My notes on The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington.
Huffington begins by describing the physical breakdown she suffered in 2007. She attributes her collapse to her go-go lifestyle and her refusal to miss any opportunity. She learned from that illness that sleep is “a fundamental human need.” She presents this discovery as a revelation.
Huffington points a finger at technology as a culprit in widespread sleeplessness and warns of a “collective delusion” about the need for overwork and burnout. She blames ambition and misplaced priorities as the reasons a broad populace works too hard to cop the sack time it needs.
Huffington raises the issue of sleep in mythology and fairy tales. She posits that in today’s world, Sleeping Beauty and you and everybody else must be her or his “own Prince Charming.” She urges you to look away from outward distractions to consider your inner life and how you nourish it.
She reminds readers that sleep is a time of rejuvenation and, through dreams, of portals into the working of your subconscious mind, which is not open at any other time.
Family Sleep Habits
Huffington cites research suggesting that good or poor sleep habits develop quite early. People are more likely to behave healthfully if other people near them do the same. Huffington’s mother often stayed up all night “cooking, reading and organizing” and slept during the day, setting a pattern for her two daughters’ sleep habits for most of their lives.
Parental education levels seem to be the most reliable determinant of whether kids get sufficient sleep. Again, Huffington’s class obliviousness appears. Better-educated parents are more likely to work regular hours and, therefore, to have the leisure time to spend with their kids and monitor their schedules. Many working parents lack that leisure, though Huffington’s mother adjusted “her entire circadian rhythm” around the needs of her daughters and grandkids.
The “National Sleep Foundation” publishes sleep guidelines and Huffington supports them:
- A newborn should get 14 to 17 hours a night,
- a teenager eight to ten hours,
- adults up to age 65, seven to nine hours, and
- “Older adults” seven to eight hours.
Those who claim they do fine on three to five hours are mostly lying, Huffington reports, and are certainly undermining their health.
Improving Your Sleep
Huffington provides several unique and extremely helpful appendices. One entry is a “Sleep-Quality Questionnaire.” This tool asks how long you take to fall asleep, how long you might be awake in the middle of the night, how many nights a week you have a hard time falling asleep, and more. Its nine questions illuminate the severity or lack thereof of your issues with going to sleep and staying asleep.
Following that, Huffington provides perhaps the most useful section of her book for the true insomniac. Appendix B offers links or downloads for “guided meditations” to help you fall asleep and remain asleep. These meditations go to the core of Huffington’s theme: that your subconscious and, if you will, your spiritual self, emerge during sleep. These fundamental but often-ignored aspects of the self need sleep for nourishment and they reveal themselves to you only through the medium of sleep.
Huffington offers a long prose recounting of what you should think about prior to sleep, including breathing exercises and visualizations. One meditation suggests envisioning a white mist that envelops you, then a red mist, then orange, then yellow, then green and blue. Then, picture the mist turning white once more.
Leave the Sword Outside
Huffington offers some stirring, memorable metaphors. She discusses how prior to a Japanese tea ceremony, samurai warriors would take off their swords so as not to bring them into the house. Huffington presents the samurai shedding his sword as a metaphor for the effort you need to make to leaves your daytime troubles and worries outside your bed.
While Huffington insists that sleep alone can grant the perspective that reveals life’s true values, she also candidly admits that this represents a significant change of heart for her. She writes of her former fears that she was never doing enough. Her ambition and ferocious work schedule led her to lose sight of “the mystery” of life, although she believes she still would have accomplished her many achievements if she’d gotten enough sleep in her earlier years. Huffington now regards her former refusal to sleep as a dangerous, even self-destructive delusion she has now escaped.
The salient quality of modern life is the seduction and relentlessness of the distractions surrounding you. To “lay down our swords” means evading those distractions and inviting sleep. And when you finally dismiss the waking life’s web of distraction and fall asleep, your dreams and the gnomic workings of your sleeping brain can then provide “a gateway to the sacred.”