Overall, I think it is crucial to listen to yourself and practice being mindful of your personal experiences. Wellness is such an individual journey, and the first step toward discovering your own best practices is to understand what particular things appeal to you and why. This also makes it easier to cut through the noise of the latest and greatest trends, allowing you to focus on the specific things that will work best for you. It is wonderful that we have such an abundance of choice when it comes to how to exercise, eat healthily, and live well, but that abundance can become overwhelming without a clear sense of what goals we are aiming for and what solutions will be best-tailored to our individual needs. Sleep habits are an excellent illustration of this. A growing body of research suggests that sleep is the very foundation of health and wellness and a quick online search turns up dozens of articles on the ideal amount of sleep to get and trendy “no-fail” ways to get it. On one hand, it is great to have so much information at our fingertips. However, I also think that we need to equip people with the tools and motivation to evaluate that information in a personalized way.
Asa part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Casey Gardonio-Foat. Casey is the founder of Wink & Rise , an online purveyor of sophisticated products that help users celebrate and savor healthy sleep. A serial entrepreneur with a Ph.D. in art history and a background in design, she has experienced first-hand how crucial sleep is for health, wellness, happiness, and success.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Casey! What is your “backstory”?
Thank you for inviting me to speak with you! My story is roundabout — as a teenager, I dreamt of becoming an art history professor, not an e-commerce entrepreneur. While I was in graduate school in New York, and after a lot of research into what it took to have both a career in academe and a family, my husband and I decided that the best time to have a baby was while we were finishing our degrees. Needless to say, tag-team caring for a newborn while holding full-time teaching and research positions and living on grad student stipends required flexibility, creativity, and not a few late nights and early mornings. This experience opened my eyes to how we sometimes sacrifice wellness — and especially sleep — for other pursuits. I took my career in a different direction after completing my degree, but I remained interested in how we make choices about attaining what we want in life and the trade-offs that often entails.
Fast-forward to the present day, when the CDC estimates that over one third of American adults suffer from insufficient sleep. Despite this, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2018 Sleep in America Survey, only 10% of American adults count getting enough quality sleep as a top priority. One morning in 2018 it dawned on me that if everyone found sleep as enjoyable as I did — if we could begin to approach sleep with intention instead of as an afterthought — that may make it easier for people to prioritize, and Wink & Rise was born.
Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?
Overall, I think it is crucial to listen to yourself and practice being mindful of your personal experiences. Wellness is such an individual journey, and the first step toward discovering your own best practices is to understand what particular things appeal to you and why. This also makes it easier to cut through the noise of the latest and greatest trends, allowing you to focus on the specific things that will work best for you. It is wonderful that we have such an abundance of choice when it comes to how to exercise, eat healthily, and live well, but that abundance can become overwhelming without a clear sense of what goals we are aiming for and what solutions will be best-tailored to our individual needs.
Sleep habits are an excellent illustration of this. A growing body of research suggests that sleep is the very foundation of health and wellness and a quick online search turns up dozens of articles on the ideal amount of sleep to get and trendy “no-fail” ways to get it. On one hand, it is great to have so much information at our fingertips. However, I also think that we need to equip people with the tools and motivation to evaluate that information in a personalized way.
Can you share the interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One of the most exciting things I’ve experienced as an entrepreneur is the serendipity of relationships. I’ve always thought that some of the best, most creative ideas result when we are able to glean insights from seemingly unrelated topics and apply them to our own areas of expertise, and this plays out in relationships with other people, too. I’ve had the good fortune to meet so many amazing people through Wink & Rise and my previous design business, and it never fails to delight me when someone who I met under completely different circumstances turns out to be the ideal connection to help me with a challenge facing me right now.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I imagine this story is fairly common among women entrepreneurs, but my biggest mistake has been falling prey to self-doubt. As a business owner, the confidence with which you advocate for your ideas is one of the cues by which others will judge those ideas. However, while women in our society clearly have confidence in our visions, we often are conditioned to feel uneasy expressing it. I’ve had to consciously learn how to accept compliments gracefully and how to project confidence (externally and internally) when faced with more lukewarm responses. I have become better with practice, but I wish I could have jumped right to that point earlier in my entrepreneurial journey.
When it comes to health and wellness, how are you helping people making a bigger impact in the world?
The mission of Wink & Rise is to re-frame the way people view sleep, from a “waste of time” to a pleasure and an enjoyable act of self-care. There is no question that sleep is crucial for wellbeing, but our industrial-age attitude that the need to sleep is a weakness persists. Attitudes towards exercise and nutrition have been transformed by approaches that make these activities enjoyable in their own rights. Likewise, if we can make sleeping enjoyable, we stand to dramatically increase how much people value it. And placing increased value on sleep will have widespread effects beyond improving individual wellness (although that is a worthy target in and of itself). Recent studies have demonstrated how sleep deprivation negatively affects workplace productivity, short- and long-term health-care costs, overall morale, and — through these — the global economy. I founded Wink & Rise to make reclaiming sleep easier and more accessible to a broader population so that we can experience both the individual and societal benefits that better sleep offers.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many that it’s impossible to single out one person in particular. I have the great fortune to be a member of an inspiring and supportive community of entrepreneurs, which I think has only multiplied the benefits I would have derived from any individual relationship. My adopted city, St. Louis, is home to a vibrant and growing start-up ecosystem and has recently been named of the top cities in the U.S. for women-owned businesses. I have been lucky to be involved in many of the programs and organizations that make this city so great for entrepreneurs, as both a beneficiary and as a volunteer. It is the people that make up these organizations and networks that gives this community its special character, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of it.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
There is tremendous benefit to be gained from approaching wellness in a more individualized way, and I hope that we continue making strides in this direction. Moving away from a “one-size-fits-all” mentality includes understanding what solutions work best for us personally and why, as well as accepting that other solutions might work better for others. As just one example, I would love for there to be more widespread acceptance of individual differences in circadian rhythm. Research about chronotypes demonstrates a biological basis for some people being “morning larks” and others being “night owls,” yet our nine-to-five business day forces everyone into the same schedule. One potential benefit of the digital global economy is that it enables individuals to work at the time of day when they feel and perform best. By leveraging technology to allow people to tailor their work schedules to their personal biology, I think we could help more people achieve balance in all aspects of their lives and health.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I really value giving people the tools and information to make their own informed choices about their health and wellness. My research background uniquely positions me to summarize some of the scientific research about sleep in an easily accessible way, and I try to use Wink & Rise’s blog, The Sleep Journal, as a resource for spreading this information.
I also recognize that the opportunity to get sufficient sleep is, itself, a privilege that is not universally accessible to all people. As Wink & Rise grows, I look forward to the company’s potential to contribute to increasing sleep-security for everyone, so that all people can reap the benefits of a healthy night’s sleep.
What is your “I Thing I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
As a business owner, your confidence in yourself and your idea are the foundations of others’ confidence in you. This extends to finances — if you are not willing to take a financial risk on your business, why would someone else buy in? Further, just having a great idea does not ensure that people will pay attention — “if you build it, they will come” is a myth. You need to invest time and energy in telling people you exist and inspiring them to learn more about you.
Do you have any “girl-crush” in this industry? If you could take one person to brunch, who would they be? (Let another “woman in wellness” know that you respect her as a teacher and guide! )
I would love to have a brunch conversation with Arianna Huffington. I read The Sleep Revolution immediately upon conceiving the idea for Wink & Rise, and it resonated strongly with me. I am so grateful she is using her platform and influence to spread awareness of the importance of sleep, and I hope that Wink & Rise can contribute to the movement she has helped to spark.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
If I had to choose just one, it would be mental health, because when you are not healthy it is almost impossible to channel your energy into creating positive change on any other issue. Depression runs in my family, and managing this chronic illness has shaped my life. I’m glad to see the stigma surrounding mental health beginning to fade, but we still have a long way to go in making mental health resources easily and affordably available to everyone who needs them.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Wink & Rise posts regularly as @winkandrise on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We love discussions, so please feel welcome to ask us any sleep-related questions on these platforms!