Reclaiming Sleep and More with Arianna Huffington

Last month I received a copy of Arianna Huffington's new book The Sleep Revolution and the first thing I thought was: this is one stop shopping on the topic of sleep.

The science of sleep and lots of ways on how you can take your sleep back.

I'm delighted to bring you my interview with her. (and for those who have her book or plan to purchase it check out page 25...I'm quoted!).

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Karen: Thank you for writing The Sleep Revolution. Clearly the science today overwhelmingly points to the tremendous benefits of sleep. We all want more sleep to feel less tired. But in the book you say sleep is a pathway to the sacred. Can you explain?

Arianna: From the beginning of recorded time, sleep and dreams have played a singular role in virtually every religion and spiritual tradition. Sleep was revered—so much so that good sleep was considered something of a luxury, reserved for the rich and those favored by the gods, or something that could be earned by living the proper kind of life.

In both ancient Egypt and ancient Greece, people would often spend the night in “sleep temples” to have their dreams interpreted, asking the gods for answers to life’s questions and the healing of diseases. But sleep and dreams were not just shortcuts to solutions for earthly problems. They were a sacred bridge to the divine, a means of transcendence.

When we reclaim sleep, we reclaim what sleep has offered us throughout human history—a gateway to the sacred and to life’s mystery.

 

Karen: I love that just over half of The Sleep Revolution is focused on taking action.  You give lots of action steps for better sleep and say that ultimately people have to find the unique steps that work for them, but if you had your top three better sleep tips, what would they be and why?

Arianna:

#1 Don’t charge your phone next to your bed.

#2 Make a point to disconnect from your devices, for the sake of your sleep and your overall well-being. I have a specific time at night when I regularly turn off my devices — and gently escort them out of my bedroom.

#3 No caffeine after 2 p.m.

Today caffeine has become a key component of our sleep-deprived culture. But when taken too late in the day— when we are trying to fight off that afternoon slump— caffeine hinders our ability to fall asleep at night. As a result, we are even more tired the next day. So we reach for another caffeinated drink in an endless sleep- deprived cycle.

#4 Create a ritual around your transition to sleep.

A healthy transition to sleep begins before you even step into your bedroom. I treat my own transition to sleep as a sacrosanct ritual. Before bed, I take a hot bath with epsom salts and a candle flickering nearby—a bath that I prolong if I’m feeling anxious or worried about something. I don’t sleep in my workout clothes as I used to (think of the mixed message that sends to our brains) but have pajamas, nightdresses, even T-shirts dedicated to sleep. Sometimes I have a cup of chamomile or lavender tea if I want something warm and comforting before going to bed. 

 

Karen: I’d like to address the never ending work day issue many people today face. Many exhausted parents I speak to don’t want to work these long hours, but the demands of the workplace today make it impossible to respond to fifty or more emails every day and attend several meetings unless they pop back on the computer at night. While, as you point out, some work places are becoming more accommodating you also admit that the workplace is far from ideal yet. What facet of our lives do you feel needs to be addressed first to start changing this paradigm? And what’s a realistic road map from where we are now to a better place?

Arianna: Once we change our minds about sleep, we can begin to change our habits, and the good news is, we have a growing number of business leaders realizing that healthy, fully-charged, well-rested, and fulfilled employees are better employees. For far too long, too many of us -- especially in the world of business -- have been operating under the collective delusion that burning out is the necessary price for accomplishment and success. Recent scientific findings make it clear that this couldn’t be less true. Not only is there no tradeoff between living a well-rounded life and high performance, performance is actually improved when our lives include time for renewal.

And that includes sleep. The business world is waking up to the high cost of sleep deprivation on productivity, health care, and ultimately the bottom line. From offering nap rooms to encouraging more flexible work hours, companies are exploring new ways to help employees make sleep a priority.

At HuffPost, there was skepticism when we first installed nap rooms in New York in 2011. HuffPosters were reluctant to be seen walking into a nap room in the middle of a bustling newsroom in “the city that never sleeps.” But now they are perpetually full, and we’re spreading nap rooms around the world, starting with our London office. And more and more companies are installing nap rooms, including Ben & Jerry’s, Zappos, and Nike. I expect the nap room to soon become as universal as the conference room!

 

Karen: One of the many incredible statistics you mention in the book is that “In the 1970s there were only 3 centers in the United States devoted to sleep disorders. By the 1990s, that number had swelled to more than 300. Today there are more than 2,500 accredited sleep centers.” Wow. Do you think for the most part these centers help improve people’s sleep or is there a better alternative? If so, what’s your vision of the next generation’s sleep center?

Arianna: These centers are one of the best indicators that we are truly living in a golden age of sleep science—revealing all the ways in which sleep plays a vital role in our decision making, emotional intelligence, cognitive function, and creativity. And I think the next generation’s sleep center – which in many ways is already here -- will be defined by a shift from clinics and centers to ways to measure our sleep that are integrated into our everyday lives, from sleep trackers and smart beds to apps on our tablets and smartphones that not only track our sleep but point us to ways to improve it.

 

Karen: I love that you address the importance of dreaming. I too am fascinated with the work of Carl Jung and how dreams are a gateway to the soul. What are the three biggest reasons to get excited about the promise of noticing our dreams? And if we don’t remember our dreams, how can we start?

Arianna: Those who have integrated dreams into their lives have found that the “otherworld” of sleep has become more real— something to be welcomed rather than resistedFor me, it is way more than just feeling recharged. There is also a sense of freedom that comes from less attachment to daily battles, successes, failures, and illusions.

There are some simple steps we can take before we go to sleep to reinstate dreams to a central place in our lives and experience firsthand why they matter. After we put our devices aside, wind down, and let go of the day, we can learn from the practices of ancient temples and do a modern-day version of dream incubation—a process of preparing our consciousness to receive guidance from our inner counselors. It can be about big life decisions, but also about anything that we want more clarity and wisdom around, however trivial it may seem.

If I wake up in the middle of the night, even if I have not asked for specific guidance in any part of my life, I write down whatever I remember from my dreams with a pen that has a flashlight attached to it. I find that when I don’t turn on the lamp on my nightstand, it is easier not to lose the thread of my dreams. When you wake up in the morning, if you want to remember your dreams, don’t grab your cell phone the moment you open your eyes and become inundated with news, texts, and emails. Before letting the outside world in, taking a momentary pause and a few deep breaths can help you recall more of your dreams, reliving the paths traveled while in your dream world.

 

Karen: Let’s talk stillness. In the book you talk about your “Sleep Goody Bag” and how appreciating the concept of stillness is key. Since Bold Tranquility is a sleep-based meditation company, I’m clearly a huge fan of welcoming stillness too. Can you share some of your favorite stillness tips in your sleep goody bag and why they’re so meaningful to you?

Arianna: When I’m really having trouble sleeping, or wake up with thoughts crowding my mind, I’ve found meditation to be a great remedy. Instead of stressing out about how I’m staying awake and fearing I’ll be tired the next day, I prop a few extra pillows under me and reframe what’s happening as a great opportunity to practice my meditation. If it’s in the middle of the night, I remind myself that that’s precisely when many avid meditation practitioners, like the Dalai Lama, wake up to get in two or three hours of meditation; this both takes the stress out of my wakefulness and adds an extra layer of gratitude to my practice. Just by reframing it from a problem to a blessing that allows me to go deeper without a deadline or any distractions, I find that I both have some of my deepest meditation experiences and, inevitably, drift off to sleep at some point.

Every night can be a reminder that we are more than the sum of our successes and failures, that beyond all our struggling and our rushing there is a stillness that’s available to us, that comes from a place deeper and more ancient than the unending noise that surrounds us. When we connect to that stillness through sleep, we can tap into it, even in the middle of the most action-packed day.

 

Karen: If a genie granted you a sleep wish – how you’d like sleep to be used by people in the world and for the world – what would that wish be?

Arianna: My wish would be to overturn the collective delusion I mentioned above. Because we need to reclaim this special realm— not just because sleep makes us better at our jobs (though there’s that) and not just because it makes us healthier in every way (there is that, too) but also because of the unique way it allows us to connect with a deeper part of ourselves.