Media mogul Arianna Huffington may be living in a world dominated by the 24-hour news cycle, but she wants you to take at least eight hours of that time for sleep.
I recently had the chance to talk with Huffington about her mission to change the culture of sleep. It’s a topic she is passionate about, and is the focus of her recently released book, "The Sleep Revolution."
As a society, we don’t value sleep enough, Huffington said. Our dismissive attitude about sleep may go back to Thomas Edison, who, as she explained, is “the one person who most embodies our sleep delusion.”
“He was convinced that sleep was unnecessary,” Huffington revealed. “He once said, ‘Nothing in this world is more dangerous to the efficiency of humanity than too much sleep.’” But he was wrong, and those who buy into his theory pay dearly.
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The hours we spend slumbering aren’t negotiable. And yet millions of people, from students to entrepreneurs, give up those hours in the misguided belief that they have more important things to do, Huffington said.
Huffington hopes to change sleep attitudes by starting with children. She advocates for rejiggering students’ school schedules to allow to for more sleep, such as having classes start later in the day. She points to a 2011 study by the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which found that students who started school at 8:30 a.m. got almost an hour more sleep and performed better on tests measuring attention levels than peers who started at 7:30 a.m.
“For many young people, schools have become burnout zones where, along with history, math and science, we teach our kids the worst habits of our destructive work culture,” Huffington said. “But happily, many schools around the world are responding to the latest science on sleep, taking creative steps to restructure the school day in ways that can make a big difference in academic performance and overall well-being.”
As part of this effort to raise awareness, the Huffington Post started the Sleep Revolution College Tour, visiting 400 campuses across the country. The aim is to highlight the benefits of sleep and its importance as the ultimate performance enhancer. That includes creating spaces on campus where students can relax, meditate and recharge, she said.
The cutthroat business world also needs to make changes that allow employees to get more sleep, according to Huffington. It’s a change in values that needs to come from the top down, and it should start early in a company’s history.
“There is a founder myth that if you are starting a company you can’t afford to get enough sleep,” Huffington said. “But in reality three-quarters of startups fail, and perhaps if these founders were getting the sleep they need they’d have a higher likelihood of succeeding.”
Huffington applauds companies that have taken steps to help chronically sleep-deprived employees catch up on their "ZZZZs." That includes installing nap rooms or even going to a shortened, five-hour work day.
“I’ve read about companies that swear by the five-hour workday, and while it isn’t feasible for most industries (including those of us in the media), some companies have found a way to make it work,” Huffington said.
How much sleep one needs depends on the individual, but Huffington cites experts from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society who say that people between 18 and 60 years usually need seven to nine hours of sleep.
There’s no problem with getting too much sleep, but not getting enough can have lasting effects on your overall health, Huffington said.
In fact, according to a study by the Sorbonne University in Paris, naps can help offset the hormonal impact of a poor night of sleep. The data suggest that a 30-minute nap can reset the biomarkers of neuroendocrine and immune health to normal levels, Huffington said.
Huffington knows firsthand the debilitating effects that sleep deprivation can have. In 2007, she collapsed in her office and broke her cheekbone due to extreme exhaustion. The incident was a major wake-up call, and inspired her to reevaluate her own notions about the importance of sleep.
Since then, she has revamped her daily routine to make more time for rest and reflection, and to include a morning ritual that helps her feel restored and centered as she begins her day. The hallmark of her routine includes getting eight hours of sleep, so she wakes up naturally without an alarm clock on most days.
“A big part of my morning ritual is about what I don’t do. When I wake up, I don’t start the day by looking at my smartphone,” Huffington said. “Instead, once I’m awake, I take a minute to breathe deeply, be grateful and set my intention for the day.”
Most nights she is in bed by 11 p.m., with the goal of “catching the midnight train.”
If she could go back in time and tell herself one thing, it would be to get more rest.
“I wish I could go back and tell myself, ‘Arianna, your performance will actually improve if you can commit to not only working hard, but also unplugging, recharging and renewing yourself,’” Huffington said. “That would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout and exhaustion.”