the son of Chinese immigrants, born in Illinois and raised in California, I was so fortunate to attend UC Berkeley for college and Stanford University for my PhD studying computer technology and have had a long career in Silicon Valley in technology, licensing, and business leadership. I’ve always been passionately driven by opportunities that have vast potential to improve lives through deep technology, making it broadly accessible and impactful.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this particular career path?

After losing my 8-year-old son to leukemia, I eventually decided to look for opportunities that could leverage my technical and business experience in making a big impact in health and wellness. When my friend, John Tompane, approached me with this idea to revolutionize sleep in 2015, I was blown away by the opportunity. Diving into the science, I learned that sleep is not only a pillar of your health — sleep is THE foundation of your health. It impacts every aspect of our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. And it remains a huge problem among adults throughout the world. While most technology today actually makes sleep worse, I saw an amazing opportunity to integrate sleep science, deep technology in AI, data and robotics, and software to completely transform the sleep experience and fundamentally improve sleep quality for the masses. So, John, myself, and Jonny Farringdon, a leading AI and health data expert, co-founded Bryte in 2016 with a vision to reunite humanity with natural, restorative sleep.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the sleep and wellness fields? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

Quite honestly, I started my Bryte sleep journey in 2015 as a total sleep novice, not knowing much of anything about sleep. But early on, we were incredibly fortunate to be able to attract and work with some of the world’s leading experts in sleep. Shortly after starting the company, Prof. Matt Walker, who founded the Center for Human Sleep Studies at UC Berkeley and later wrote the NY Times bestsellling book, “Why We Sleep”, got really excited about the potential of our platform and joined us early as our Lead Sleep Science Advisor. He’s been amazing and a tremendous collaborator and teacher, accelerating our knowledge in the latest sleep science research and developing some key algorithms that power our product today. We also worked closely with sleep experts at Stanford. Since then, our network among sleep and wellness experts has greatly expanded, so we continue to integrate the latest research and knowledge into our roadmap. So, my knowledge comes from working with these amazing experts and my own in-depth research in the field.

My unique contribution to the world of wellness comes from my involvement at Bryte. Our platform is built on the foundation of sleep science, and the results in sleep improvement have been incredibly promising. Each sleeper is unique. And sleep is a dynamic process that changes throughout the night, throughout the year, and over the years. The Bryte Restorative Bed figures out how you sleep and then learns and optimizes your personal sleep environment to help you reach your fullest restorative sleep potential. This includes real-time adjustments in pressure points across your body and in-bed active temperature management — these work together to minimize wake events, optimize deep and REM sleep, and maximize your restorative sleep — all of which helps you look, feel, and perform at your very best. We have seen improvements over 50% in certain measures of sleep quality and the vast majority of our users have seen significant improvements in their sleep and wellness. While It’s early, it’s very exciting to see the potential in our unique platform.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Yes, Matt’s book, “Why We Sleep”, was clearly a game changer for me. It’s like Matt took decades of complicated sleep research and distilled it all down into a nice summary that’s not only easy to understand but entertaining to read. A key theme of his book also resonates with Bryte’s core belief: natural sleep is the most beneficial for you. We use technology to restore your body’s most natural sleep processes.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

My cousin once shared with me a life lesson quote that has always stuck with me. “People don’t remember what you say, they remember how you make them feel.” Life for me is about relationships. So, every day, as I lead Bryte, work closely with some incredibly talented people, engage with customers and partners, and be a parent and husband at home, I try to remember those words in every zoom call, conversation, and engagement. It’s really impacted how I engage and build relationships with those around me.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with the basics. How much sleep should an adult get? Is there a difference between people who are young, middle-aged, or elderly?

Most people have heard of “8 hours” and that’s a great target to have, though often hard to achieve for working professionals and those with children. The general recommendation from credible sources such as CDC, Mayo Clinic and Sleep Foundation is at least 7 hours per night for adults, with a goal of 7–9 hours. Younger kids and teens need more — 8–10 hours. The CDC has a great lookup table for this, but suffice to say that your teenager is not lazy, they really do need to sleep more! And your sleep quality unfortunately degrades as you age, so it becomes harder and harder to achieve the target amount.

Is the amount of hours the main criteria, or the time that you go to bed? For example, if there was a hypothetical choice between getting to bed at 10AM and getting up at 4AM, for a total of 6 hours, or going to bed at 2AM and getting up at 10AM for a total of 8 hours, is one a better choice for your health? Can you explain?

Your total sleep amount is an important leading criteria. But quality of restorative sleep is just as important. Quality is measured by actual total sleep amount (vs. time awake), how broken or fragmented your sleep is, and a balanced amount of various sleep stages required for truly restorative sleep (e.g., REM sleep, deep sleep, and light sleep).

The actual time you go to bed doesn’t matter as much as maintaining a consistent bedtime every night. It turns out that different folks have different natural circadian timing, known as chronotypes. So, teens tend to go to sleep later than older adults. Studies have shown, however, that a consistent bedtime night after night, aligned to your natural chronotype timing, helps maximize sleep quality, as long as it results in a consistent nightly sleep amount of 7 hours or more.

As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for our readers. Let’s imagine a hypothetical 35-year-old adult who was not getting enough sleep. After working diligently at it for 6 months he or she began to sleep well and got the requisite hours of sleep. How will this person’s life improve? Can you help articulate some of the benefits this person will see after starting to get enough sleep? Can you explain?

I love this question because we get to discuss the upside of sleep. Matt Walker’s book does a nice job of listing both the downsides of poor sleep, as well as the incredible upsides of great restorative sleep.

On the downside, chronic poor sleep leads to poor health outcomes ranging from obesity or diabetes to dementia or increased cancer risk, accelerated aging to increased heart disease risk and degraded immune system function. 
 
On the flip side, Restorative Sleep is the path to reaching your true potential in every aspect of your life, performance, happiness, longevity, good mental health, improved mental acuity, relationships and more. Most folks already intuitively know this to be true, as a matter of personal experience. The days after poor sleeping you are never your best at work, learning, physical performance, in your ability to cope with stress or to be the best partner or parent. 
 
There is a plethora of scientific evidence to prove a causal relationship between quality sleep and quality of life in all aspects, and in fact this is the core belief upon which Bryte is founded.

Many things provide benefits but they aren’t necessarily a priority. Should we make getting a good night’s sleep a major priority in our life? Can you explain what you mean?

In short, yes, absolutely. If you were to choose one thing to improve your overall wellbeing, it would be sleep.
 
Dr. Matthew Walker said it best when he said that “Sleep is not just another pillar of health (alongside exercise and nutrition), rather it is the foundation upon which those other bastions sit.

This is true because the investments of time, money and energy and effort we make into other aspects of health and wellness are actualized through sleep. 
 
So, investment in sleep not only creates a return in itself, it is also a force-multiplier to all our other investments in health and wellness.

The truth is that most of us know that it’s important to get better sleep. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives? How should we remove those obstacles?

Changing habits is hard. Even if we know that staying up really late bingeing that Netflix show is bad or drinking that glass of wine right before bed hurts our sleep quality, it’s hard to be consistent.

I’d suggest that you give yourself the opportunity to discover the rewards of restorative sleep. Start with simple test: for one-week, commit to get to bed at a consistent time 8 hours before your wake time. And after a week, you’ll be amazed how different you feel — and how addictive the feeling can be. Habit experts claim that establishing new habits require both an investment and rewards for the new behavior. This test could be the starting point for a life-long habit that could greatly improve your life.

The right technology can also help. For some, sleep trackers can provide valuable insights and feedback on how you’re doing. The Bryte Restorative Bed takes it to a whole new level by managing and further optimizing your sleep for you while you sleep, while helping you fall asleep faster with relaxation experiences and wake refreshed using temperature to naturally regulate your circadian rhythm.

Do you think getting “good sleep” is more difficult today than it was in the past?

Definitely, though perhaps it depends on how far in the past we are talking!
 
Without doubt, technology and cultural norms have progressed faster than our natural biology and this has been detrimental to our sleep. Our natural circadian rhythms were designed for dark after sunset, cold caves overnight, and natural awakening with the warmth and light of the sun.

In the last century, technology has been working against our natural biology. Artificial indoor lighting and modern HVAC systems has disrupted our natural rhythms, as now have the never-ending stress from devices, notifications, and the always-on culture.
 
 However, I do believe that sleep science and technology are now progressing at an amazing rate, and that in turn is enabling advances in knowledge, AI technology and real solutions that can make a huge difference.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share “5 things you need to know to get the sleep you need and wake up refreshed and energized”? If you can, kindly share a story or example for each.

1. The purpose of sleep is restoration. So, try to avoid stressing about, or over-optimizing for any individual metric (such as duration or REM sleep) and instead consider the big picture. Do you feel restored by sleep to the extent you are able to operate at your physical, mental, and emotional best? Use that as your guide.

2. Quality not just quantity. Again “enough” sleep is the first concern, but not the only one. To avoid sleep aids or other behaviors that juice sleep time at the extent of sleep quality, such as sleeping pills, alcohol, cannabis and more.

3. The most restorative sleep is natural sleep. We believe that nature does not do things by accident, so beware of any pill, potion, product, or person that claims to improve sleep by rewiring or hacking it in anyway. The restorative technology that we create is founded on the belief that natural sleep itself is already the single greatest prescription ever offered, but modern culture and lifestyles have disrupted it. So, the role of technology is not to hack or juice sleep, but to nurture it, by removing disruptions so that the natural restorative processes can thrive.

4. Sleep is extremely complex. There are dozens if not hundreds of contextual factors that can disrupt sleep, from your environment to your physiology, diet, mindset and much more. There is no one single silver bullet, we need to step back and take a holistic and complete view.

5. Sleep is personal and dynamic. This is what makes it so very challenging. What may nurture restorative sleep for you may disrupt it for another person — even your partner that you sleep with! So, it is important to consider how sleep solutions work based on big-picture scientific evidence as a general indication of effectiveness, but also consider your own personal experience and tailor sensible advice based on your own experience and experiments.

What would you advise someone who wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep?

Dr. Walker suggests the following in his book: “If you find yourself still awake after staying in bed for more than 20 minutes or if you are starting to feel anxious or worried, get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.”

Naturally occurring events, such as pressure discomfort or being too warm or too cold, can also cause wake events, so try to find good bed and temperature solutions that work well for you and can help minimize these occurrences.

What are your thoughts about taking a nap during the day? Is that a good idea, or can it affect the ability to sleep well at night?

There is a lot of evidence on both sides of this argument, and many exceptions. The most sensible and balanced advice is that if you are able to get your sleep needs met overnight, that’s better and napping is not needed.
 
If there are occasional circumstances, such as illness, travel or extreme fatigue when your body is telling you that you need sleep, then a short 20–40 minute nap is a great idea, However, Dr. Walker suggests that you make sure not to nap after 3pm, or else it will reduce “sleep pressure” to help you get good sleep at night.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

So many to choose from 🙂 I’ll go with Jeff Bezos. He’s such a visionary and a unique intellect and talent. I would love to just get his perspective, wisdom, and advice about growing a business & platform, as well as how to lead effectively.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Bryte.com or Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter

Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.

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