IN BED WITH ARIANNA HUFFINGTON
The media mogul, political activist and sleep evangelist shares her ultimate snooze secrets
The ultimate sleep tips.
ONE THING KEEPING US UP AT NIGHT is worrying about our never-completed to-do lists. We lie in bed thinking of all that was not done today and all that needs to be done tomorrow and it seems impossible to shut our minds off.“i would stress three words: calm the mind,” Jennifer Ailshire, assistant professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California, told me. “If we can’t slow our thoughts and disengage our minds from the daily stress and strain we experience, we have little chance of getting restful sleep. Strategies for doing this will vary from person to person, but yoga and meditation are good options.” So is qigong, an ancient Chinese practice of physical postures and breathing that can help us prepare for sleep.
I have a quote by Ralphwaldo Emerson by my bed that helps me silence my mind:“finish every day, and be done with it ...You have done what you could — some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in, forget them as fast as you can, tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
One way to finish every day and be done with it is what Joey Hubbard,who directs ourthrive workshops [based on Huffington’s bestselling book of the same name], calls the “mind dump”. Before bed, write down all the things you can think of that you need to do.this can empty your mind and reassure you that you don’t need to remember your tasks through the night — your to-do list will be waiting for you in the morning.
When we walk through the door of our bedroom, it should be a symbolic moment when we leave the day, with all of its problems and unfinished business, behind us.when we wake up in the morning, there will be plenty of time for us to pick up our projects and deal with our challenges, refreshed and recharged. I treat my transition to sleep as a sacrosanct ritual. Before bed I take a hot bath with epsom salts and a candle flickering nearby — a bath that I prolong if I’m feeling anxious or worried about something. I don’t sleep in my workout clothes as I used to (think of the mixed message that sends to our brains) but have pyjamas, nightdresses, even T-shirts dedicated to sleep. Sometimes I have a chamomile or lavender tea if I want something warm and comforting before going to bed.think of each stage as designed to help you shed more of your stubborn daytime worries.
And when I’m really having trouble sleeping, or I wake up with thoughts crowding my mind, I’ve found meditation to be a great remedy. Instead of stressing out about how I’m staying awake and fearing I’ll be tired the next day, I prop a few extra pillows under me and reframe what’s happening as a great opportunity to practise my meditation. If it’s in the middle of the night, I remind myself that that’s precisely when many avid meditation practitioners, such as the Dalai Lama, wake up to get in two or three hours of meditation.
As Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations, it’s a journey that’s always available to us: “People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast or in the hills … when it is possible for you to retreat into yourself at any time you want.there is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind . . . so constantly give yourself this retreat and renew yourself.” Since we find it harder and harder to retreat into ourselves in the middle of our busy days, the retreat in the middle of the night — whether through sleep or meditation — can be reframed as a precious luxury.
Another practice my older daughter, Christina, has been using, and that I’ve borrowed, is making a gratitude list part of our bedtime routine. I find that it focuses my mind on the blessings in my life — large and small — rather than on the running list of unresolved problems. Jim Gordon, the founder of Edgewater Funds, a billion-dollar private equity fund, has his own gratitude-based sleep ritual that’s better than any sleeping pill (and with none of the destructive side effects). He told me that when he wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, he starts counting his blessings (literally) in the form of his children and grandchildren jumping over a picket fence. When he recounted this to one of his daughters, who is a psychologist, she told him it sounded like classic cognitive behaviour therapy, but he had come to it by himself.
Breathing is one of my favourite sleep hacks. Counting out a few slow breaths is one of the techniques I use when I’m having trouble falling asleep. One such version, the 4-7-8 method popularised by Dr Andrew Weil, is rooted in the ancient Indian practice of pranayama. I love its simplicity: you simply inhale quietly through the nose for four counts, hold for seven counts, and exhale with a whooshing sound through the mouth for eight counts. Dr Weil says that with practice and regularity it can put you to sleep in one minute — and anything that can help you get to sleep that quickly is worth a try.
One of the most ingenious new sleep tips I’ve discovered comes from a study by researchers from the University of Glasgow. Participants suffering from insomnia were divided into two groups. One was told to go about their normal routine to try to fall asleep, while the other was instructed to deliberately try to stay awake (though without getting up and turning on the computer or TV). The group told to stay awake, using what’s called “paradoxical intention”, had “a significant reduction in sleep effort and sleep-performance anxiety”, the study’s authors wrote.
“Patients realise when they try to remain awake, they feel sleepier, which is what normal sleepers do — people who sleep well don’t try to sleep,” said study author Colin Espie. “Paradoxical Intention Therapy recreates the blasé attitude towards sleep that normal sleepers have in those in whom anxiety about sleep is causing insomnia.” It reminds me of the scene in Mary Poppins when the children want to stay up and play and Mary sings to them,“stay awake, don’t rest your head … You’re not sleepy as you seem. Stay awake, don’t nod and dream.” Promptly putting them to sleep.
This is excerpted fromthe Sleep Revolution:transformingyour Life,one Night at a Time, by Arianna Huffington (WH Allen), $35, out April 18.
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