Under the Covers with Rachel Robinette, Director of Consumer Insights and Research at Casper

June 28, 2021 | Casper Editorial Team

Rachel Robinette studies sleep data with a fine tooth comb. In her years of experience surveying and studying sleepers, she’s learned that most people want mattresses to be “supportive and soft,” sheets to be “smooth, nourishing, and flowing” and pillows to be “plump, never flat or lumpy.”

“Sometimes we get data about sleep, step back, and squint at it wondering… wait, are people just describing their mothers?”

Needless to say, the study of sleep opens a world of hypotheses. Rachel conducts research at Casper Labs in order to build beds and sleep environments that help the world sleep a little better.

You’re at a cocktail party. How do you describe what you do?

“I help Design and Product teams understand what people need for better sleep. Our research informs the strategy for what we put into all of our sleep products. We (the research team) look to understand what people need and how we can translate that to give people something they need in a way that will resonate with them.”

Tell us about the types of studies you conduct at Casper.

“There are several different approaches. The core approach is understanding the context of the products people use. People show us their bedroom. We go into their homes. We see where they sleep.

We do quantitative surveys too. For example, we did a big project on pillows and spoke to just over a thousand people about what they’re looking for in a pillow. After gathering the data, we were able to classify their needs and discovered there are four types of pillow users and pretty much everyone falls into one of the categories.

Right now, we’re sending out some of our new mattress products for people to sleep on to get feedback from that. We always include testing as a part of our development process.”

What was one of the coolest studies you’ve conducted at Casper?

“We rented an Airbnb with four different bedrooms. Each bedroom was fully outfitted with a unique, prototyped experience that would allow us to get feedback from consumers about how our products — when properly contextualized — made them feel.

Kind of like a sleep museum, we had dozens of consumers mimic their go-to-sleep routines and behaviors in each room. Naturally, we gave them slippers and a pillow and led them through each room so that they could fully engage their senses at every level. We focused on elements like lighting and temperature to see how it changed their overall experience.

How technical does the research get? Is it just dream diaries?

We do all sorts of quantitative and qualitative studies. In our Casper Labs we have an overnight test bedroom where we invite employees to take part in new research. For one study we focused on heat sensors — a temperature sensor and a humidity sensor. We basically had employees sleep and then collected hundreds of hours of data in order to get a picture of their microclimates. We were able to understand the heat differences between the torso area and the feet as temperature and humidity changed throughout the night.

We talk a lot with our sleep advisors about measurement. How does someone measure a good night’s sleep? It’s really complicated to measure sleep improvement because there are so many factors you have to isolate.

So, no dream diaries?

“Actually, we did a major diary study! Over several weeks we had people send us wake-up videos describing how they slept. (Some of them looked groggy and right out of bed!) And then they would send videos in the evening too so we’d have multiple data points over a longitudinal study (2-weeks).

The intention of the diary study was to discover what we even define as “good sleep.” You might think of it as a certain amount of time (say, 8 hrs) you’re under the covers. You might just have a good night of sleep because you didn’t binge watch. You might call it a good night’s sleep because you woke up before your alarm went off. Or maybe your dog came in the bed to wake you up and that made it all a good night’s sleep.

If we can think about sleep as this whole experience rather than just when your eyes are closed, we can improve it more holistically.” 

What have you discovered about sleep temperature and love?

“Sleep is intensely, uniquely personal. This is most evident when it comes to sleep temperature. For couples, temperature can be a real struggle. Three out of four times in a relationship one person sleeps hot, while the other sleeps cool. Sharing the bed exacerbates the challenges of regulating temperature. 

We talked to one couple in our research who stated it clearly. If one of them is too hot, there’s no cuddling — one will be pushing the other away. They told us, “We want to sleep close together, but if she’s hot, I’m lucky to get a leg!” When this couple was looking for a new mattress, they were willing to spend more to get cooling features so they could… turn up the heat. 

At the end of the day, temperature regulation is really about relationship harmony. It’s our job to  find something that helps people share the bed, so couples can sleep deeply together, cuddled as close as they want.”

What are your top 5 insights when it comes to sleep?

Sleep is an arc. From falling asleep to staying asleep to waking refreshed, what people need and what the body needs are different across an entire sleep cycle. Something might be designed to feel really great when you get into bed, but might end up to be too constraining in the middle of the night or keeps you awake. These are all things we consider when coming up with our products.

Anxiety affects sleep. The three pillars of wellness are sleep, exercise, and nutrition. But unlike the other pillars, with sleep the more you worry about your sleep the worse it will be. One of our advisors said it best, “Nobody ever got better sleep by trying harder.” When it comes to getting better sleep, the mental state is the most impactful. Our approach has always been that we use tactility and sensory experiences to calm the mind.” 

When it comes to sleep, we’re basically still babies. When we sleep, we are vulnerable and helpless. We need products to literally support our bodies because in sleep we lose muscle control (like a newborn needs their neck to be held up) and we need products that help us feel safe and secure or we can’t fall asleep. We’ve found that people are as attached to their pillows and blankets as adults as they once were to their stuffed animals. As one grown woman told us, “I’d literally cry without my blanket.”

Sleep is intimately connected to nature. Our whole biological sleep system — the circadian rhythm — was designed to work in concert with the cycle of the sun. We’re just beginning to understand all the ways our physiology responds to stimuli in nature — from sounds to the breeze. We take inspiration from how our bodies respond to these cues in the natural environment and incorporate them into our products.

Our bed is intensely personal. What’s comfortable for one person is not the same as the next, but at the same time, in our culture, it’s a space that’s very often shared. When we sleep with a partner, it’s louder (snoring is a big problem!), hotter, more distracting. But there’s evidence that togetherness outweighs these disruptions to our sleep because when we sleep together we’re less anxious. We even met one couple in research so committed to sleeping together despite a serious snoring problem that they slept head-to-foot!”