Author Arianna Huffington

The editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post joins us to discuss her recent book and the presidential campaigns.

Arianna Huffington is co-founder, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, which includes the Pulitzer Prize-winning website, The Huffington Post and is one of the fastest growing media companies in the world. The self-described progressive populist does political commentary and has been named to the TIME 100 list of the world's most influential people. She's also the author of 14 books, including Third World America, On Becoming Fearless, Thrive, and, her latest, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time in which she boldly asserts that only by renewing our relationship with sleep can we take back control of our lives.


Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.

Tonight, a conversation with Arianna Huffington. The editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post has a new book out called “The Sleep Revolution”.

And then we’ll pivot to a conversation with poet, Reginald Dwayne Betts, about his latest “Bastards of the Reagan Era”.

We’re glad you’ve joined us. Conversations with Arianna Huffington and Reginald Dwayne Betts coming up right now.

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Tavis: And by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation working with diverse partners to build a national culture of health so that everyone in America can live productive and healthy lives.

Announcer: The California Endowment. Health happens in neighborhoods. Learn more.

Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Tavis: Always pleased to welcome Arianna Huffington back to this program. The author of the New York Times number one bestseller, “Thrive”, kicked off a global dialog about redefining success and the importance of sleep.

In her latest text, “The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time”, Arianna explores the mystery of sleep and shows us how to harness its power to improve our lives. As I mentioned, Arianna, always a delight to have you on this program.

Arianna Huffington: Great to be with you, Tavis.

Tavis: Let me start by asking–you and I have been friends for so many, many years and you have been talking about this more and more as the time has gone on. How did sleep become such an important issue for you, I mean, to be writing about it?

Huffington: Well, it started with my own personal experience in 2007 when I collapsed from sleep deprivation and burnout. Broke my cheekbone and then I started looking around and seeing the growing number of casualties of the delusion that we have that we need to burn out in order to succeed, all the false understanding of the importance of sleep.

You know, you have men bragging all the time, “I don’t need to sleep. I only four to five hours.” You have songs like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” So it kind of permeates the culture. You congratulate employees for working 24/7 and now, Tavis, this is a golden age of science.

That’s why I have an entire chapter on the new findings that show that actually, if you truly stay up from 17 to 19 hours which many of us do, it’s the cognitive equivalent of being drunk. And that’s why we see drowsy driving accidents increasing. We see leaders who make terrible decisions. Miss the icebergs until they hit the Titanic.

And we also see [inaudible]. I know how growing inequalities has been such a huge topic that you’ve talked about and have championed. We organized a clinic in a church in Harlem and had about 200 people to help them understand more about sleep. And it’s really tragic to see that people who are in their 20’s and 30’s really overweight, with diabetes, or with heart problems.

And at the heart of everything is sleep deprivation and the basic knowledge that is lacking is the majority of people, which is about 99%, need seven to nine hours of sleep. It’s not negotiable. You know, there is a 1% that can do with less, but it’s a genetic mutation. You can’t train yourself.

Tavis: But here’s the rub, though. I mean, everything you say makes perfect sense. You know, there are times I should take your advice more to heart myself. Yet we live in a world, certainly we live in a country, where people have to work longer hours just to make more. So I’m trying to figure out how you juxtapose the fact that we need sleep, but you live in a country where, if you don’t work, then you don’t eat.

Huffington: Well, let me give you an example. Amy, one of these women I talked to, she makes pastry. That’s how she made a living. At night, she would get home and she felt this was her time to relax and she would watch her shows on TV for hours.

So what I explained to her is that you first need to get your sleep. And then she would often wake up in the middle of the night and go and have some sweets which are the worst thing you can do because it basically increases your blood sugar and makes it much harder to go back to sleep.

So just this basic piece of information, even people who are struggling–Amy was also a babysitter with two or three jobs to make ends meet–have discretionary time. So we need to make a lot of structural changes, and you and I are completely in agreement about that.

But sleep is something that is in our control and, if we recognize it, we must prioritize it. It improves our health, it improves our resilience, so it makes it easier for us to deal with tough circumstances and it dramatically changes also our mood, the way we look at life. You know, how depressed or anxious or fearful we are.

Tavis: I come back to this again because, as I move around the country as you do, I’m always talking to people. I don’t know how you are when you’re in the back seat of a car, but I’m generally talking to the driver, asking about their lives.

I mean, I’m a talk show host 24/7, I guess. I’m always talking to people. It always just blows me away, you know, how people are working, to your point, two and three jobs just trying to make ends meet.

And I’m always really scared when my driver is working two or three jobs. I literally, I mean, this is no joking matter. I literally almost died one night. I’ll never forget as long as I live. My sister and I were in the back seat of a car being driven from Washington, D.C. for a speech I had to give early in the morning in Philadelphia.

I didn’t finish my TV show until after midnight and I got to be in Philadelphia for a breakfast at seven a.m. So I went to the hotel, took a shower, got my bags, got in the car at 3:00, whatever, and I’m being driven four or five hours in the rain trying to get to Philadelphia.

And the car just started swerving across three or four lanes of traffic. I literally had to jump up and grab this driver, grab the wheel, because we were going to die in a car accident that night. And he apologized profusely, but he hadn’t slept. He’s working two or three jobs.

Huffington: Exactly. And you see, you were alert enough to [inaudible]. But, you know, we have over 6,000 fatal deaths from drowsy driving every year. And what happens is that people often think that they can power through. You know, there is a greater awareness about drinking and driving, but there isn’t the same awareness about being tired or exhausted and driving.

And that’s why we’re launching a campaign together with Uber to educate people about the importance of not letting friends drive drowsy in the same way you don’t let them drive drunk, and to recognize that it was really during the first industrial revolution, Tavis, that we started thinking of sleep as something that we could do away with because we started treating labor and human beings as machines and we wanted to minimize the down time.

And now, of course, with all our devices, let’s also not forget that one of the growing problems is that we have all become addicted to our devices. So it’s very hard at night to disconnect.

There are lot of tips and techniques here, but the one that I hope our viewers will take to heart is making sure that at least 30 minutes before they’re going to turn off the lights they turn off all their devices and gently escort them out of their bedroom [laugh]. Because if your phone by your bed…

Tavis: By the bed, yeah.

Huffington: And then you wake up in the middle of the night, you’re going to be tempted…

Tavis: Check your email, yeah.

Huffington: To check your email or your text or your social media, and then your day life has invaded your night life and it’s very hard to go back to sleep.

Tavis: Why is there such bravado associated with needing so little sleep?

Huffington: Well, it’s become like a macho thing. I mean, I had dinner with a guy recently who bragged that he had only gotten four hours sleep. I didn’t say it, but I thought to myself, you know what? If you had gotten five, this dinner would have been more interesting [laugh].

But what is fascinating is that, for me, was a bit of a dipping point. There was an article in the Harvard Business Review by McKinsey, you know, the consulting firm.

And one of the causes was a sleep specialist at McKinsey talking about the connection between leadership and sleep, that when leaders are sleep deprived, they’re less likely to see the shortcuts that solve problems. They’re less likely to be able to build and support teams. And they’re less likely basically to be resilient in the face of challenges, all the things that are essential for leadership.

Tavis: But presidential candidates never sleep. You think Donald Trump is sleeping? You think Hillary and Bernie are sleeping?

Huffington: Donald Trump brags all the time about how little sleep he gets. He said four to four and a half hours, and he displays all the crazy symptoms of sleep deprivation.

Tavis: Like?

Huffington: Like false memories [laugh]. Remember all the Muslims that he saw cheering the collapse of the Twin Towers?

Tavis: That he never saw, yeah.

Huffington: Being perpetually distracted, unstable, coming up with things that are topically ill-informed. You know, all the symptoms of sleep deprivation are manifested. He’s Exhibit A of sleep deprivation. He says that he sleeps with his Smart phone. Can you imagine? That means you never have truly restorative sleep. You are never able to go to a deeper place inside yourself.

And you know what, Tavis? You and I agree about that. However magnificent our jobs or what we’re doing, there is something more to us. And sleep is really a bridge to connect us with the deeper mystery of life.

Tavis: For years–and I’ve written about this before–for years, I would never want to take a vacation because, once I got to a certain level, I was afraid that, if I took a week or two off and they let somebody guest…

Huffington: You would be replaced immediately [laugh].

Tavis: Exactly [laugh]. You can’t guest host for me for two weeks because they might not let me back on the air. So I was always afraid literally to take a vacation. I raise that to ask whether or not you’re comfortable with the fact, how did you get comfortable with the fact, that while you’re sleeping, you’re not worried about somebody gaining ground on you?

Huffington: I’ve realized something, which is that life is a dance between making it happen and letting it happen. And if you think it’s all about you making it happen, you’re wrong. I mean, if I look at my life–and you and I have talked–if you look at your life, a lot of the best things that have happened to us, we didn’t make happen. I mean, we made a lot happen.

Tavis: That’s true.

Huffington: We are both hard workers. None of what I’m saying means I don’t believe in hard work or in anyway slow down. But what I really believe now in is recovery time. And look at all the athletes you know. They are increasingly prioritizing sleep, mindfulness, meditation. There is a direct connection between performance, whether on the court and in field or in the board room or in the TV studio, and being truly recharged.

Tavis: Because I’ve known you for 20-plus years, it seems, it’s been remarkable for me. You were already successful when I first met you. But it’s been remarkable just to watch, though, the growth, the bottom line, the value of Huffington Post. You know, I’m on there all the time as so many of us are.

How does it make you feel when you take a project like that from its infancy and have built it into this international destination? I mean, I’m just like tickled that I still know you all these years later. I remember when you started Huff Post.

Huffington: Yes. It’s now 11 years. For me, from the beginning, we wanted to have both a journalistic enterprise that breaks stories, that does traditional journalism, that won a Pulitzer, but also be a platform for people to tell their stories. That has really worked.

Then all the things that I’ve cared about through the  years now, our well-being and sleep, etc., become big topics on the Huffington Post that add value to peoples’ lives. So they come to us both for politics and news, but also we have the most amazing sections around well-being, around sleep, and also around solutions, so that we can help people not just look at the crises, but how to solve problems.

Tavis: “The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time” written by perennial New York Times bestselling author, Arianna Huffington, creator of The Huffington Post. Arianna, I love you. Always good to have you on this program.

Huffington: Thank you, Tavis. I love you. Thanks for having me.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at

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Tavis: And by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation working with diverse partners to build a national culture of health so that everyone in America can live productive and healthy lives.

Announcer: The California Endowment. Health happens in neighborhoods. Learn more.

Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: June 1, 2016 at 5:43 pm