Sleep and I have never cooperated. When Arianna Huffington published a book called The Sleep Revolution in 2016, I barely flinched. Who needs sleep? As Nas ingrained in me from a young age, “I never sleep – ’cause sleep is the cousin of death.”
I used to think that 5 or 6 hours was adequate. I would stay up to all hours of the night and then force my body to wake up early. If I spent more than 5 or 6 hours in bed, I felt unproductive the next morning, even on weekends. Ever since I was young, I have never made time for sleep. It was always a challenge of who could stay up later during sleepovers with friends.
After reading Arianna’s book, however, it is evidently apparent how important sleep is to our daily lives and long term well-being. But what did Arianna know about sleep? Plenty, apparently. Although not a sleep doctor of any sort, Arianna quickly became a sleep evangelist after collapsing from sleep deprivation and burnout in 2007. Quickly becoming a poster-child for the sleep revolution, Arianna spread the word on the current sleep crisis detrimentally impacting numerous people across the civilized world. As society grows more fast-paced by the day, whether its being on call around the clock at work or falling victim to the unending loop of the 24 hour news and social media cycle, Arianna’s message is more important than ever.
Her book first focuses on the sleep crisis and its causes. Ever since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, sleep has posed an obstacle to work and productivity. Only later with the birth of sleep science did people begin to discover that sleep is in fact intricately connected to all aspects of mental and physical health. Arianna provides useful tips based on scientific studies and her own personal experiences in an effort to help readers master sleep and embrace the activity as a vital and necessary component to a healthy life.
I was shocked to read how “just one night of sleep deprivation leads to an increase in two rare molecules in the brain (NSE and S-100B) that are signs of brain damage.”
Aside from the positive health effects, quality sleep also allows us to dream. As Arianna astutely pointed out, “We live in a world in which we relentlessly track our time, revere data over wisdom, and are consumed with our work and our devices, from the moment we get up to the second we drift off to sleep. That’s why the mental real estate that our dreams occupy is more valuable than ever. Technology may let us travel across time and space in an instant, but our dreams allow us to span deeper parts of ourselves.”
After reading this book, I am now excited heading off to dreamland for a new adventure every night. Not all dreams may be pleasant – some, in fact, are downright terrifying – but they can nevertheless serve as vehicles to help us explore and understand our conscious reality.
In order to arrive at this subconscious destination, Ariana recommends that we do everything possible to calm the mind before getting into bed. Until reading this book, I never thought of sleep as a time to wind down from the day, as if I was a 747 aircraft that had just landed and needed to be refueled and prepped for takeoff the next day. Although I do not think you need your routine to mirror exactly what she describes here, I think it is instructive nonetheless:
“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. When we wake up in the morning, there will be plenty of time for us to pick up our projects and deal with our challenges, refreshed and recharged. I treat my transition to sleep as a sacrosanct ritual. Before bed, I take a hot bath with epsom salts and a candle flickering nearby – a bath that I prolong 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 message that sends to our brains) but have pajamas, nightdresses, even T-shirts dedicated to sleep. Sometimes I have a cup of chamomile or lavender tea if I want something warm and comforting before going to bed. Think of each stage as designed to help you shed more of your stubborn daytime worries.”
And when you have trouble sleeping, try meditation. Avid meditation practitioners like the Dalai Lama wake up in the middle of the night to get in two or three hours of meditation. Focus on your breathing and imagine yourself in a place of peace, wherever that may be for you (I often picture myself in a tranquil forest in the mountains, with nothing around me except for the sounds of the wild and the warm sun shining through the canopy of trees and reflecting off a clear lake).
One method of meditative breathing is the 4-7-8 technique, which is rooted in the ancient Indian practice of pranayama. You inhale quietly through the nose for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts, and exhale with a whooshing sound through the mouth for 8 counts. Some say that with practice and regularity, this method can put you to sleep in one minute.
Arianna is also a strong proponent of naps. Studies have shown that naps can lower blood pressure, promote performance, and enhance alertness. They can even boost learning power. The new age companies of the 21st century that reserve space for nap rooms or pods may be onto something. Many experts say that the best “circadian timing” for a nap is the early afternoon. Make sure your boss is on the same page before employing this practice at work though!
In addition to naps, the book addresses the perils of jet lag and changing time zones, which as anyone who has ever traveled long distances knows can be quite challenging to overcome. Arianna suggests fasting or at least bringing your own healthy snacks as opposed to eating the sodium-filled offerings provided by most airlines. The most important practice is to drink a lot of water throughout the flight because the high altitude will hasten the dehydration process.
Overall, The Sleep Revolution is very insightful and will likely inspire you to change any poor sleep habits you might have. It is eye-opening to read of the health effects a lack of sleep has on our mental and physical health both in the long and short term. Getting eight or nine hours per night (or at least a minimum of seven) is just as important as exercising, eating well, or doing any other activity you may consider productive. And I could not agree with Arianna more in her call for our elected leaders to lead by example on sleep by making sleep health a part of their platforms. Do we really want politicians who claim to run on 3-4 hours of sleep per night, which many studies show has the same effect as inebriation?
If you are interested in learning more about sleep, or are simply looking for ways to improve your sleep lifestyle, I recommend reading this book. Help promote positive sleep change across the world, and as Arianna said: toss the saying “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” into the dustbin of history.