Arianna Huffington on Why You Need More Sleep, and How to Get It (Hint: Sex)

"Sleep deprivation is the new smoking," Huffington said on "10% Happier."

June 15, 2016, 1:58 PM

— -- Arianna Huffington has a multimillion-dollar media website that reacts to world events by the millisecond, she’s a mother of two, and yet she says she always gets a good night’s sleep. Not only that, she says wants to help everyone else do the same.

“It’s kind of ironic because most people sacrifice sleep in the name of productivity and yet modern science is absolutely conclusive that if you don’t get enough sleep you are not going to be as productive,” Huffington told ABC News’ Dan Harris during an interview for his podcast, “10% Happier.”

Huffington, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, has a new book –- her fifteenth -- called “The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time.” In the book, she traces sleep deprivation back to the Industrial Revolution and argues that our culture’s chronic need to be “plugged in” is hurting our health, productivity, relationships and happiness.

"Sleep deprivation is the new smoking," she said.

Watch the full interview in the video player and download the "10% Happier" podcast on iTunes and TuneIn.

More than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, according to a February 2016 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleeping less than seven hours a day, the CDC reported, can lead to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and frequent mental distress.

It’s what Huffington calls, a “sleep crisis.”

She started researching the effects of sleep deprivation after she collapsed from exhaustion in 2007, two years after launching The Huffington Post. It was also around this time, Huffington said, that she went back to meditation, a practice she had first started at age 13 while living in her home country of Greece.

“My life was a mixture of having very intense periods where I would fall off the wagon, get back on the wagon, meditating, doing retreats, sleeping more,” she said. “I think I would be dead if I was on continuous trajectory of not including these parts in my life with what I was doing.”

Now Huffington said she meditates for 20-30 minutes every morning and if she wakes up in the middle of the night, she will sometimes meditate then too.

“I think sleep and Mindfulness meditation are very interconnected,” Huffington said. “It’s really a recognition that we need to disconnect from our world, reconnect with ourselves.”

She gets eight hours of sleep every night, “which is my optimal time,” she said. To prepare for a good night’s sleep, Huffington starts getting ready 30 minutes before bedtime. She turns off all of her devices and places them outside of her bedroom – except for one “dumb” phone she said her daughters and the Huffington Post overnight editor can call in case of an emergency.

“It has no data, so it's not a temptation,” she said. “I’ve never been called but it gives me this peace of mind that if something happens, I will be called.”

After she puts her devices away, Huffington said she lowers the lights, closes the blackout curtains and draws a hot bath with Epsom salts.

“There’s something about the water purification ritual that slows down the brain and begins to wind down the body and is kind of that ritual of a demarcation line between our day and our sleep,” she said.

She likes to keep her bedroom at a cool 67 degrees, and only reads physical books in bed instead of using an e-reader. She also recommends sleeping in lingerie. Sex before bed too, she said, is helpful for a good night’s sleep.

“I actually love kind of rekindling the romance with sleep with beautiful lingerie or anything that is not the clothes you go to the gym in,” she said. “Just something that’s special.”

Finally, Huffington likes “to give the closing scene of the production to the good things.”

“I write down three things I’m grateful for,” she said.

For those struggling with sleep, Huffington said the first step is admitting you have a problem. The next is making small changes to correct it.

“I recognized that I had to take micro steps, not say ‘I’m going to completely overhaul my life overnight,’ ... when it came to sleep, I started adding like thirty minutes to how much sleep I was getting,” she said. “You need to be ruthless about prioritizing your sleep without stressing about it because then it becomes its own problem.”

Huffington has received criticism for “The Sleep Revolution,” with some arguing that her touting eight hours of sleep every night is a luxury reserved for the rich, who can afford to hire help at work and at home.

The Huffington Post has also been accused of catering to a high-stress work environment. In a New York Times Magazine profile that came out last year, some former Huffington Post employees complained about burnout from working non-stop, around-the-clock hours and low pay. “Despite its nap rooms, meditation rooms and breathing classes, which were introduced as Huffington entered her ‘Thrive’ phase, it [The Huffington Post] is described as a surpassingly difficult place to work,” the article said.

“There’s no question that we need to be constantly getting better at creating a culture that prioritizes well-being and makes it clear to everybody that employees’ well-being and what is best for the company are absolutely integrated,” Huffington said. “We have a lot of young employees so how they operate or what drives them or the pressures they put on themselves are not just dependent on what the employer and the culture around them dictates.”

“When you leave work, you don’t have to check your email but people may be checking their email all night,” she added. “I’m not their mother, and nobody can impose these things.”

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