Back in my full-time freelance days, before I came to work at Thrive, I had the opportunity to ask Arianna Huffington about sleep. At the time, I was (ironically) egregiously sleep-deprived, consistently pulling all-nighters and cramming to complete my Master’s Thesis. Yet there I was, talking to one of the world’s leading sleep experts, planning to write an article on the importance of sleep — all while regularly running on two to three hours of it myself. I wasn’t just a hypocrite, but foolish, and until I spoke with Arianna, had no clue how detrimental this behavior really was — both for my well-being, and ability to work.
Looking back, it was a dark time (aside from the blue light emitting from my phone screen). My battery perpetually ran at 10 percent, while my computer and phone were always at 100. I’d gotten so caught up in my work that I cared more for devices than my own well-being, not stopping for a second to plug myself in.
Barely functioning, I ran on A.D.D. medication and four to five iced coffees a day — sometimes more. So even when I tried to sleep, I couldn’t: My body was filled to the brim with stimulants. All I could do was lie awake. Until the day I spoke with Arianna.
During our conversation, I learned that sleep deprivation doesn’t just make you tired — it affects practically every other aspect of your life, too. From your physical health and appearance to your mental state and mood, it felt like everything about my life was affected by sleep. And it is! Especially studying and work: Research shows that sleep deprivation is essentially the same as binge-drinking, as in, you literally become cognitively impaired. Staying up for 24 hours is the cognitive equivalent of being drunk, and that’s not exactly how I wanted to be writing my thesis.
From that day on, I vowed to get at least eight hours of sleep a night — and I have ever since. Words can’t even begin to convey the positive impact it’s had on my well-being, though I will try. Here are eight ways sleeping eight hours or more has vastly improved my life.
I used to set over 10 alarms just to get myself out of bed — alarms that went off into the early afternoon. I literally couldn’t peel myself out from under the covers, no matter the time, even when I did manage to sleep an adequate amount. My sleep schedule was so inconsistent that it didn’t matter if I got a random eight hours one night, I was still exhausted from getting three the rest of the week.
Now, I always wake up early and on time, and actually feel good! Sure, it takes five minutes or so to fully see straight (as I think it does for many people), but once I’ve fed my dogs and cats, I’m up and running and ready to face the day — and face my very excited pets, who then get mad at me for leaving.
As I said, I was drinking five to six iced coffees a day, and honestly, probably even more. I drank coffee at all hours of the day: from the second I woke up to just hours before bed. If I didn’t have coffee, I wasn’t going to function.
Now, I don’t have any caffeine until I get to the office, and I almost exclusively drink tea. On off days when I feel like I really want a coffee — which are rare, though sometimes I really crave a latte — I have a maximum of one… in the morning. And even that tends to make me too hyper!
Ever since I’ve consistently gotten eight hours of sleep a night, I’ve been able to focus on tasks for long periods of time and actually get my work done — without any prescribed aids. (I am, of course, not saying this will be the case for everyone, and any medication changes should be made in collaboration with your doctor. But for me, my sleep deprivation strongly mimicked the symptoms of A.D.D.)
My sweet tooth simply… disappeared. And I don’t mind, because when I don’t eat lots of sweet things, I’m able to avoid the resulting sugar crashes.
I know: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And what you look like really shouldn’t matter. But when I compare pictures from today to pictures of myself during this period when I wasn’t sleeping enough, the difference is alarming. I’m sure “zombie chic” is a thing, but it really didn’t work well on me. Now I look like a normal, happy human, and my skin is better! Arianna was right, sleep really does affect your appearance — even just looking well-rested and happy is enough to make you “look better.” It’s really just looking healthier.
Despite cutting out caffeine and A.D.D. medication, I have much more energy now than I did while dependent on stimulants. It seems counterintuitive — you’d think that more caffeine would make you more energetic, but for me it’s been the opposite: Too much caffeine can actually cause me to crash, and then I feel like I can’t work for the rest of the day. For me, a good night’s sleep is truly the key to feeling spritely!
Again, you might think it would be the opposite: less coffee, less work accomplished, right? Actually, no! My productivity levels have skyrocketed without caffeine and sugar crashes in my life. Now, I come up with and do my best work in the morning: Nothing activates my creativity like waking up feeling calm, rested, and clear-headed. A clearer mind means more room for great ideas!
Part of the reason I so desperately depended on stimulants to get through my thesis was that I couldn’t write it on my own: I had run out of ideas, and nearly forgotten how to use words — simply put, I was suffering from a severe case of writer’s block. But that was nothing new for me: I’d been writing for years, but had spent so much of that time staring at empty Word documents, unable to even begin. Now, since I come up with so many ideas in the morning and actually have the energy to pursue them, I’m constantly writing and creating.
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