By Lauren Kearney
In modern society, we’re always telling ourselves to do more and sleep less. Saying “sleep is for losers.” Admiring those people who say: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
Well, we need to do the exact opposite, according to Arianna Huffington, the Co-founder, President and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post, who has been listed by Forbes as the 52nd most powerful woman in the world. If we’re going to listen to anybody talk about the keys to success, shouldn’t it be her? In her latest book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming your life one night at a time (out April 7th), Huffington urges us to do what our society has been shunning for years: sleep.
Driven by cutting-edge science and brimming with great advice, tools and techniques, this is a must-read for anybody wanting to repair their relationship with sleep and reap the many benefits of doing so. In this interview for Eluxe, Arianna Huffington tells me about why sleep is important, how to break bad sleeping habits, the interesting facts she discovered writing the book, and her best advice on living a happy and successful life.
Your new book claims better sleep leads to better health, relationships and job performance. Could you briefly explain why that is?
Our cultural assumption that overwork and burnout are the price we must pay in order to succeed is at the heart of our sleep crisis. But in the book I show that we are also living in a golden age of sleep science–revealing all the ways in which sleep and dreams play a vital role in our decision making, emotional intelligence, cognitive function, and creativity. Whoever we are, wherever we are in our lives, sleep is the ultimate performance enhancer–with no nasty side effects.
What benefits have you personally seen in your own life since getting more sleep and have you been sticking to your eight-hour-a-night rule?
The fully-rested me is a million times better than the sleep-deprived me! Now, instead of waking up to the sense that I have to trudge through activities, I wake up feeling joyful about the day’s possibilities. And I experience an incredible clarity. I’m a better, less reactive, more joyful, more intuitive and more grateful version of myself, and also better able to recognize red flags and rebound from setbacks. It’s like being dialed into a different channel that has less static.
95 percent of the time I get eight hours of sleep a night. I made the decision to make sleep a priority in my life, and also to become a sleep evangelist. Going public with my decision to get more sleep was definitely a great way to make the commitment stick.
What were the most interesting discoveries you made during the research for this book?
Two fascinating studies come to mind. An Australian study found that after being awake for seventeen to nineteen hours (a normal day for many of us!), we can experience levels of cognitive impairment equal to having a blood alcohol level of .05 percent (just under the legal limit in many US states). And if we’re awake just a few hours more, we’re up to the equivalent of 0.1 percent–legally drunk.
Not only that–we wear our lack of sleep on our faces. An experiment in the UK tested the effects of sleep deprivation on a group of thirty women. Their skin was analyzed and photographed after they slept for eight hours and then again after sleeping six hours for five nights in a row. Fine lines and wrinkles increased by 45 percent, blemishes went up by 13 percent, and redness increased by 8 percent.
Most interesting is the connection between technology and sleep disruption. It seems to be an automatic thing that we check our phones first thing in the morning and last thing at night. What have you found to be the best technique in breaking that habit?
I swear by my evening unplugging ritual: I have a specific time at night when I regularly turn off my devices — and gently escort them out of my bedroom.
Besides sleeping, what other tips do you have for young women who want to live happy, successful, fulfilling lives? How can we be mentally stronger?
The beautiful thing is, sleep is the gateway through which a life of well-being must travel. Once I changed the amount of sleep I was getting, other habits, such as meditation and exercise, became easier. One of the fundamental truths of well-being is that the better we are at taking care of ourselves, the more effective we’ll be in taking care of others, including our families, our co-workers, our communities, and our fellow citizens. When you’re on an airplane you’re told to “secure your own mask first before helping others.” Even your own child. After all, it’s not easy to help somebody else breathe easier if you’re fighting for air yourself. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn asked in his novel In the First Circle: “If you wanted to put the world to rights, who should you begin with: yourself or others?”
You can get a copy of Arianna Huffington’s book, The Sleep Revolution published by WH Allen at Amazon.
Need Help Drifting Off?
Some of us struggle to fall asleep, and no wonder. Checking your phone before bed means the blue light emitted from the phone is fooling your body into thinking it’s still daytime – plus, you may be stressing out from reading any work related or other emails. Not only that, but conditions in cities aren’t really conducive to good sleep: there’s plenty of light 24/7; the noise of traffic and sirens, and of course stress, stress and more stress.
So how can you ensure you’re reaching the Land of Nod for at least 8 hours a night? You may need a bit of help….
1. Sleeping Mask
Unless you have good quality blackout blinds, you’re probably sleeping in a room with too much light. A good, comfortable sleeping mask can help. Make sure it doesn’t have any seams that will leave you with morning wrinkles, and ensure it’s adjustable so it fits snugly to your head.
2. Ear Plugs
Not the kind you go swimming with, and not the silly foam thingies they give you on planes – you’ll need something that can really block out noise like silicone or wax ear plugs. These can be pulled apart and adjusted to fit your ear canal perfectly. Just be sure you don’t put them in too deep!
3. White Noise Machine
Some people aren’t comfortable putting things into their ears, so a white noise machine may be more suitable. These mask any background noise with a regular, hypnotic humming. You don’t need to get a designated machine for this: a whirring fan, air conditioner or heater could have the same effect.
Never, ever take sleeping pills! Many women rely on these, but a recent study shows even taking them occasionally is linked to higher rates of lung cancer! Instead, try all natural melatonin. 300-500 mg should do the trick, and guess what? This natural hormone (whose production decreases with age, causing insomnia) has a strong anti-cancer effect! It’s a no brainer then.
5. Sleep Sprays
For those who are sensitive to smell, an aromatherapeutic sleep spray could be just the thing to lull you to sleep. Often formulated with lavender, chamomile and other scents that have been clinically proven to be relaxing, even if you don’t drift off right away, your bed will smell amazing!