The most basic shift we can make in redefining success in our lives has to do with our strained relationship with sleep.
As Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer of the Cleveland Clinic, put it, "Sleep is the most underrated health habit." Most of us fail to make good use of such an invaluable part of our lives. In fact, we deliberately do just the opposite.
We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in. Sleep, or how little of it we need, has become a symbol of our prowess. We make a fetish of not getting enough sleep, and we boast about how little sleep we get. I once had dinner with a man who bragged to me that he'd gotten only four hours of sleep the night before. (I resisted the temptation to tell him that the dinner would have been a lot more interesting if he had gotten five.)
There's practically no element of our lives that's not improved by getting adequate sleep. And there is no element of life that's not diminished by a lack of sleep--including our leaders' decisions. Bill Clinton, who used to famously get only five hours of sleep a night, admitted, "Every important mistake I've made in my life, I've made because I was too tired." And in 2013, when the European Union was working on a plan to bail out Cyprus, an agreement was reached during the wee hours of the night that was described by one commentator as "impressively stupid." The financial journalist Felix Salmon describes the decision as "born of an unholy combination of procrastination, blackmail, and sleep-deprived gamesmanship."
Our creativity, ingenuity, confidence, leadership, and decision-making can all be enhanced simply by getting enough sleep. "Sleep deprivation negatively impacts our mood, our ability to focus, and our ability to access higher level cognitive functions: the combination of these factors is what we generally refer to as mental performance," say Drs. Stuart Quan and Russell Sanna, from Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine.
A study at Duke University has found that 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.
But what do we do if, despite our best intentions, we're not getting the seven or eight hours a night of sleep we need? Researchers have found that even short naps can help us course correct. Throughout history, famous nappers have included Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and John F. Kennedy. Charlie Rose, a famous napper of our time, told me that he is now taking up to three naps a day: "I have a nap after we finish our CBS morning show, a nap before I tape my own show, and a nap before I go out in the evening. I don't like the feeling of going through my day tired!" According to David Randall, author of Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, a short nap "primes our brains to function at a higher level, letting us come up with better ideas, find solutions to puzzles more quickly, identify patterns faster and recall information more accurately."
Too many of us think of our sleep as the flexible item in our schedule that can be endlessly moved around to accommodate our fixed and top priority of work. But like a flight or train, our sleep should be thought of as the fixed point in our day, and everything else should be adjusted as needed so we don't miss it.
Going public about your decision to get more sleep can be one way to make that commitment stick. You'll be surrounded, as I found out, by sympathetic friends who have been wanting to do the same thing and who will help you stick to your sleep goals. In my case, because I blogged about my sleep commitment on The Huffington Post, I started having complete strangers come up to me at events, glancing at their watches and wondering how much longer I planned to stay and whether I was going to be able to get my eight hours. I felt like a kid out on a school night--with dozens of babysitters all anxious to help me keep my commitment.
Excerpted and condensed from Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, by Arianna Huffington. Copyright © 2014 by Christabella, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Harmony Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.