Solo Mom, best-selling author, and cofounder and editor in chief of the Huffington Post discusses the transformative power of sleep
Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time (Harmony Books, 2016) is a fascinating book that analyzes the devastating consequences of a global disregard for sleep. Thorough research and compelling examples drive home the reality that sleep deprivation negatively impacts every aspect of our health and well-being. Fortunately, the analysis also provides strategies and inspiration for a better night’s sleep. Huffington spoke with ESME founder Marika Lindholm about her own experience with sleep deprivation, the human need for adequate sleep, and the challenge for Solo Moms who want to join the sleep revolution.
I’m so thrilled to have the opportunity to discuss your latest book, The Sleep Revolution. Your message that we are in a global “sleep crisis” really hit home. I had to laugh when you describe the question “Why am I so tired?” as the existential cry of the modern age because I say this about three times a day! As a mom, I intuitively understand that it’s important for my children to get a good night’s sleep, but like so many adults, I equate sleep with wasted time. As you point out, our FOMO (fear of missing out) can have devastating consequences on our health and well-being. As I read your book, I felt a little embarrassed in the pride I’ve taken over sleeplessness, but I was also grateful to get such a thoughtful and convincing warning to change my unhealthy sleep habits.
Q: Could you share the story of your wake-up call and why you write that you were sleepwalking through your life?
A: On the morning of April 6, 2007, I was lying on the floor of my home office in a pool of blood. On my way down, my head had hit the corner of my desk, cutting my eye and breaking my cheekbone. I had collapsed from exhaustion and lack of sleep. In the wake of my collapse, I found myself going from doctor to doctor, from brain MRI to CAT scan to echocardiogram, to find out if there was any underlying medical problem beyond exhaustion. There wasn’t, but doctors’ waiting rooms, it turns out, were good places for me to ask myself a lot of questions about the kind of life I was living.
I was, indeed, sleepwalking through my life. For many years, I bought into our collective delusion that burnout is the necessary price we must pay for accomplishment and success. We founded the Huffington Post in 2005, and two years in, we were growing at an incredible pace. I was on the cover of magazines and had been chosen by Time as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People. I was working 18 hours a day, seven days a week, trying to build a business, expand our coverage, and bring in investors. But my life, I realized, was out of control. In terms of the traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful. But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success. I knew something had to radically change. I could not go on that way.
Q: In The Sleep Revolution, you explain that mothers often feel like getting a full night’s sleep takes time away from focusing on child-oriented activities. As you know, since you raised two daughters on your own, this is particularly fraught for Solo Moms. Why should moms push away such feelings and focus on getting at least seven hours of sleep each night?
A: Solo Moms face particular challenges when it comes to getting the sleep they need, but there’s a reason when you’re on an airplane that you’re told to “secure your own mask first before helping others,” even your own child. One of the fundamental truths of well-being is that the better we are at taking care of ourselves, the more effective we’ll be in taking care of others. The busier we are and the more responsibilities we have, the more important it is that we give sleep the respect it deserves.
Q: You address the fact that women are at a disadvantage in the culture of overwork—making sleep the first thing to go. How can we, as a society, better support women who juggle jobs, parenting, and sleep?
A: The best thing we can do as a society—for women and men alike—is free ourselves from our collective delusion that overwork and burnout are the price we must pay in order to succeed. The method (or cheat code) we use isn’t a mystery: feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day, we look for something to cut. And sleep is an easy target. In fact, up against this unforgiving definition of success, sleep doesn’t stand a chance.
Q: How can Solo Moms role model more effectively for the whole family to sleep better?
A: One of the first steps in promoting good family sleep habits is changing the way we talk about sleep. In many families, sleep is meted out as a punishment to children: “If you don’t eat your vegetables at dinner, you’re going straight to bed.” Children are taught early on that sleep is something to avoid as long as possible—a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads every night—and that with sleep comes the end of play and fun. What a terrible message to send! We need to do a much better job of framing sleep in a positive way for our children, letting them know that sleep is a vital part of being able to play and have fun, and teaching them healthy sleep habits, including naps and transitions to bedtime, that will last a lifetime.
Q: I found one sleep advantage for moms who parent alone—no partner in bed! Why is it better to sleep alone? How else can we help Solo Moms get more rest?
A: A lot of people love snuggling with someone to go to sleep, but it makes sense that many people sleep better alone—if only because there’s less chance of being woken up in the night by snoring, a stray leg, a partner with a cold, or getting up to go to the bathroom!
And to help Solo Moms get more rest, I cannot overstate the importance of having a little tribe of support. I was blessed to have my mother, the ultimate Greek Yaya, living with us. She would regularly take care of my daughters, Christina and Isabella, allowing me the chance to get some badly needed sleep.
And to help Solo Moms get more rest, I cannot overstate the importance
of having a little tribe of support. I was blessed to have my mother,
the ultimate Greek Yaya, living with us. She would regularly take care
of my daughters, Christina and Isabella, allowing me the
chance to get some badly needed sleep.
Q: Can you share how you prepare for sleep? What needed to change about your routine?
A: I treat my own transition to sleep as a sacrosanct ritual. First, I turn off all my electronic devices and gently escort them out of my bedroom. Then, 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 pajamas, nightdresses, even T-shirts dedicated to sleep. Sometimes I have a cup of chamomile or lavender tea if I want something warm and comforting before going to bed. I love reading real, physical books—especially poetry, novels, and books that have nothing to do with work.
Everything about my routine needed to change! These days, 95% of the time I get eight hours of sleep a night. Once I started giving sleep the respect it deserves, my life improved in pretty much every way. Now, instead of waking up to the sense that I have to trudge through activities, I wake up feeling joyful about the day’s possibilities. And I’m also better able to recognize red flags and rebound from setbacks. It’s like being dialed into a different channel that has less static.
Q: Why is it particularly important to banish all tech devices from your bedroom?
A: It’s so important because 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. 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% of Americans sleep with or next to their smartphones. We should think of light, especially blue light, as an antisleeping 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.
Q: I loved reading about the nap rooms at the Huffington Post. What are the organizational benefits of a well-rested staff?
A: At HuffPost, there was skepticism when we first installed nap rooms in New York in 2011. HuffPosters were reluctant to be seen walking into a nap room in the middle of a bustling newsroom in “the city that never sleeps.” But now they are perpetually full, and we’re spreading nap rooms around the world, starting with our London office. And more and more companies are installing nap rooms, including Ben & Jerry’s, Zappos, and Nike. The business world is waking up to the high cost of sleep deprivation on productivity, creativity, health care, and—ultimately—the bottom line. And we have a growing number of business leaders realizing that well-rested employees are better employees. I expect the nap room to soon become as universal as the conference room.
And it’s not just productivity and creativity. It’s a broader cultural shift, where we’re redefining what we value and changing workplace culture so that walking around sleep-deprived becomes stigmatized instead of lauded!
Q: Besides getting a good night’s sleep, do you have a favorite single-parenting tip?
A: So many of the obstacles come from within, including the voices of self-doubt in our heads, which I call the obnoxious roommate. It’s the voice that feeds on putting us down and strengthening our insecurities and doubts. I wish someone would invent a tape recorder that we could attach to our brains to record everything we tell ourselves. We would realize how important it is to stop this negative self-talk. It means pushing back against our obnoxious roommate with a dose of wisdom. I have spent many years trying to evict my obnoxious roommate and have now managed to relegate her to only occasional guest appearances in my head!
Q: Was there a defining moment when you realized that you were parenting alone?
A: I don’t think so because, again, I was blessed to have a tribe around me offering support—my mother; my sister, Agapi; and many friends and family members.
Q: What are you most proud of as a Solo Mom?
A: That’s easy: my daughters.
Arianna, thank you so much for advocating for global health and well-being and drawing back the curtain on a dysfunctional sleep culture. I certainly aim to change my habits and look forward to joining the sleep revolution!
Get your copy of The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time today.
Dr. Marika Lindholm founded ESME.com to ignite a social movement of Solo Moms. A trained sociologist, Lindholm taught courses on inequality, diversity, and gender at Northwestern University for over a decade. After a divorce left her parenting two children on her own, she realized Solo Moms lacked much-needed resources, support, and connection. She built her social platform, Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere, out of this combination of academic and personal experience. The acronym has since evolved to Empowering Strong Moms Everywhere, to encompass all moms. In September 2019, She Writes Press will publish We Got This! Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor, an anthology of Solo Mom personal essays and poetry edited by Lindholm with Cheryl Dumesnil, Domenica Ruta, and Katherine Shonk. Marika can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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