Pillow talk with Arianna Huffington, author of The Sleep Revolution

Arianna Huffington shares her thoughts on the importance of sleep for a more productive workplace and improved learning.

Always on the hunt for sleep advice and inspiration from the world’s best, we were lucky enough to sit down with founder of the Huffington Post and Thrive Global Arianna Huffington ahead of her visit to Australia this year.

Arianna’s book The Sleep Revolution has already been instrumental in changing attitudes towards sleep around the globe, encouraging people to prioritise sleep to live a healthier, happier and more successful life. She shares her top tips to improving your sleep and opinion on common sleep issues with us below.

How has prioritising sleep changed your life?

Since I've prioritised sleep, I’m not only more productive and less stressed, but I also feel more present to enjoy those around me and my own life.

How have people received The Sleep Revolution?

The reception has been amazing. When I wrote it, the revolution was in its early stages, but now it’s taken off. Everywhere I go people come up to me and tell me about their sleep – sometimes about how they can’t seem to get enough, but increasingly, how getting more is changing their life.

What are your thoughts on a long night’s sleep vs a good night’s sleep?

Is it more important to pursue a higher quality sleep, even if it means less hours on the clock?

I don’t think there’s a lot of distinction between the two – though we might only be in deep sleep for 3 to 4 hours per night, to get those hours we need to sleep for 7 to 8 hours per night. So there’s really no shortcut around simply making enough time for the sleep you need.

How do you work your sleep philosophy into your jet-setting lifestyle?

One of the best tips is to not start off already tired. But once on the plane, I go with comfortable clothes, healthy snacks, and, to help you sleep: good headphones, some guided meditations and a really, really good eye mask. Also, if you’re taking a red eye or going across many time zones, build in time for a nap when you land.

We know tiredness in the workplace is a huge issue. What do you think companies and businesses should be doing to help people sleep better and in turn be happier and safer on the job?

The first thing companies need to do is let their employees know that the company rejects the myth that we have to burnout in order to succeed. Companies need to realize that well-being and productivity are not on opposite sides — so they don’t need to be balanced. They’re on the same side, so increase one and you increase the other. Second, they need to change the incentives. It’s one thing to urge employees to take care of themselves, but to make that happen, employees need to see that those who prioritize their well-being are celebrated and promoted instead of those burning themselves out. And third, they need to model the change themselves – employees need new role models of success who demonstrate that you can thrive and succeed without burning out.

Balancing parenting and sleep is obviously a huge challenge, particularly for new parents. How did having children impact your sleep?

Of course, sleep is always challenging for new mothers. But it’s important for new mothers to take care of themselves, so they’ll be better able to care for their child. It’s like they say on planes: secure your own oxygen mask first before helping others. So, the old advice still stands – try to nap when the baby naps. But also be ruthless about trying to find time in the day to nap when you can, because there are so many times when your time is not your own. For those too-few moments in which it is, sleep should be a priority. And for parents wanting to be part of the sleep revolution, the best way is for parents to model those good habits. Not only is that a good example, it will help deal with the inevitable challenges of raising a family.

We know that sleep issues start from an early age, and that a lack of sleep impacts a child’s ability learn. How do you think we could be nipping these issues in the bud earlier?

Like I said, parents need to model good sleep habits for their children. Kids need to see that sleep is a priority and a health issue. And in addition to educating children about sleep, one of the most important things schools can do is start late enough to allow children and teens to get enough sleep. Right now the average start time for public high schools is around 8 a.m. But in 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that middle and high schools not start before 8:30 a.m. Currently, the majority of schools don’t follow these guidelines. So schools need to realize that sleep is not just a health issue, but a powerful learning tool.

How does sleeping next to another person impact sleep? Are there any ways to avoid disrupting a partner’s rest – particularly if you’re on different schedules?

Every couple is different, but if a person’s sleep is being disrupted by a partner, they should consider sleeping in separate rooms. And there’s also research to suggest that couples with different sleep schedules experience more conflict. It’s not an easy problem if the schedule can’t be brought into sync – but the best advice, which is good advice for virtually all relationship problems, is communication.

What is the ultimate goal of the Sleep Revolution? Why do you encourage others to focus on sleep?

The goal of The Sleep Revolution, and now my company Thrive Global, is to end our culture of burnout, sleep deprivation and stress. It’s a global epidemic and it’s literally killing us. So I want to help people realize they’d be more productive, more successful, and more fulfilled if they’d prioritize their well-being, which sleep is the foundation of.