You likely know the story of how Arianna Huffington came to be today’s role model for both restorative rest and professional success, but here’s a speedy recap, just in case. The co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Pulitzer prize winning media giant The Huffington Post would regularly put away four hours sleep a night, tops. That was until a certain ‘crashing head on desk’ incident in 2007 (more on that later) served as a red flag as to the serious risks of sleep deprivation, to our overall physical and emotional wellbeing but also from a professional standpoint, as forgoing sleep to scale the career ladder is ironically counterproductive in terms of efficiency, decision-making and attainment.
Over a decade later, she’s the founder of another media start-up, only this time Thrive Global is firmly centred on health and wellness, and she’s the author of the global bestseller Thrive and more recently, The Sleep Revolution . As if she didn’t have enough on her plate, she has also partnered with Samsung to create a Thrive app that limits notifications and calls (aside from when they’re incoming from assigned VIPs) during key ‘rest’ periods, among other healthy tech usage functions, and she’s created a rather quirky ‘phone bed charger’ to encourage you to literally put your smartphone to bed as part of your nighttime routine.
Ahead of World Sleep Day on 16th March, we sat down for a chamomile tea with Arianna to discover her personal nighttime wind-down ritual, how she keeps all of the above plates spinning while getting sufficient R&R and maintaining a social life, plus what bosses need to do to address the global sleep deficit. Take this to your HR department if you’re putting in all-nighters, like, now.
How much sleep do you clock up per night on average?
“These days I get eight hours of sleep per night.”
What steps and evening habits guarantee a good night's sleep?
“It’s important to have a routine, since it helps tell your mind and body that it’s time to begin to wind down and put away the cares of the day. Your room should be dark, quiet and cool. One of my favourite tips is to banish your phone from your room at night. Our phones are repositories of everything we need to put away to allow us to sleep -- our to-do lists, our inboxes, the demands of the world. So putting your phone to bed outside your bedroom as a regular part of your bedtime ritual makes you more likely to wake up as fully charged as your phone.”
What's your nighttime environment?
“Always dark and quiet, with a bed full of pillows and a bedside table heaving with books. There’s an old fashioned alarm clock and flowers, and absolutely no devices.”
What do you eat pre-bedtime and during the day to maximize good sleep?
“I try not to have caffeine after 2pm. For snacks during the day and before bed I like raw nuts, goat’s cheese and raw vegetables with hummus or yogurt.”
How do you make your lifestyle conducive to good sleep?
“I like to both start and end my day without my phone. So when I wake up, instead of looking at my phone I take a minute to breathe deeply, be grateful, and set my intention for the day. Then I do 20 to 30 minutes of meditation and 30 minutes on my stationary bike, on days when I’m at home. At night, I promise that you can still have a social life and get great sleep. The trick? Have a transition to sleep, which for me includes a hot bath that washes the day away.”
What practical tools can help when winding down?
“In addition to kicking your phone out of the bedroom, other things that can help you wind down are to take a hot bath , have a cup of chamomile or lavender tea, and read – real, physical books that have nothing to do with work.”
How do you exercise self-discipline in terms of a nighttime routine?
“It’s really about making it a priority. In 2007 I collapsed from exhaustion [Arianna broke her cheekbone and badly injured her eye] and so I know first-hand both what the dangers are of too little sleep and the benefits of getting the sleep I need. Once you really begin to see those benefits, it becomes easier to give sleep the priority it deserves.”
Do you ever fall off of the wagon in terms of sleep hygiene?
“Of course, we all do. The important thing is, first, to not judge yourself (you don’t want to keep yourself up because you’re punishing yourself for not getting enough sleep) and just course-correct and take things night by night.”
What do you think are the key professional, cultural and social elements that need to change or improve in order to improve our sleep patterns?
“At the current time most of the world is suffering from an epidemic of stress and burnout . The way we live and work desperately needs to change.
“Professionally, we need to adjust the incentives so that it’s those employees who prioritize their wellbeing who are rightly celebrated and promoted, instead of those burning themselves out. Fortunately, more and more businesses are realizing that productivity and performance actually go up when employees are encouraged to unplug and recharge.”