To celebrate our exciting collaboration with Arianna Huffington, author of the international bestsellers Thrive and The Sleep Revolution, I sat down with her to find out what inspires her, how she ‘thrives’ and more.
Here’s Part I of our interview…
kikki.K founder & stationery lover
Kristina Karlsson: In Thrive, you wrote about how you collapsed from overextending yourself and how the experience served as a personal wake-up call for you. Can you tell us a bit about that experience and what you learned from it?
Arianna Huffington: On the morning of April 6, 2007, I was lying on the floor of my home office in a pool of blood. On my way down, my head had hit the corner of my desk, cutting my eye and breaking my cheekbone. I had collapsed from exhaustion and lack of sleep. In the wake of my collapse, I found myself going from doctor to doctor, from brain MRI to CAT scan to echocardiogram, to find out if there was any underlying medical problem beyond exhaustion. There wasn’t, but doctors’ waiting rooms, it turns out, were good places for me to ask myself a lot of questions about the kind of life I was living.
I wrote about my wakeup call in Thrive, and as I went around the world talking about the book I found that the subject people wanted to discuss most—by far—was sleep: how difficult it is to get enough, how there are simply not enough hours in the day, how tough it is to wind down, how hard it is to fall asleep and stay asleep, even when we set aside enough time. And since my own transformation into a sleep evangelist, everywhere I go, someone will pull me aside and, often in hushed and conspiratorial tones, confess, “I’m just not getting enough sleep. I’m exhausted all the time.” Or, as one young woman told me after a talk in San Francisco, “I don’t remember the last time I wasn’t tired.” By the end of an evening, no matter where I am in the world or what the theme of the event is, I’ll have had that same conversation with any number of people in the room. And what everyone wants to know is, “What should I do to get more and better sleep?” So I decided I wanted to take a fuller look at the subject because it’s clear that if we’re going to truly thrive, we must begin with sleep. It’s the gateway through which a life of well-being must travel.
KK: We had so much fun creating these new products with you at kikki.K. What was most important for you in making these?
AH: I’ve loved the opportunity collaborate on all these products. At The Huffington Post, our goal is to add value to people’s lives in everything we do, and I love that these products strive for the same thing – adding value to people’s lives by helping them live with more well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving.
KK: I get so inspired by hearing other people’s daily rituals. Can you tell us about yours? What helps you personally live your best life?
AH: 95 percent of the time I get eight hours of sleep a night, and as a result, 95 percent of the time I don’t need an alarm to wake up. So on most days, my daily ritual begins with waking up naturally – which for me is a great way to start the day.
A big part of my morning ritual is about what I don’t do: when I wake up, I don’t start the day by looking at my smartphone. Instead, once I’m awake, I take a minute to breathe deeply, be grateful, and set my intention for the day. Then I do 20 to 30 minutes of meditation and 30 minutes on my stationary bike, on days when I’m home, and 5-10 minutes of yoga stretches.
Most nights I’m in bed by 11, and my goal as we joke in my family, is to always be in bed to catch the “midnight train.”
KK: How do you define “thriving”?
AH: Living the life you want, not the life you settle for.
KK: Why do you personally feel so passionate about sleep?
AH: As my 2007 collapse demonstrates, I learned about sleep’s importance the hard way. Becoming a sleep evangelist was my way of trying to make sure others realize sleep’s importance before – not after – having their own painful wakeup call.
KK: A lot of young entrepreneurs and business-owners can wear it as a badge of honor that they work incredibly long hours, don’t sleep, and don’t take care of themselves in the pursuit of success. As someone who has built a hugely successful business, what advice would you having for people stuck in this mindset?
AH: There is this founder myth that if you are starting a company you can’t afford to get enough sleep. But in reality three-quarters of start-ups fail, and perhaps if these founders were getting the sleep they need they’d have a higher likelihood of succeeding. Sleep is nonnegotiable, and it will improve every aspect of your health, productivity, and your chances of having a successful business.
KK: Technology is obviously now a huge part of our daily lives. What are your technology tips for sleep health and thriving?
AH: My main technology tip concerns devices in the bedroom. Blue light, the sort given off by our ubiquitous electronic devices, is especially good at suppressing melatonin— which makes it especially bad for our sleep. In fact, a 2015 survey showed that 71 percent of Americans sleep with or next to their smartphones.
So the tech tip I most highly recommend – because of the impact it’s had on my own life – is a key part of a larger tip, which is creating a healthy transition to sleep that begins before you even step into your bedroom. I treat my own transition to sleep as a sacrosanct ritual. First, I turn off all my electronic devices and gently escort them out of my bedroom. Then, 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. I love reading real, physical books – especially poetry, novels and books that have nothing to do with work.
KK: What went into the design of your own ‘sleep haven’? What would you suggest others do to create a bedroom that complements healthy sleep?
AH: We should keep our bedrooms dark, quiet and cool – between 60 and 67 degrees. And there are so many small steps we can take to make our bedrooms more conducive to good sleep. I have blackout curtains, a nightstand with things that help me relax and unwind like flowers, an analog alarm clock, and a picture of my daughters. As mentioned above, don’t charge your phone next to your bed – and even better, gently escort all devices completely out of your bedroom. And remember, your bed is for sleep and sex only – no work!
KK: Exercise is a vital part of living a healthy life. What advice would you give to someone who has problems getting motivated in this area?
AH: There’s plenty of science confirming the direct relationship between exercise and sleep. A study from Bellarmine University and Oregon State University found that “regular physical activity may serve as a non-pharmaceutical alternative to improve sleep,” at least for those who meet the basic recommended guidelines of 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise. And researchers at the University of Pennsylvania showed that those who walked for exercise got better sleep and that, as lead author Michael Grandner put it, “these effects are even stronger for more purposeful activities, such as running and yoga, and even gardening and golf.” In other words, move your body! Even when you have a jam-packed day, try taking a longer route to your subway stop, or take the stairs instead of the elevator, or park at the outer edge of the parking lot. Or if you can, set up a walking meeting at work. When we were launching The Huffington Post, some of our best ideas came up while hiking in the hills of L.A.
KK: Do you personally journal? How often and how long have you been doing it if so?
AH: In my twenties, fascinated by the work of Carl Jung, I started keeping a daily dream journal. The majority of my dreams were garbled, sometimes surreal versions of my daily life, but there were also flashes of genuine insight.
Another practice that my older daughter, Christina, has been using, and that I’ve borrowed, is making a gratitude list part of our bedtime routine. I find that it focuses my mind on the blessings in my life— large and small— rather than on the running list of unresolved problems. For all of us, every day has its blessings and its setbacks, but it’s the setbacks and stresses that seem to take center stage in our minds once our head hits the pillow. They are the preening, attention-seeking, spotlight-hogging divas of our bedtime hours, ignoring the stage manager begging them to exit. And if we don’t stop them, they’ll drag the whole production down with them. A gratitude list— whether written in a notebook, spoken aloud, or just recited silently— is a great way to knock them down a peg, shift the spotlight, and make sure our blessings get the closing scene of the night.
Don’t forget you can shop our gorgeous Thrive Journal online now. Look out for Part II of our interview with Arianna coming soon!