Interview with Arianna Huffington on ‘The Sleep Revolution’: Part 1

April 29, 2016

9:00 am

Sleep; we all need it. But, in today’s world, getting enough sleep is a lot easier said than done. We push sleep aside to get more done; to try to get ahead; to write one more email, or article, or text. This behavior is rooted in today’s hustle culture. But Huffington Post cofounder Arianna Huffington’s recently released book, The Sleep Revolutionis bringing this issue to the forefront.

We asked Huffington to share some of her thoughts around this cultural problem with sleep and share a little about her new book in the following Q&A interview.

Why has society shifted to success driven by hustle and sleep deprivation?

Arianna Huffington: “The glamorization of sleep deprivation is deeply embedded in our culture. Everywhere you turn, sleep deprivation is celebrated, from ‘you snooze, you lose’ to highly burned-out people boasting, ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’ The combination of a deeply misguided definition of what it means to be successful in today’s world—that it can come only through burnout and stress—along with the distractions and temptations of a 24/7 wired world, has imperiled our sleep as never before.

It goes back to the Industrial Revolution, when sleep became just another commodity to be exploited as much as possible. Indeed, sleep became not just devalued but actively scorned. After all, every hour spent sleeping was another hour spent not working—therefore another wasted hour. And so many of our modern attitudes still reflect this.”

How can we change the society standard and stance on sleeplessness as a badge of honor?

Arianna Huffington: “To me, this is the ultimate indicator of our sleep crisis – not only are we dangerously misguided in our attitude toward sleep, but we are bragging about it! We can change the standard when we focus on sleep’s many the performance-enhancing benefits. Perhaps those who equate sleep with laziness or lack of dedication can be convinced of the benefits of sleep by looking at what’s going on in a world that is the ultimate in pragmatism, where performance and winning are everything: sports. To professional athletes, sleep is not about spirituality, work-life balance, or even health and well-being; it’s all about performance. It’s about what works, about using every available tool to increase the chances of winning.”

What are some tips we all can do to get more sleep and be more rested?

Arianna Huffington: “When we walk through the door of our bedroom, it should be a symbolic moment that marks leaving the day, with all of its problems and unfinished business, behind us. When we wake up in the morning, there will be plenty of time for us to pick up our projects and deal with our challenges, refreshed and recharged. I treat my transition to sleep as a sacrosanct ritual. Before bed, I take a hot bath with epsom salts and a candle flickering nearby—a bath that I prolong if I’m feeling anxious or worried about something. I don’t sleep in my workout clothes as I used to (think of the mixed message that sends to our brains) but have pajamas, nightdresses, even T-shirts dedicated to sleep. Sometimes I have a cup of chamomile or lavender tea if I want something warm and comforting before going to bed. Think of each stage of your bedtime ritual as designed to help you shed more of your stubborn daytime worries.”

How can one balance workload & stress and getting more sleep?

Arianna Huffington: “One thing keeping us up at night is worrying about our never-completed to-do lists. We lie in bed thinking of all that was not done today and all that needs to be done tomorrow, and it seems impossible to shut our minds off. I have a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson by my bed that helps me silence my mind:

‘Finish every day, and be done with it. . . You have done what you could— some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in, forget them as fast as you can, tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.’

And of course, it becomes much easier to change our sleeping habits when we have supportive workplace policies and a business culture that embraces sleep. And fortunately, the business world is waking up to the high cost of sleep deprivation on productivity, health care, and ultimately the bottom line. From offering nap rooms to encouraging more flexible work hours, companies are exploring new ways to help employees make sleep a priority. I expect the nap room to soon become as universal as the conference room.

At HuffPost, there was skepticism when we first installed nap rooms in New York in 2011. HuffPosters were reluctant to be seen walking into a nap room in the middle of a bustling newsroom in “the city that never sleeps.” But now they are perpetually full, and we’re spreading nap rooms around the world, starting with our London office. And more and more companies are installing nap rooms, including Ben & Jerry’s, Zappos, and Nike.”

What advice do you give to people with newborns to get more sleep?

Arianna Huffington: “I cannot overstate the importance of having a little tribe of support in the first few months after a baby is born. Whether it’s your spouse, your parents, or siblings and friends, having people to help you so that you can catch a nap in the afternoon or have a few hours of uninterrupted sleep at night makes all the difference.”

You’ve called this time we live in a “golden age of sleep science,” so what do you hope comes from this time?

Arianna Huffington: “We are absolutely living in a golden age of sleep science, with new findings coming out practically every day testifying to sleep’s benefits. Scientists are confirming what our ancestors new instinctively: that our sleep is not empty time. I hope all these incredible new findings will not only inspire people to make sleep a priority in their lives, but to do so knowing that sleep’s benefits are fully backed by science – not just untested theories that sound nice!

For me, one of the most important recent findings is about sleep and brain maintenance – that sleep is essentially like bringing in the overnight cleaning crew to clear the toxic waste proteins that accumulate between brain cells during the day. Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, of the University of Rochester, has studied the mechanism underlying these cleaning functions. “It’s like a dishwasher,” she said. Just as we wouldn’t eat off dirty dishes, why should we settle for going through the day with anything less than the full power and potential of our brains?

Sleep is also time of intense neurological activity—a rich time of renewal, memory consolidation, brain and neurochemical cleansing, and cognitive maintenance. Properly appraised, our sleeping time is just as valuable a commodity as the time we are awake. In fact, getting the right amount of sleep enhances the quality of every minute we spend with our eyes open.”

Editor’s Note: This interview is a part of a two-part series with Arianna Huffington. The second part will come out next week with more on The Sleep Revolution.

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Frank Gruber is the cofounder, CEO and Executive Editor of Tech.Co (formerly Tech Cocktail). He is the author of the book, Startup Mixology, Tech Cocktail’s Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success. He is also a startup advisor and investor to startups. Find Frank Gruber online and follow him on Twitter at @FrankGruber.