It’s been said that the right amount of sleep is 5 minutes more. In her new book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, Arianna Huffington takes that idea a large step further by asserting that we are in the midst of a sleep deprivation crisis that has profound consequences on our health, our job performance, our relationships, and our happiness. Only by renewing our relationship with sleep can we take back control of our lives. And no, we won’t tell you to build a nap cubby under your desk.
Scientifically sound and deeply relatable, The Sleep Revolution explores the importance of something we take for granted until we don’t have it—a solid night’s sleep. A growing body of research is revealing the vital role sleep plays in our every waking moment and every aspect of our health—from weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease to cancer and Alzheimer’s. In other words, those bags under your eyes are a heavier burden than you think. Early bedtime tonight, anyone?
Excerpted from The Sleep Revolution
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. Staring at a blue-light-radiating device before you go to bed can serve as “an alert stimulus that will frustrate your body’s ability to go to sleep later,” said George Brainard, a circadian-rhythm researcher and neurologist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. “When you turn it off, it doesn’t mean that instantly the alerting effects go away. There’s an underlying biology that’s stimulated.”
The problem is that our relationship with our devices is still in that honeymoon phase where we just can’t get enough of each other—we’re not yet at the stage where we’re comfortable being apart for a few hours or taking separate vacations. In fact, a 2015 survey showed that 71 percent of Americans sleep with or next to their smartphones. We should think of light, especially blue light, as an anti-sleeping drug or a stimulant—something few of us would willingly give ourselves each night before bed, especially when so many of us are using sleeping pills or other sleeping aids in a desperate effort to get some sleep. There are some new technologies, such as f.lux software, that help mitigate blue-light exposure. But gently escorting our smartphones out of our bedrooms at least thirty minutes before we fall asleep is still the best option.
It’s not just the screens that are potential problems but what’s on them. Heather Cleland Woods, a sleep researcher at the University of Glasgow, coauthored a study on how social-media use affects teens. “If we’re all on social media and we have this 24-7 culture,” she asked, “are we raising a generation of kids that are not going to be able to get a quality night’s sleep?” She and her team set out to answer that by looking at the social-media practices of adolescents, their “emotional investment” in social media, and their mental health, including histories of depression or anxiety, in which sleep plays a role.
Participants who said they had the highest emotional investment in their social-media lives also reported having low sleep quality—as well as increased anxiety and depression and decreased self-esteem. Woods is not recommending that parents force their teens to go cold turkey, but rather to help them think through their use of social media.
Then there’s the matter of temperature. According to a study by researchers from the Clinique du Sommeil in Lille, France, the ideal sleeping temperature is 60 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 65 degrees and says that sleep is actually disrupted when the temperature rises above 75 degrees or falls below 54 degrees. As the French study conﬁrms, our bodies have a temperature cycle much like our circadian sleep cycle: our body temperature drops throughout the night, bottoming out a few hours before waking and going up as we approach morning.
As Natalie Dautovich, an environmental scholar at the National Sleep Foundation, said, a small drop in body temperature can prompt sleep signals to our brains: “We know that a cool bedroom environment is key to getting a good night’s sleep. We also know there are a lot of positive associations between fresh air and relaxation, and when we feel relaxed and comfortable in our environment, we’re more likely to feel sleepy.”
We also sleep better when we make time for regular physical activity in our lives. A 2014 study from the University of Georgia found a strong connection between sleep problems and cardiorespiratory ﬁtness. “Staying active won’t cure sleep complaints,” said lead author Rodney Dishman, “but it will reduce the odds of them.” I ﬁnd that on the days when I’ve biked or hiked or walked or done yoga, it’s much easier to unwind and fall asleep.
In fact, 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.
But don’t get discouraged if the gains aren’t apparent right away. A 2013 study from Northwestern University found that exercise added around forty-ﬁve minutes of extra sleep, but it took around four months for the full beneﬁts to kick in. This street runs both ways: researchers also found that after a bad night of sleep, participants had bad workouts, while they had better workouts after a good night’s sleep.
What about the timing of exercise? Is exercising close to bedtime a bad idea? As it turns out, exercise is so beneﬁcial to sleep and overall health that we should attempt to ﬁt it in whenever our lives allow.
Want to know more? You can view a curated list of resources that includes a sleep-quality questionnaire, tips for getting a better night’s sleep, a guided meditation, and other tools that can help you snooze your way to the top. And find out how sleep can help transform your life, your community, and the world in The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time by Arianna Huffington. Copyright ©2016 by Christabella, LLC. Published by Harmony Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
Arianna Huffington is the co-founder, president, and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, a Pulitzer-Prize winning news and blog site. She has been named to Time magazine‘s list of the world’s 100 most influential people and the Forbes’ Most Powerful Women list. Arianna graduated from Cambridge University with an M.A. in economics and is the author of fifteen books. You can keep up with Arianna on Twitter and Facebook.