After collapsing from burnout and exhaustion aged 57, Arianna Huffington listened to her body and realised it was time to slow down. Here she explains the value of sleep – especially as we age …
As the co-founder of The Huffington Post, one of the world’s largest news aggregators and most read websites, Arianna Huffington knows a thing or two about burning the candle at both ends. But a collapse from exhaustion in LA twelve years ago was the catalyst that changed everything for the Greek-born media mogul. After stepping down as editor-in-chief of the HuffPost in 2016, she founded Thrive Global, a website focused on helping companies and employees improve their overall wellbeing. To do so, Huffington says, she needed to rearrange her priorities: “Running both companies would have involved working around the clock, which would be a betrayal of the very principles of Thrive. To truly thrive means knowing when the time has come to close one chapter and start the next; for me that time has arrived.”
Thrive Global operates within two business models, corporate and consumer, with Huffington and president Abby Levy at its helm. As well as promoting wellbeing and productivity through wellness courses, including online seminars and technology products (like an app to help employees manage email while on holiday), Thrive also offers an e-commerce platform, retailing a wide selection of products from scented candles to pillows, mattresses, yoga products, “sleep kits” and food supplements. Also in the pipeline: live events, celebrity partnerships and corporate retreats taught by Thrive-certified trainers. “The culture is shifting toward the recognition that for people to perform at their best at work they need to take care of themselves,” says Huffington.
When Huffington approached Levy, a former independent health advisor, coming on board was a no-brainer. “We’ve known each other for several years and I’ve been a huge fan and supporter of her work,” Levy said. “When I learned that Thrive was becoming a business, I knew I wanted to be involved.” The start-up raised $7m in Series A funding and worked with Accenture to create a pilot training programme.
After growing up in Athens and moving to England at 16, Arianna Stasinopoúlou studied economics at Cambridge before embarking on a career in media. She wrote several books, among them biographies of Maria Callas and Pablo Picasso, before rising to prominence in the US after a failed Senate bid by her then husband Michael Huffington, a Republican. Her first foray into internet publishing was at Resignation.com, a website which called for the resignation of then-US president Bill Clinton. Her next venture was Arianna Online, which grew out of her syndicated newspaper columns. Then, in 2005, with three others, she set up The Huffington Post. In 2011, she sold the website to AOL for $315m.
Her colourful and opulent 2,400 sqft loft on Mercer Street in New York’s Soho, which she purchased for $8m in 2013, is Huffington’s refuge. Here, surrounded by family photographs, books on everything from poetry to philosophy and freshly cut flowers, is where she unwinds, listens to music (classical is a favourite) and recharges. Sleep is Huffington’s favourite topic at the moment, and something she is adamant we need to prioritise. “Sleep deprivation is the new smoking,” she says. “We are very aware of how much battery remains on our phones. It goes below 13 percent and we get a little anxious. We don’t feel the sense of urgency or panic about ourselves. The same way we need to plug in our phones, we need to unplug ourselves.”
“Until my collapse, I had no bedtime routine; my routine was texting or emailing on my Blackberry until I turned off the light. If you don’t transition to sleep, you’re going to wake up, as many people do, in the middle of the night and have a harder time going back to sleep.”
To disconnect after a long day, Huffington has a routine. “I turn off the phone, the iPad, everything that involves a screen. No overhead lights, just the nightstand lamp.” Then she takes a very hot bath with epsom salts, lavender oil and a flickering candle. “There’s something incredible about water, it’s like washing away the day. Your mind begins to slow down.” Since this is advice from a former workaholic, and media mogul, we don’t feel silly for listening. And when Huffington announces “Great pyjamas are a great investment” we can wholeheartedly concur. Because, as she says, “When I changed the amount of hours of sleep in my life, everything became easier: meditation, exercise, health, relationships, clarity of mind. Everything changed.”
Sleep Your Way To The Top
Take Arianna Huffington’s advice to bed
1. Light suppresses the production of melatonin, which signals us to sleep: blackout blinds are a good investment. “We should make our bedroom a calming, quiet, dark space.”
2. Keep blue light-radiating devices, such as phones and tablets, out of the bedroom. “Think of blue light as an anti-sleeping drug or stimulant.”
3. Turn down the thermostat. “The ideal sleeping temperature is 60-66 degrees Fahrenheit.”
4. Moderate daily exercise will help you sleep better. “Make it a habit.
Try exercising 20 or 30 minutes five days a week.”
5. Eat right, sleep tight. That means avoiding large meals, spicy foods and caffeine before bed.
6. Avoid that nightcap. “Alcohol does indeed initially act as a sedative, but later in the night it is a sleep disrupter.”
7. Try meditating if you wake during the night. “I practice meditation. It takes the stress out of wakefulness.”
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