Three insights on sleep from media mogul turned sleep activist Arianna Huffington

During a keynote at the Manova Summit in Minneapolis Thrive Global CEO Arianna Huffington expanded on her philosophy around sleep’s relationship with healthcare and how better sleep means better business and better leaders.

When Arianna Huffington left her eponymous news site in 2016 to start a company focused on sleep and wellness, it caught a lot of people by surprise.

However, her passion about sleep went goes back a decade to when she collapsed due to exhaustion and burnout, breaking her cheekbone in the process. That moment, which she fittingly characterizes as a “wake-up call,” eventually led to her to her current position of Thrive Global and her role as an evangelist for the benefits and importance of quality sleep.

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During a keynote at the Manova Summit in Minneapolis she expanded on her philosophy around sleep’s relationship with healthcare and how better sleep means better business and better leaders.

  1. It is necessary to change the culture around sleep

Huffington said her own initial struggles with exhaustion and sleep had its roots in what she called a fallacy that in order to succeed, she had to always be on.

That belief has flowed into some corporate cultures like Uber, where she serves as a board member, and decreases the likelihood of it being a sustainable growth company.

“I saw some of how some of (Uber’s) cultural values, which specifically said being always on. Working longer, harder, smarter, where longer and smarter are contradictory. I saw how that affected behavior and in the end affected the bottom line,” Huffington said.

Part of her mission at Thrive is to highlight successful people who are “good sleepers” like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, instead of prominent people known for working themselves to exhaustion like Elon Musk, who see called a “huge gift” to sleep evangelists.

“He bought into the delusion that in order to build Tesla into the amazing company he wants to build it into, he cannot afford to sleep. And look at the consequences,” she said to laughs.

2. A big problem in people getting enough sleep is device addiction

Around half of teenagers feel “addicted” to their smartphone and studies have shown diminishing mental acuity comparable to withdrawals when devices are taken away.

It’s not just relegated to younger people though, Huffington cited statistics saying that more than 70 percent of people sleep with a device on their nightstand or on their bed.

“If they wake up in the middle of the night, they will be very tempted to look at their phone,” Huffington said. “Then it’s over, we’ve introduced our day life into our time to recharge. It’s going to take us longer to get to sleep and it won’t be as deep or recharging.”

She said of all the hundreds of small steps her company suggests in getting better sleep, her favorite is at the end of the day, turning off all devices and taking them out of the bedroom.

In the cultural values of Thrive Global, she said there are two specific statements that make that step possible. One is relentlessly prioritize and the second is to be comfortable with incompletion.

3. Sleep is key to processing decisions and being creative

Losing sleep is one of the ways that beta-amyloid proteins in the brain build up, which studies have shown is a risk factor in increasing mental impairment and the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Barring a genetic mutation, most people need seven to nine hours of sleep a night.

“The human brain only has two modes, alert and awake, or asleep and cleaning up,” Huffington said.

She added that sleep is at the heart of health and affects aspects of physical health ranging from common colds to heart disease and high blood pressure.

Ironically enough, Huffington said machines are similar in that they do their best work when connected from perceptions and processing the learning that they have done.

Picture: Kevin Truong, MedCity News