09/06/2011 12:22 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2011

The Great Wake-Up Program: It's Time To Close Our Eyes

How are you sleeping? And by this we wonder not only if you had a good night's rest but also, quite literally how you rested -- when did you go to sleep, how many times did you hit your alarm before you woke up, how bright was your room in the morning? By this point, we hope you have come to realize that this question is as important to your health and happiness as how you eat, how you exercise and how you cope with stress.

Over the last five weeks, the LARK team has led a group of AOL Huffington Post Media Group employees through The Great Wake Up Program to help them understand and improve their sleep. If you've been following the stories of Laura Schocker and Ilene Kleinbaum, you will remember that the past month has been filled with ups and downs, challenges and revelations. Although our participants still have goals to reach, they have achieved success in the most integral way -- they now viscerally understand that sleep is important and that it takes work to sleep better. And they know -- as Ilene noted in her wrap-up post -- that the extra effort is worth it.

All along, The Great Wake Up Program has also been about you, reader. We asked you to make sleep personal, urging you to identify a tangible motivating reason for getting more rest. We talked about struggles and wake-up calls, transitions and turning points. And we tried to provide some tips and tools for you to start improving your sleep.

The LARK team understands that getting more sleep is no walk in the park. Many of you already know that sleep matters but feel powerless about changing yours because of so many other time-consuming responsibilities. What we hope you have learned this last month, however, is that getting better rest will help make all the other aspects of your life easier and more pleasurable. And, if you happen to hit a rough patch and sleep slips down on your priority list again, then at least you now have the tools to move it back up to where it belongs when you're ready.

As we wrap-up, we'd like to close with some last words from Arianna Huffington, the President and Editor-in-Chief of The AOL Huffington Post Media Group, and a strong sleep advocate. Let this bedtime story be a great wake-up call to you:

The scientific research is in: not getting enough sleep is bad for you in a million different ways. Lack of sleep leads to increased risk of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, weakened immune system, anxiety, depression and heart disease -- the risk for which goes up more for women than for men.

Sleep deprivation is also involved in one of every six fatal car crashes. It is, literally, killing us.
And when it's not killing us, it's merely turning us into zombies. It's no coincidence, for example, that sleep deprivation is a key strategy of many cults. They force members to stay awake for extended periods because it degrades their decision-making ability and makes them more open to persuasion.

And it's not just decision-making that suffers, but also memory and creativity. Sleep deprivation severely affects relational memory, which is the brain's ability to combine and synthesize distinct facts. It's the sort of thinking that allows us to see the big picture and solve problems with creative and innovative breakthroughs.

At the moment, the world is facing multiple crises. Many brilliant leaders with extremely high IQs have made terrible decisions, both in government and in business. What's been missing is not IQ but wisdom -- and sleep is our ticket to wisdom.

Even more important than doing what's best for ourselves and our careers, the world is in desperate need of big ideas. And there are many, many of them locked inside of us. We just need to close our eyes to see them.