Arianna Huffington has always worked hard; it’s in her blood. She launched The Huffington Post in 2005 and it’s since become one of the most prolific, ubiquitous media outlets in the world, with local editions in the UK, Japan, China, France, Canada, Germany, Italy and Australia. But one day in 2007, Arianna collapsed from exhaustion and hit her head badly. She was sleep-deprived and consumed by work, and her health has slipped dangerously low on her list of priorities. She realised that day that she needed to change her life – but, as is her nature, she couldn’t stop at her own life. Huffington wanted to start a revolution.
“I made a lot of changes to my life, and in learning about the effects of stress and burnout, I became more and more passionate about the connection between wellbeing and productivity,” she tells me. “And as I went around the world speaking, I saw how widespread the burnout epidemic is, but also how deeply people want to change their lives.”
That lead Huffington to write two books, Thrive and The Sleep Revolution. The latter is out now – and couldn’t be more necessary. It covers everything from the science of dreams to the history of sleep, and is full of scientific studies proving that we need an intervention. As Huffington says, we’re smack-bang in the middle of a burnout epidemic. One third of British people say they wake up tired every morning. In 2011, 32 per cent of people surveyed in the UK said they got less than seven hours of sleep a night – and by 2014, that number had soared to 60 per cent. One in five people miss work or turn up late because of sleep deprivation and researchers says that it costs hundreds of millions of pounds in lost productivity.
It’s a similarly desperate state of affairs in the US. “The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has said that sleep deprivation is a public health issue,” says Huffington. “And also according to the CDC, one in three adults don’t get adequate sleep on a regular basis. And the collective costs are huge: a RAND study last year put the losses to the US economy just from sleep deprivation at up to $411bn per year.’
If your job involves decision-making, memory, creativity, focus, attention, energy, communication or collaboration, sleep is the most important tool for professional success
Huffington has never been more convinced of the connection between sleep and success. She may have achieved her level of success sleeplessly, but she wants to use her position of influence to change corporate culture and reprioritise sleep. “It’s not just important, but for real, long-term success, it’s absolutely necessary,” she tells me. “As the science unambiguously shows us, sleep affects every aspect of our wellbeing and our performance, so if your job involves decision-making, memory, creativity, focus, attention, energy, communication or collaboration, sleep is the most important tool for professional success that’s available to everybody.”
As a rather desperate insomniac myself, I want to know how Huffington does bedtime. I’ve read before that she wears fancy pyjamas to signal to her body and mind that it’s time for bed, but I want to know exactly what her sleep routine is. “My sleep ritual usually involves taking a hot bath with Epsom salts, and then reading or writing. But before that, I gently escort my phone out of my bedroom, which everybody should do. Our phones are repositories of everything we need to put away to allow us to sleep – our to-do lists, our in-boxes, our anxieties. So if you make it a regular part of your bedtime ritual to gently escort your phone outside of your bedroom as you get ready for bed, you’ll be much more likely to wake up as fully charged as your phone.”
What’s her best advice for me, then, and everyone else who knows that sleep is important but can’t seem to punch out Zzzs peacefully every night?
“One of my biggest pieces of advice is to not sleep with devices in the bedroom. But also important is to have a set routine. Of course, everybody’s routine is going to be different, but it’s important to have a regular routine that sends the signal to your mind and body that it’s time to power down. Things that might also work in a routine to help insomniacs and others include exercise, chamomile or lavender tea, changing into sleep clothes or pyjamas dedicated to sleep (instead of workout clothes, which sends very mixed message to our brains), and reading - though nothing work-related! Also very useful: meditation – and there are a lot of meditation apps, podcasts and MP3s available now.’
Arianna Huffington is a difficult woman not to listen to. The first thing I do after we speak is set a reminder on my phone for a regular bedtime, download meditation app Mindspace, pop my copy of The Sleep Revolution on my bedside and stock up on chamomile tea. If Huffington’s calling for a revolution, I want in. Sweet dreams, comrades.
The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington is on sale now (WH Allen, £8.99)