How to sleep your way to the top

By Kitty Knowles 15 July 2015

It’s Arianna Huffington’s birthday today. Follow her expert advice and get ahead.

Arianna Huffington, the founder of news website, The Huffington Post, celebrates her 65 birthday today. One of my favourite quotes from the Greek-American businesswoman is this:

“Women are going to lead the way in this new revolution … We are literally going to sleep our way to the top.”

It’s not just a wry display of wit, but an brazen acknowledgment that less sleep equals less success – and that more equates to, well, more.

Having experienced insomnia as a teenager, and more than a few stress-induced sleepless nights since, I am a firm believer in the importance of sleep, not only to personal well being but to all-round productivity.

“I learned the hard way, the value of sleep,” explains Huffington in the now-famous TED clip from 2011.

“Two-and-a-half years ago, I fainted from exhaustion. I hit my head on my desk. I broke my cheekbone, I got five stitches on my right eye. And I began the journey of rediscovering the value of sleep.

“The way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is getting enough sleep,” she said.

It has long been noted, by the NHS (and other sleep professionals), that it is important to get your eight hours a night, and that missing out will result in fatigue, short temper and lack of focus.

If you fail to get enough sleep you are physically less able to make decisions; you’ll start to feel down; your risk of injury and accidents increases, and, in the long term, you will become prone to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Given that one in three people in the UK suffer from poor sleep, it is brilliant to see technology provide a myriad of ways to improve your nights kip.

A plethora of digital solutions

Could apps offer a solution? There are many out there to help to prepare you for sleep by offering meditation and relaxation tools (like Sleep Well Hypnosis, Relax & Sleep Well, and Calm). Peaceful Breathing Lite, does exactly what it says on the tin, allowing you to set the length of your inhales and exhales manually.

Many apps create soothing sounds to help you drift off too: traditionalists might choose white noise (a flat sound), pink noise (3 decibels per octave lower than white) or brown noise (a deeper sound), but you’ll find an abundance of platforms with names like Sleepmaker Rain, and Nature Sounds Relax and Sleep in the app store.

The ability to merge sounds appears to be particularly popular; “I love being able to play a thunderstorm mixed with a railway train” said one Rain, Rain, Sleep Sounds user. “My favourite sound mix I made is the waves, mixed with the fireplace,” said another user of Sleep Pillow Sounds.

Frankly it doesn’t matter if you’re mixing happy house with howling baby, if it helps you get off to sleep, it’s working. (Many new parents will be forever indebted to apps like Relax Melodies, and Sound Sleeper, which also help to calm babies and, by proxy, their parents).

Possibly most widely used are sleep tracker apps that, as well as providing sleep sounds, record your movement and the noises that you make at night (like MotionX 24/7, SleepBot and Sleep Time).

My partner occasionally decides to shriek in the night (bravely stopping an imaginary wall collapse from crushing us), and while the recorded soundbites can be amusing, they can also help to discern exactly what your sleep issue is.

You never know, you might just a word with the neighbour about their noisy return from night shift.

Similarly knowing what time your movement is highest could indicate if you need thicker blinds to block out the sunrise, or if there is something else ary.

The alternatives to battery-guzzling apps

One of the major downside to these apps is that they tend to drain out your battery.

To add to this, merely placing your phone on your mattress, as suggested, rarely results in a very accurate reading.

However, you could invest in wearable sleep tech like the Jawbone Up wristband, the Withings Pulse armband, or the Fit Bit One clip-on, which can more accurately track your vitals during the day and at night.

Left to right: Jawbone Up4 wristband, Withings Pulse armband, and Fit Bit One clip-on.

These can be particularly useful in educating users on how physical activity affects their sleep. (We expect the Apple Watch to be a future contender, but it currently needs to spend nighttime on charge).

If wearable tech doesn’t appeal, but you still want more accurate recordings, then why not try Beddit, an app which collects data via an slim film sensor which lies under your sheet.

There are really are limitless options out there. One of the best all-rounders, Sleep Better, even includes a dream journal section for if you wake up feeling creative.

My favourite benefit of sleep apps is that they can help you to wake up in a good mood, by scheduling your alarm to go off in a phase of light sleep.

Among many that I’ve already mentioned, Smart Alarm Clock, Sleep as Android, Pillow, and Sleep Cycle all have this function, with some letting you choose what specific time frame you’d like to wake up in (a 10-minute, or 30-minute window, for example).

Are these platforms medically sound?

While it’s wonderful to think tech has the answer to everything, it’s wise to be wary of anything that promises to “cure” your poor sleep patterns.

That said, I’d advocate testing a few apps out (especially the cheap/free ones), as some may well better your state of mind dramatically.

A recent digital innovation scheme even saw the NHS adopt virtual sleep therapist Sleepio as part of its recommended treatment.

The app, which builds a personalised programme which helps restore proper sleep, was put through a clinical trial in 2012 and was found to be “a proven intervention for sleep disorders using the internet”.

Whether you find that sleep apps work for you or you prefer more traditional treatments, don’t wear your late night at the office as a badge of honour.

Man or a woman, it doesn’t matter: follow in Arianna Huffington’s footsteps and sleep your way to the top.

Picture from Flickr © C2 Montréal