05/05/2016 10:29 am ET Updated May 06, 2017

Why Arianna Huffington Cares About Your Sleeping Habits

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Answers by Arianna Huffington, Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post and author of The Sleep Revolution, on Quora.

Q: How did you end up focusing on the subject of sleep?

A: It started with my own painful wakeup call. 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.

As I went around the country talking about my previous book, Thrive, I found that the subject that came up the most--by far--was sleep: how difficult it is to get enough, how there are simply not enough hours in the day, how tough it is to wind down, how hard it is to fall asleep and stay asleep, even when we set aside enough time. Since my own transformation into a sleep evangelist, everywhere I go, someone will pull me aside and, often in hushed and conspiratorial tones, confess, "I'm just not getting enough sleep. I'm exhausted all the time." Or, as one young woman told me after a talk in San Francisco, "I don't remember the last time I wasn't tired." By the end of an evening, I'll have had that same conversation with any number of people in the room. And what everyone wants to know is, "What should I do to get more sleep?"


Q: Why is sleep so important?

A: We are living in a golden age of sleep science, with new findings coming out practically every day testifying to sleep's benefits. Scientists are confirming what our ancestors knew instinctively: that our sleep is not empty time. Sleep is a time of intense neurological activity--a rich time of renewal, memory consolidation, brain and neurochemical cleansing, and cognitive maintenance. It involves a range of complex functions associated with memory, our ability to learn, appetite, immune function, and aging. And that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what it does for our mood, our well-being, our creativity, and our relationships. Properly appraised, our sleeping time is just as valuable a commodity as the time we are awake. In fact, getting the right amount of sleep enhances the quality of every minute we spend with our eyes open.


Q: What are the key insights we've learned about sleep in recent years?

A: One of the most important recent findings is that sleep is essentially like bringing in the overnight cleaning crew to clear the toxic waste proteins that accumulate between brain cells during the day. Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, a codirector of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester, has studied the mechanism underlying these cleaning functions. "It's like a dishwasher," she said. Just as we wouldn't eat off dirty dishes, why should we settle for going through the day with anything less than the full power and potential of our brains?

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