“All can be enhanced by getting enough sleep”

Media mogul Arianna Huffington talks about the need to getting enough sleep.

E-Mail-Interview: Peter Hossli

arianna_huffingtonMs Huffington, how much sleep do you get?
Arianna Huffington: After many years of burning the candle at both ends, I now get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.

Why is sleep so important?
Our creativity, ingenuity, confidence, leadership, and decision making can all be enhanced simply by getting enough sleep. Unless you are one of the wise few who already gets all the rest you need, you have an opportunity to immediately improve your health, creativity, productivity, and sense of well- being. Start by getting just thirty minutes more sleep than you are getting now. The easiest way is to go to bed earlier, but you could also take a short nap during the day— or a combination of both.

What’s happening to people who don’t get enough sleep?
A study at Duke University has found that poor sleep is associated with higher stress levels and a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. They also found that these risks are greater in women than in men. There is no element of life that’s not diminished by a lack of sleep. Including our leaders’ decisions. Bill Clinton, who used to famously get only five hours of sleep a night, admitted, “Every important mistake I’ve made in my life, I’ve made because I was too tired.” And in 2013, when the European Union was working on a plan to bail out Cyprus, an agreement was reached during the wee hours of the night that was described by one commentator as “impressively stupid.” The financial journalist Felix Salmon describes the decision as “born of an unholy combination of procrastination, blackmail, and sleep-deprived gamesmanship.” The role of sleep deprivation in international negotiations would make an excellent doctoral dissertation (just don’t pull any all-nighters to finish it).

What do you think about manager who bragged that they only sleep four hours each night?
When I had dinner with this man, he bragged to me that he’d gotten only four hours of sleep the night before. I resisted the temptation to tell him that the dinner would have been a lot more interesting if he had gotten five! The experience illustrated that sleep, or how little of it we need, has become a symbol of our prowess. We make a fetish of not getting enough sleep, and we boast about how little sleep we get.

What kind of effect does it have to always be connected?
Unfortunately the ever-increasing creep of technology—into our lives, our families, our bedrooms, our brains—makes it much harder to renew ourselves. The average smartphone user checks his or her device every six and a half minutes. That works out to around 150 times a day. Our brains are naturally wired to connect, so it’s not easy to turn away from these kinds of stimuli. But the connection that comes from technology is often an unfulfilling, ersatz version of connection. Its siren call (or beep, or blinking light) can crowd out the time and energy we have for real human connection. Worse, there is evidence that it can begin to actually rewire our brains to make us less adept at real human connection.

How do you make sure you can unplug?
I have a specific time at night when I regularly turn off my devices— and gently escort them out of my bedroom. And I make sure I have my phone charging far, far away from my bed, to help me avoid the middle-of-the-night temptation to check the latest news or latest emails. And last December, I decided to do something radical and take a weeklong unplugging challenge with Cindi Leive and Mika Brzezinski, which meant no social media, and limiting myself to two email check-ins a day with our HuffPost editors. Instead of being constantly connected, I spent Christmas in Hawaii with my daughters, my sister and my ex-husband, not photographing beautiful sunsets, not tweeting pictures of my dinner, and skipping Throwback Thursday on Instagram in favor of, you know, just talking about things that happened in the past, and being immersed in things happening right now.

You’re running one of the largest news sites in the world. Is it still possible to disconnect?
Yes! To give one example, I take any opportunity to have walking meetings. Silicon Valley executive Nilofer Merchant calls this the “walk the talk” method. “I love that people can’t be checking e-mail or Twitter during walking meetings. You’re awake to what’s happening around you, your senses are heightened and you walk away with something office meetings rarely give you— a sense of joy.”

How can one sleep enough and still be productive in this fast-paced world?
For far too long, we have been operating under a collective delusion – that burning out is the necessary price for achieving success, and that getting by on less sleep and constant multi-tasking are an express elevator to the top. Recent scientific findings make it clear that this couldn’t be less true. In college, just before I embarked on a career as a writer, I wish I had known that there would be no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and my ability to do good work. I wish I could go back and tell myself, “Arianna, your performance will actually improve if you can commit to not only working hard, but also unplugging, recharging and renewing yourself.” That would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout and exhaustion.

What do you do to protect your staff from burnout?
At The Huffington Post, since the news never stops, and there is the temptation for editors, reporters, and engineers to try to match the twenty-four-hour news cycle, we do a lot to prevent burnout. First, we make it very clear that no one is expected to check work email and respond after hours or over the weekend (unless, of course, these are their working hours). Everyone has at least three weeks of vacation time, which they are highly encouraged to take. And I have implored HuffPosters— without much success, I must admit— to eat lunch away from their desks.

What is a successful life to you?
My wakeup call taught me that a sane definition of success has to go beyond how much money we can make, how big a house we can buy, and how high we can climb up the career ladder. Jobs and financial security will always be important, but when we fall into the trap of chasing only the successes build on money, fame and power, we miss out on the happiness, purpose and meaning that come from reaching out to others, pausing to wonder, and connecting to that place from which everything is possible.