Penguin Random House
Arianna Huffington says the key to health, happiness, success and even economic prosperity is simple: everyone needs to sleep more. Sounds great, but how do we actually make it happen? Here are her best tips.
Self-described "sleep evangelist" Arianna Huffington comes by her obsession with rest honestly: in April 2007, after an exhausting trip spent touring prospective colleges with her daughter, Christina, during the day and frantically catching up on emails at night, she collapsed in her office. When she woke up hours later, she had a broken cheekbone and no idea what was wrong with her. After trekking from doctor to doctor trying to find out, the answer was both reassuring (she wasn't suffering from a scary disease) and not (she was burnt out, sleep deprived—essentially, making herself ill). Unsurprisingly, she quickly began taking sleep seriously. So seriously, in fact, that she threw herself into research—which turned into a book, The Sleep Revolution, released earlier this year—and started telling everyone what she learned. (We weren't joking about the "sleep evangelist" thing.) We chatted with Huffington about why women should carve out time for rest, how to get high-quality sleep and what to do when you fall back into old habits. Here's what she said.
1. Forget work-life balance. There's no such thing, according to Huffington. "Realistically, life is never balanced; we have a sick toddler one night, a big deadline the other night. For me, it's all about work-life integration, and bringing joy as well as productivity to everything we do," she says. "And I feel women need to realize that what they tell us on airplanes is the truth: put your own oxygen mask on first." Meaning: you can't take care of anyone else if you don't take care of yourself, first.
2. Do less binge-watching. Huffington doesn't buy the idea that there just aren't enough hours in the day to work, parent, exercise, socialize and sleep, too. "We all have more discretionary time than we acknowledge," she says. "You know, somebody's watching House of Cards [right now]. I've only seen one episode. I love the show; I would love to see the rest of it. But you know what? If something has to give, it's going to be House of Cards."
3. Ditch the tech. Speaking of binge-watching… You've probably heard this before, but chances are you didn't listen, so it bears repeating: ban devices from your bedroom. "Before I go to sleep, I power down all my devices and gently escort them out of my bedroom," Huffington says. "Once I get into bed, I only read physical books. And always books that have nothing to do with work—poetry, novels. I don't read anything on-screen, and I never watch TV just before I'm going to sleep."
4. Develop a bedtime routine. "The most important thing is to have a transition to sleep," Huffington says. "I think the biggest mistake we make in modern life is we have no transition. We can be on our smartphones, answering emails, texting until the last moment, and then turn off the light and go to sleep. That doesn't work." Huffington's ritual starts 30 minutes before she wants to go to sleep. That's when she powers down her phone, tablet and laptop, turns off all the lights and has a hot bath. If 30 minutes feels like too much time, start with five minutes, she advises.
5. Be consistent—even when you're travelling. Whether you're going out of town for work or play, it's important to keep up your bedtime routine. To make it easier, Huffington always packs an eye mask, noise-cancelling headphones, a candle (to give the space a homey vibe) and masking tape (to cover up all those annoying blinking lights). "You have to get organized," she says. "But once you do, and you realize what a benefit it brings you, it's not difficult. It only takes five minutes to cover the lights and put the temperature down; it's not like these things are time consuming."
6. Buy new PJs. Huffington says whatever you wear to bed should only be worn to bed. "After my bath, I get in my nice PJs. But it could even be a special t-shirt, as long as it's something I only wear to sleep," she says. "I used to sleep in my gym clothes, but that sends your brain confusing, conflicting messages: are we going to the gym or are lying down?"
7. Say no sometimes. We're all busy, but Huffington says it's important not to give into the temptation to over-schedule. "I so dislike the person I become when I'm sleep deprived: more irritable, more reactive, less and less present with less joy in my life," she says. But acknowledging the consequences of skimping on sleep makes it easier for her to prioritize. Take, for example, a recent evening when she unexpectedly ran into close friends: "I would have loved to go to dinner with them, but I had a very early start this morning, so I didn't. And when I say that to you, you may think it sounds like a sacrifice, but it doesn't to me anymore."
8. Don't worry about falling off the sleep bandwagon. Everyone slips up sometimes, even Huffington. "I'm a work in progress. But you know, I don't think anyone, even somebody who talks about this as much as I do, would do this perfectly. For me, the most important thing is to course correct quickly."
9. Have a plan of attack for insomnia. The Sleep Revolution has an entire chapter devoted to sleep best practices: make sure your room is dark and cool, get enough physical activity, don't drink coffee or alcohol too close to bedtime… but even the most dedicated sleeper will sometimes have a sleepless night. Instead of getting stressed about it, though, Huffington's advice is to meditate. In the book, she writes, "Since we find it harder and harder to retreat into ourselves in the middle of our busy days, the retreat in the middle of the night—whether through sleep or meditation—can be reframed as a precious luxury. This certainly didn't come easily to me. But I was able to train myself to see the time spent meditating in the middle of the night as productive and enriching instead of lying awake in bed resenting the fact that I was wasting my time lying awake in bed."
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