Innovation Blog

Arianna Huffington on the power of sleep

An interview with Arianna Huffington by Diane Perlman


I was intrigued when I read the news a couple months ago about Arianna Huffington stepping down from the Huffington Post and starting her new company Thrive, a wellbeing and productivity platform. I was also reading her book of the same name at the time. So I reached out to her and asked her a few questions that I thought would be helpful to entrepreneurs, who are often sleepless, stressed, and stretched too thin. Exactly the topics she covers in Thrive.

Please read on for some words of wisdom from Arianna Huffington on sleep, decision making, creativity, and the obnoxious roommate in your head.

DP: In Thrive, you talk a lot about the connection between sleep, productivity, and decision making. When did you first become interested in sleep research and why?

AH: It all started several years ago, when I collapsed from exhaustion. That led me to begin a journey that forced me to rethink my life, what I valued, and how I was spending my time. And I started learning more and more about the profound impact that things like sleep, gratitude, mindfulness, and wonder have on us, including on our creativity, decision making and productivity. So that led me to write Thrive. And then, on the tour for that book, the response to the themes of burnout and sleep and exhaustion was so overwhelming that I decided to write an entire book on sleep.

DP: Entrepreneurs are famous for pulling all-nighters what advice would you give them, given all your research and life’s lessons?

AH: Im a veteran of startups, and I cant say this forcefully enough. However good your idea is, I promise youll be more successful and more likely to get all you can out of your idea by taking care of yourself. You are as important as what youre building. Entrepreneurs need creativity, decision making, inspiration and wisdom and you have all those things in you. But you cant access them by staying up all night.

DP: Bill Clinton, who used to famously get only five hours of sleep a night, according to your book, admitted, Every important mistake Ive made in my life, Ive made because I was too tired. What important mistake did you make because you were tired?

AH: When I collapsed from exhaustion. It was a life-altering mistake to think that I could just will myself past all the alarms my body had been telling me for years.

DP: The book also quotes a study by Duke University that found poor sleep is associated with higher stress levels and a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. They also found that these risks are greater in women than in men. What advice would you give to MassChallenges 39% female entrepreneurs?

AH: First, they need to lead the way in changing our current notion of success, in which we drive ourselves into the ground and sometimes the grave and in which working to the point of exhaustion and burnout is considered a badge of honor. This was largely put in place by men, in a workplace culture dominated by men. And women still suffer the most from it. Though everyone will benefit from putting this collective delusion to rest, its even more important for women.

And they can do this by taking care of themselves, encouraging other women to do the same, and acting as a role model for other women coming up behind them.

DP: You are a role model for young women who want to get into tech or media, and run their own businesses. What were your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

AH: Everybody faces doubters, and women in tech get plenty. When HuffPost first debuted, one critic said the site was “the movie equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar and Heaven’s Gate rolled into one.” But you just have to keep going (and that person later ended up emailing me asking to blog, to which I happily said yes). So you have to press forward and not listen to the doubters. But we also have doubters inside, especially women. I call it the obnoxious roommate. Its the negative voice that feeds on our insecurities. So its especially important to ignore this voice and push against it whenever you hear it.

DP: What do you think are the advantages of being a female entrepreneur?

AH: Entrepreneurs have somewhat of a cowboy image. But, in fact, things like collaboration, team work, and empathy are incredibly important, too. Not to say men cant have these! 

DP: You have such a strong personal brand; what advice would you give to entrepreneurs about building their personal brands? What is important? How do you maintain it?

AH: The most important part of the process is to think about what you really value, what drives you, what youre passionate about. And then everything you build has to reflect that. At HuffPost, we expanded rapidly and consistently, but we always remained true to our core DNA.

DP: At some of our accelerators, we are seeing the average age of the entrepreneurs creeping up into the 40s and 50s (and beyond). Can you share any advice specifically for these older entrepreneurs?

AH: Thats great to hear and Im all in favor of it. Older entrepreneurs are likely to have had some failures behind them, which is crucial to success (my mother used to say that failure was the stepping stone to success. Youth is great what I can remember of it but there are also a lot of advantages that come with age, chief among them wisdom, which is an undervalued commodity in the entrepreneurship world.

DP; In Thrive, you say: ‘Our creativity, ingenuity, confidence, leadership, and decision making can all be enhanced simply by getting enough sleep.’ What decision have you made that you know was borne of this phenomenon?

AH: One of my biggest, and most recent, decisions was to leave HuffPost and start Thrive Global. It was not an easy decision, which is why I never would have made it without the clear-headedness and intuition and wisdom that comes from getting enough sleep.

Applications are now open in Boston, Israel, and Switzerland. If you’ve been inspired by Arianna, what are you waiting for? Apply today. 


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