Arianna Huffington on sleep, mornings and work

She sold The Huffington Post to AOL for $315m but stayed on as CEO. Now, Arianna Huffington is on a mission to make sure everyone starts sleeping better, believing “sleep is the ultimate performance enhancer.” Annie Ridout interviews her…

This article was originally published on The Early Hour in 2016.

Arianna Huffington co-founded online news and blogging platform The Huffington Post in 2005, working from her kitchen table. This was after having established herself as a prominent author, journalist and editor.

When Huff Post took off, she suffered with ill health due to working long hours and not getting enough sleep. After fainting from exhaustion, she decided she had to make some drastic changes to her lifestyle and so began to study the importance of sleep, rest, switching off from technology and taking breaks. This is the subject of her latest book and social media campaign: The Sleep Revolution.

Arianna Huffington also makes sure she looks after the health of her staff – for instance, by introducing technology to Huff Post that deletes any emails sent to an employee when they’re on holiday. We spoke to her about all this, and more…

Meet Arianna Huffington…

What time were you up this morning?
A little before 7, I think. I don’t always remember what time I wake up because I no longer rely on an alarm. 95 percent of the time I get eight hours of sleep a night, and once I started getting enough I found I would just wake up naturally.

How did you feel?
Joyful. When I get the sleep I need I almost always wake up feeling joyful about the day’s possibilities.

What was your first thought?
“Where am I?” Not uncommon when I wake up in a hotel!

Your morning routine is well documented: no electronic devices, thoughts of gratitude/intentions, 30 minutes of either yoga or on the exercise bike, 30 minutes of meditation, shower, dressed, coffee, go… Do you manage this every morning?
Mostly. Some parts of my routine vary depending on where I am – for example, if I’m traveling and away from my stationary bike, I may have to skip a day. And some days, depending on my schedule, it may be closer to 5 minutes of meditation. But overall I keep to my routine – it helps me center myself and set my intentions for the day.

Do you ever lie in bed and think: I can’t be bothered to get up?
I think we all have that thought!

When do you eat breakfast, and what do you have?
Fresh fruit and Bulletproof coffee – I drink two cups in the morning.

Have you ever attempted to go without caffeine?
Rarely. I’m someone who absolutely loves coffee and drinks it every morning, although I try not to drink it after 2pm, which is roughly the time sleep experts recommend we stop consuming caffeinated drinks.

Arianna Huffington on fashion

How particular are you about your outfit each day?
I’m a big believer in repeats, and it’s one of my missions to make repeats cool! It would save women so much time and energy – which would mean more time and energy they can spend getting things done. Or sleeping. Women feel that they need to wear something new every single day, while men like Mark Zuckerberg can wear the same hoodie and jeans! So I purposefully will wear the same dresses over and over again (really, check my Instagram) because I love finding something that’s comfortable and I feel great in. And I always wear flats or kitten heels.

Your book The Sleep Revolution is an amalgamation of research – your own and scientists’ – on the importance of sleep. Could all this focus on sleep actually be counterproductive; an added pressure – should it be more natural?
No, because the research legitimizes sleep in a way nothing else can. We’re living in a golden age of sleep science – revealing all the ways in which sleep and dreams play a vital role in our decision making, emotional intelligence, cognitive function, and creativity. The science-backed conclusion that sleep is the ultimate performance enhancer is doing more than anything else to transform our culture and raise awareness around sleep’s miraculous benefits.

Arianna Huffington’s advice for new parents

For parents of young children, what advice do you have about sleep – are there coping mechanisms you can recommend?
I cannot overstate the importance of having a little tribe of support in the first few months after a baby is born. Whether it’s your spouse, your parents, or siblings and friends, having people to help you so that you can catch a nap in the afternoon or have a few hours of uninterrupted sleep at night makes all the difference.

While at the forefront of the #sleeprevolution, you’re also running a 24-hour news organisation. Do you feel a responsibility to solve the same problem you’ve played a part in creating?
At The Huffington Post, since the news is nonstop, there is definitely the temptation for editors, reporters, and engineers to try to match the twenty-four-hour news cycle. But we do a lot to prevent burnout.

We have two nap rooms in our newsroom, which are now full most of the time, even though they were met with skepticism and reluctance when we installed them in the spring of 2011.

We’ve also always made it very clear that no one is expected to check work email and respond after hours, over the weekend, or while they’re on vacation. But in spite of this, as we all know, it’s very common for people to go on vacation and put up an out-of-office message, but still respond to incoming emails – often seconds after the sender receives an out-of-office email! Why? Because we are addicted, and because once we see an email, we feel obligated to answer it.

So, inspired by the German auto company Daimler, we decided to create a tech solution that would eliminate the temptation. With our new vacation email tool, all emails sent to you during your time off will be automatically deleted. The sender gets an auto response asking them to resend their message when you’re back or to contact someone you designate if it is urgent.

Arianna Huffington on Huffington Post

After selling The Huffington Post to AOL, you stayed on as editor-in-chief – what keeps you there?
What keeps me here is what inspired me to co-found HuffPost in the first place. Nearly eleven years after our founding, we strive every day to innovate and seize new opportunities, but at the same time stay true to our DNA, rooted in our core mission to inform, inspire, entertain and empower. With editions in 15 countries, we’re able to reach more people than ever before, and voices that once would have gone unheard have a chance to join the conversation, and maybe even have a chance to change the world.

What’s the most important lesson your parents taught you?
My father was a journalist and I grew up on the romance of the profession – so I certainly owe him for setting me on this path. And my mother gave me a sense of unconditional loving. This meant that even as I was going for my dreams, I knew that if I failed she wouldn’t love me any less. And that made me less afraid to fail.

What hopes do you have for your daughters?
I hope I succeed in giving them the same unconditional loving my mother gave to me – and that they in turn feel confident enough to go for their dreams, take risks, and be unafraid to fail.

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow morning, where would it be and who would be with you?
My beloved Greek islands, with my daughters and my sister Agapi.

Join the #sleeprevolution on Twitter and check out Huffington’s latest book The Sleep Revolution.