It's time for a sleep revolution

An interesting article in the May 2016 edition of Red Online Magazine (pages 182 & 184). There is an interview with Arianna Huffington (founder of the Huffington Post) and her Sleep Revolution campaign. At the end, she shares tips on how to improve your sleep.




How long did you sleep for last night? According to a 2015 study, for most of us it was sub-seven hours. What about Arianna Huffington, founder of the 24-hour news site The Huffington Post and author of global bestseller Thrive? A solid eight hours. "Ninety-five per cent of my life I get eight hours' sleep," she tells me on the phone from her office in New York, where she has a 'nap couch'. She uses it when she has jet lag, or can't get eight hours for some other reason - with the curtains over the glass walls open to give the message that napping is the "best thing we can do to recharge ourselves".



Planning time to sleep, she says, has become "second nature". That's because "I do not like myself" when I am sleep-deprived. I become more reactive, I become more emotional, I magnify things." Fully recharged, she tells me, she can deal with problems without stressing, feel joy in life.



In Thrive, Huffington introduced the idea of 'third metric' of success, beyond money, status and power, of well-being, wisdom and wonder. Sleep, she says, is a cornerstone of this. And that's why her new book and well-being campaign, The Sleep Revolution, is an ode to sleep and a manifesto on how we all can get more of it.



Hufffington, now a self-confessed "sleep evangelist", had always sacrificed sleep on the altar of business until she collapsed from burnout in 2007, two years after launching Huff Post. It was a consequence, she says of the fact that "we live in a culture that celebrates getting things done above all else".



Is that your attitude to sleep - that it's a waste of time? Maybe you're desperately tired after children have kept you up? It's no surprise that 2011's spoof children's bedtime story Go The F**k To Sleep was a bestseller. Or maybe at midnight you found yourself on the sofa, scrolling through Instagram, when you were intending to be tucked up?



Our disdain for sleep is a relatively new phenomenon, Huffington tells me. It lost its shine with the industrial revolution - 24-hour factory shifts and electric light - eventually leading to a macho sleep-is-for-wimps culture of office presenteeism, famously embodied by Gordon Gekko. Overwork became a badge of honour and technology switched us to 'On', permanently. "It means that our work life intrudes on our personal lives, in a way that has become addictive for many people," says Huffington.



You might think, well, Arianna Huffington is now in a position to choose if she sleeps or not. I ask her if she things she could have built her business while sleeping for eight hours a night. "Oh, a thousand per cent!" she says. "I would have done everything I did with less stress, less damage to my health and relationships, and more joy."



Still need convincing you need to put sleep first? Imagine a pill that makes you smarter, mentally and physically healthier, happier, less anxious or depressed, better at learning, more creative at work, leaner and more energetic... and even makes you look younger, gives you better memory and makes you less likely to catch a cold. You know what's coming: science has proven sleep can do all of this. "Now we know sleep is a time of dramatic activity," says Huffington, "when the brain cleans out all the toxins and waste that accumulate during the day."



Getting enough sleep, says Huffington, is the opposite of being selfish. "When women give themselves permission to get enough sleep, to recharge, they are better for everyone." In the book, she quotes Amy Poehler: "Sleep helps you win at life."



Huffington believes there's a movement in business towards de-stigmatising sleep, one she led by building nap rooms in the Huff Post offices. Leaders, such as Jeff Bezos of Amazon, are admitting to sleeping properly, having woken up to the fact that sleep, as a performance enhancer, is way better than caffeine.



"I expect the nap room to soon become as universal as the conference room in offices," she writes. She also wants an anti-drowsy driving campaign, and for health insurers to give good discounts to good sleepers. Google now has nap pods - Huffington acted as sleep mentor to Karen May, Google's vice president of people development. And Manchester United has a sleep coach and 80 sleep-enhancing bedrooms in its £200 million training centre, where the team sleep the night before home games.



It's not all money and business, though. In the book, Huffington delves into sleep's deeper, more spiritual side, too. Sleep, she says, "helps us connect with a deeper part of ourselves". For Huffington, dreams are a big part of this; a kind of inner counsellor. She keeps a notebook on her nightstand, to write them down. "When I wasn't getting enough sleep, I would have said I don't dream. I never remembered my dreams because I would always wake up to an alarm." There are three kinds of dreams, she says. Ones that resolve anxieties and problems, ones that give you guidance and ones that leave you "more connected with the mysteries of life".



And it's this deeper side that may, for most of us turn out to be the key to sleeping better. If you don't have a medical issue, says Huffington, not sleeping is usually a vicious circle of stress and hyperarousal: you're anxious, so you don't sleep, begin to worry about insomnia and so on... "Anything that can help us de-stress can help break the cycle," she says.



It won't come overnight, but you can start by setting up your own personal sleep experiment. Huffington says she tried different routines, nightwear, meditation and habits, taking "small steps" every night. "I tried to go from being an amateur, one who's crashed every night and hoped for the best, to a sleep pro," she says.





HOW ARIANNA SLEEPS

  • Make a ritual of bedtime. Walking into your bedroom, Huffington says, is the moment you leave the day behind. "I treat my transition to sleep as a sacrosanct ritual. Before bed I take a hot bath with Epsom salts, with a candle flickering nearby - a bath that I prolong if I'm feeling anxious or worried about something.
  • Meditate. If Huffington can't sleep, or her thoughts crowd in, she meditates, sometimes with a recording. "I must have listened to hundreds until I found a couple I clicked with. My best endorsement for them is that I have no idea how they end - because I always fall asleep before they finish." Waking in the middle of the night, "I remind myself that's precisely when many avid meditation practitioners such as the Dalai Lama wake up to get in two or three hours of practice".
  • Try visualisation. "One image I like to use is that of a calm lake. Any thought, worry or concern that comes up for me is like a stone dropping into the lake... As more thoughts or worries or fears come up, I let them drop like stones and disappear, letting the lake return to its natural tranquility."
  • Create a cool, dark environment. "Think of light, especially blue light, as an anti-sleep drug," she says. Banish tech from the bedroom, "at least 30 minutes before you turn off the lights". The ideal room temperature, according to one French study, is 16C to 19C.
  • Exercise. "Try exercising for just 25 or 30 minutes every days, or at least five days a week." Regular exercise adds around 45 minutes of sleep a night. And contrary to popular wisdom, it can be close to bedtime.
  • Cut caffeine, alcohol and sugar. Stop caffeine from 2pm, and don't eat late at night.
  • Try natural sleep aids, such as valerian GABA, L-theanine, magnesium. "What works for you may not work for someone else".
  • Make a gratitude list. It's the stresses of the day that dominate our 3am thoughts, so speaking or writing a gratitude list can "knock them down a peg, shift the spotlight and make sure our blessings get the closing scene of the night".
  • Breathe slowly and count your breaths. Try natural health guru Dr Andrew Weil's 4-7-8 breathing: "Inhale quietly through the nose for four counts, hold for seven and exhale with a whooshing sound through the mouth for eight counts."
  • Consider your mortality. "When I'm lying in bed unable to sleep because I am worrying about something, I remember that at some point I'm going to die," says Huffington. "It might seem morbid to some, but it never fails to work for me."
  • Find a sleep talisman. This is an object or picture that calms you, sending your body and mind a signal it's time for sleep. Huffington's are two photos of people in nature by iconic photographer Gordon Parks.
  • Have special nightwear that clearly signals you're going to bed.
  • After 20 minutes of struggling to sleep, meditate or read to distract your mind from the anxiety that's in your way.
  • If you can't get enough sleep at night, nap during the day. Even 10 minutes can be restorative, but 20 to 30 minutes is better. The best time? As soon as you feel yourself flagging.
  • Create your own wind-down-call - the opposite of a wake-up call. Work our when you need to go to bed in order to get the amount of sleep you need, then set an alarm.