No one, Ariana Huffington argues persuasively, gets enough sleep and everybody should get more. Now, find the time.
Arianna Huffington – co-founder, president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group, cultural phenomenon, and author of Thrive, Third World America, On Becoming Fearless and Pigs at the Trough – maintains her brand with impeccable timing. She brings out new books at measured intervals to ensure each one’s embrace by her readers. This book is no exception. Huffington showed that she’s an excellent editor-in-chief in her years building the Huffington Post. With her books, she faces the same editorial problem as brand names Malcolm Gladwell or Brené Brown: how to take a magazine article topic and fill an entire book with it. Here she rings the alarm about a “sleep-deprivation crisis.” Few people get enough; almost everyone needs more. Sleep, it turns out, is crucial to your mental and physical health.
This comes as a surprise to Huffington. In her previous bestseller, Thrive, she argued that everyone should work less and spend more time and energy on mindful activities that reduce stress. Her insistence on lessening your workload and spending an hour a day meditating raises the question of exactly for whom Huffington writes. Thrive seemed to speak to people who, like Huffington, enjoy lives of sufficient privilege to work less simply if they so choose. The Sleep Revolution aims at a similar demographic – who wouldn’t get more sleep if they could?
We’re in the middle of a cultural shift, one in which more and more of us are taking steps to reclaim sleep.Arianna Huffington
Or maybe Huffington reads the market with deceptive sophistication. Clothing and accessory manufacturers understand that the rich are now the consumers most worth pursuing. Perhaps Huffington understands that the upper demographics include enough book buyers to make The Sleep Revolution a bestseller. So far, the market has proved her prescient.
Huffington begins by candidly describing the physical breakdown she suffered in 2007. She attributes her collapse to her go-go lifestyle and her refusal to miss any opportunity. She learned from that illness that sleep is “a fundamental human need.” She presents this discovery as a revelation. However, many other people discovered this phenomenon before she did. To prove that point, Huffington mentions the nearly 5,000 apps cataloged under “sleep” in Apple’s app store, the more than 15 million photographs tagged “#sleep” on Instagram and the more than 24 million images tagged “#tired.”
Sleep deficiencies can undermine important forms of leadership behavior. Harvard Business Review
Huffington points a finger at technology – perhaps even sleep-inducing technology – as a culprit in widespread sleeplessness and warns of a “collective delusion” about the need for overwork and burnout. She blames ambition and misplaced priorities as the reasons a broad populace works too hard to cop the sack time it needs. Does it occur to her that many sleepless people – some holding multiple jobs – couldn’t survive if they worked less and slept more? Maybe so, since she notes, perhaps in empathy, that the Japanese, Chinese and Korean languages all have words for “death from overwork.” For good reason: These societies drive their sleepless workers without mercy.
Huffington raises the issue of sleep in mythology and fairy tales. She posits that in today’s world, Sleeping Beauty – and you and everybody else – must be her or his “own Prince Charming.” She urges you to look away from outward distractions to consider your inner life and how you nourish it.
She reminds readers that sleep is a time of rejuvenation and, through dreams, of portals into the working of your subconscious mind, which is not open at any other time.
Family Sleep Habits
Huffington cites research suggesting that good or poor sleep habits develop quite early. People are more likely to behave healthfully if other people near them do the same. Huffington’s mother often stayed up all night “cooking, reading and organizing” and slept during the day, setting a pattern for her two daughters’ sleep habits for most of their lives. Most likely, your “sleep tribe” is your family. The sleep habits of your mother, father and siblings served as models for your sleep habits.
I’d fire up the computer…responding to all the ‘urgent’ emails and attempting to squeeze a full day’s work into what should have been my sleep time. This would go on until about 3 am, when I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.Arianna Huffington
Of course, the author warns, parents make sleep much less desirable when they issue such threats as, “If you don’t eat your vegetables…you’re going straight to bed.” Parental education levels seem to be the most reliable determinant of whether kids get sufficient shut-eye. Again, Huffington’s class obliviousness appears. Better-educated parents are more likely to work regular hours and, therefore, to have the leisure time to spend with their kids and monitor their schedules. Many working parents lack that leisure, though Huffington’s mother adjusted “her entire circadian rhythm” around the needs of her daughters and grandkids.
The National Sleep Foundation publishes sleep guidelines and Huffington supports them: A newborn should get 14 to 17 hours a night, a teenager eight to ten hours, adults up to age 65, seven to nine hours, and seniors, seven to eight hours. Those who claim they do fine on three to five hours are mostly lying, Huffington reports, and they are certainly undermining their health.
Improving Your Sleep
Huffington provides several unique and extremely helpful appendices. One entry is a Sleep-Quality Questionnaire. This tool asks how long you take to fall asleep, how long you might be awake in the middle of the night, how many nights a week you have a hard time falling asleep, and more. Its nine questions illuminate the severity – or lack thereof – of your issues with going to sleep and staying asleep.
Following that, Huffington provides perhaps the most useful section of her book for the true insomniac. Appendix B offers links or downloads for “guided meditations” to help you fall asleep and remain asleep. These meditations go to the core of Huffington’s theme: that your subconscious and, if you will, your spiritual self, emerge during sleep. These fundamental but often-ignored aspects of the self need sleep for nourishment, and they reveal themselves to you only through the medium of sleep.
Feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day, we look for something to cut. And sleep is an easy target.Arianna Huffington
Huffington offers a long prose recounting of what you should think about prior to sleep, including breathing exercises and visualizations. One meditation suggests envisioning a white mist that envelops you, then a red mist, then orange, then yellow, then green and blue. Then, picture the mist turning white once more.
Three pages of links to downloadable sleep-inducing meditations follow. They highlight breath control and conscious body relaxation. One suggests a medley (available on Amazon) of “psychoacoustically rearranged” melodies from Schubert, Chopin and others, chosen by Dr. Andrew Weil, a holistic health expert, and Joshua Leeds, a sound researcher.
Leave the Sword Outside
Huffington offers some stirring, memorable metaphors. She discusses how prior to a Japanese tea ceremony, samurai warriors would take off their swords so as not to bring them into the house. Huffington presents the samurai shedding his sword as a metaphor for the effort you need to make to leaves your daytime troubles and worries outside your bed.
While Huffington insists that sleep alone can grant the perspective that reveals life’s true values, she also candidly admits that this represents a significant change of heart for her. She writes of her former fears that she was never doing enough. Her ambition and ferocious work schedule led her to lose sight of “the mystery” of life, although she believes she still would have accomplished her many achievements if she’d gotten enough sleep in her earlier years. Huffington now regards her former refusal to sleep as a dangerous, even self-destructive delusion she has now escaped.
The salient quality of modern life is the seduction and relentlessness of the distractions surrounding you. To “lay down our swords” means evading those distractions and inviting sleep. And when you finally dismiss the waking life’s web of distraction and fall asleep, your dreams and the gnomic workings of your sleeping brain can then provide “a gateway to the sacred.”