In Bed With Arianna Huffington
There’s someone who loves sleep as much as we do: Arianna Huffington. We sat down with the Huffington Post co-founder and editor-in-chief to chat through her personal sleep journey and her new book, The Sleep Revolution.
What do you do if you cannot sleep? Are you a sheep counter?
Everyone has those nights when you have a hard time calming your mind and falling asleep, and I’m no exception. When I have trouble, meditation is my go-to remedy. Instead of stressing out that I’m not sleeping, I reframe it as an opportunity to practice my meditation uninterrupted. I love listening to guided meditations. My endorsement for my favorites is that I’ve never heard the end of any of them—I always fall asleep before they finish! But you need to experiment and find what works for you. I listened to hundreds of meditations before I found the few that clicked with me.
Having spoken with thousands of Helix Sleep customers, we know that each individual has his or her own personal needs when it comes to sleep. Was the impetus for writing this book based on your own personal sleep journey?
Absolutely. I collapsed from sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and burnout in April 2007. I had been on a college tour with my daughter, and each night after she’d fallen asleep, I’d fire up the computers and the BlackBerrys (yes, this was all the way back in the BlackBerry era), responding to all the “urgent” emails and generally attempting to squeeze a full day’s work into what should have been my sleep time. The morning after getting back, having not paused for a moment, I collapsed. That led me to begin a journey where I made a lot of changes to my life, and chronicled them all in my book Thrive.
And then, as I went around the country talking about Thrive, it was clear that sleep was the one topic on everyone’s minds. Everywhere I went people talked to me about how difficult it is to get enough sleep. I especially remember hearing from one young woman in San Francisco who confessed, “I don’t remember the last time I wasn’t tired.”
It was these experiences that inspired me to explore sleep from every angle—the crisis of sleep deprivation globally, the history of changing sleep habits and attitudes, the latest science, the value of the mystery of sleep, and the leaders who are now giving sleep the attention it deserves.
What advice do you give to others who are pursuing their own personal sleep revolutions?
First, don’t judge yourself–that’s just going to make it harder. There are nights when you will follow all the sleep hygiene tips, and nights where you find it’s past midnight and you realize you’re responding to e-mails. It’s a journey, and you have to allow yourself the time to practice new sleep skills. The piece of advice that had the biggest impact is managing my relationship with technology. The simple step of charging your phone outside your room will have massive benefits, as you won’t be tempted then to check your phone in the middle of the night if you wake up, making it easier to fall back asleep. And finally, enjoy the mystery of sleep. It is the only time of our day when we can truly leave the outside world and connect with a deeper part of ourselves. As our days become more and more consumed by our never-ending to-do lists, sleep, waiting for us every night, offers a surrender. When we reclaim our sleep lives, we are entering a gateway to life’s greater mystery.
How did we get into the situation we are in today and why don’t people value sleep enough?
Sleep has been devalued for far too long in history. In fact, the current phase of the relationship to sleep we’re still in dates back to the Industrial Revolution, when sleep became just another obstacle to work. Humans needed to work with the efficiency of machines, and time spent sleeping was time wasted. This continued through the twentieth century, as globalization brought about a 365/24/7 lifestyle, and sleep became associated with weakness and lack of commitment in the workplace. Forgoing sleep became macho. And it’s led us to where we are today–still holding on to the collective delusion that burnout is the necessary price we must pay for success.
But, ironically, as a mountain of recent science has shown, our loss of sleep leads to lack of creativity, sickness, and other obstacles to success.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about sleep?
I knew going in that sleep was generally connected to our health, but recent research around the extent of its impact on our brain function surprised me. For centuries people thought that sleep was a time of inactivity, that the brain was resting. But the opposite is true–the brain is in a state of intense activity during sleep, performing all sorts of vital functions, including clearing out toxic waste proteins (the kind associated with Alzheimer’s). Dr. Maiken Nedergaard from the University of Rochester described it this way: “It’s like a dishwasher. The brain only has limited energy at its disposal, and it appears that it must choose between two different functional states–awake and aware or asleep and cleaning up. You can think of it like having a house party. You can either entertain the guests or clean up the house, but you can’t really do both at the same time.” This is an incredible discovery, given that now 1 in 3 seniors die with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Want more? Stay up past your bedtime with a copy of Arianna Huffington’s new book, The Sleep Revolution.