Co-founder of The Huffington Post and author of The Sleep Revolution, Arianna Huffington gives her golden rules for a peaceful night’s sleep
With almost half of us kept awake by stress and one in three people experiencing insomnia, Arianna Huffington’s book The Sleep Revolution looks at ways to tackle the current ‘sleep crisis’ through her own experiences of sleep disorder. She focuses on the importance of prioritising sleep, the dangers of burning the candle at both ends and how quality sleep can dramatically improve our health and happiness.
Here are her nine rules for achieving better sleep and ditching bad habits.
1. Make sleep a priority
“32 per cent of people in the UK said they averaged less than the recommended minimum seven hours of sleep per night.”
Not getting enough sleep can lead to a range of problems – from decreasing your productivity at work to more serious health risks such as type 2 diabetes and depression. In Arianna’s case, this resulted in total burnout. “I experienced first-hand the high price we’re paying for cheating sleep when I collapsed from exhaustion.”
“Sleep is a key element of our wellbeing. Once I started getting seven or eight hours of sleep, it became easier to make wiser decisions and connect more deeply with myself and others.”
2. Make sure you get the right amount of sleep
“For individuals between the ages of 18 and 60, a minimum of seven hours of sleep a night is essential for optimal health.”
The National Sleep Foundation has broken it down accordingly:
Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours
School-age children (6-13 years): 9-11 hours
Teenagers (14-17 years): 8-10 hours
Young adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours
Adults (26-64 years): 7-9 hours
Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours
3. Strike a work/sleep balance
“Work is the number-one reason people cut back on sleep,” says Arianna. But by sacrificing sleep in place of getting that project finished or deal closed, you could be damaging your chances of success.
“Sleep deprivation takes its toll on our mental abilities,” says Arianna. “According to Till Roenneberg, a professor at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, ‘memory capacity is reduced. Social competence is reduced. Your entire performance is going to suffer. The way you make decisions is changed’.”
That’s why Arianna calls sleep the ‘ultimate performance enhancer’, explaining how athletes make sleep a key part of their training in order to succeed. “Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, said, ‘Sleep is extremely important to me – I need to rest and recover for the training I do to be absorbed by my body.’
“Volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic gold-medal winner, admits that sleep ‘could be the hardest thing to accomplish on my to-do list, but it always makes a difference’.”
4. Avoid eating right before bed
“Since it can take us two or three hours to digest a meal, we should pay attention to the time we eat dinner,” says Arianna. She spoke to Christopher Colwell, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA, who says, “eating late or at odd times can disrupt our circadian rhythms and our sleep-wake cycle”.
Arianna also suggests avoiding spicy foods, which cause heartburn and bloating, while fatty foods and caffeine late in the day can be sleep disrupters, too.
5. Make your bedroom an oasis
“Take steps before climbing into bed to turn down the lights and make your bedroom the kind of calming, quiet, dark space that will coax you towards sleep,” says Arianna. “The National Sleep Foundation advises using low-wattage incandescent bulbs in the bedroom.” Light suppresses the production of melatonin, which signals us to sleep.
“A cool bedroom is also key to getting a good night’s sleep. We know there a lot of positive associations between fresh air and relaxation, and when we feel relaxed and comfortable, we’re more likely to feel sleepy.”
6. Keep your mobile out of your bedroom
“Our houses, our bedrooms – even our beds – are littered with beeping, vibrating, flashing screens. It’s the never-ending possibility of connecting. The problem is that our relationship with our devices is still in that honeymoon phase where we just can’t get enough of each other.
“Instead we should think of blue light as an anti-sleeping drug. There are some new technologies, such as f.lux software, that help mitigate blue-light exposure, but gently escorting our smartphones out of bedrooms at least 30 minutes before we fall asleep is still the best option.”
7. Leave unfinished business behind
“When we walk through the door of our bedroom, it should be a symbolic moment that marks leaving the day, with all of its problems and unfinished business, behind us.”
She suggests thinking of your bedtime routine as a time to shed your daytime worries with each stage. “I treat my transition to sleep as a ritual. Before bed, I take a hot bath with Epsom salts and a candle – and I prolong it 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 messages that sends to our brains) but have pyjamas dedicated to sleep. Sometimes I have a cup of chamomile or lavender tea.”
8. Ditch the sleeping pills
“In 2014, people around the world spent a staggering $58 billion on sleep-aid production. Women are also bigger users of sleeping pills than men.
“Sleeping pills aren’t the solution to our sleep-deprivation crisis – they’re another crisis masquerading as a solution, offering a false promise that takes us further from the benefits of real, restorative sleep.”
9. Don’t just lie there
“If you’ve been in bed struggling to sleep for 20 minutes, try switching to meditating or reading a book (not on a tablet which gives off blue light and also often has your emails on it) that has nothing to do with work.” Arianna highlights that this shifts your focus from the anxiety of tossing and turning to something more positive that can gently lead you back to sleep.
Extracted from The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night At A Time by Arianna Huffington (£16.99, WH Allen).
Still struggling to sleep? Read Dr Irshaad Ebrahim’s advice on tackling insomnia.