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Arianna Huffington On Moms, Babies, And Sleep

Dana_AriannaI’m SO excited for today’s post, because I get to interview one of my heros, Arianna Huffington, who took time out of an EXTREMELY busy week to spend some time talking with me about moms, children, and the importance of a good night’s sleep.

Ariana certainly needs no introduction, but she’s the president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, and author of 15 books, the latest of which is The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time.

Let’s get right to it!

DANA: Hi Arianna! So great to to speak with you! After reading your book The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, I really felt like I was in the presence of a “kindred spirit” in my mission to educate parents — and especially mothers — about how tremendously important a good night’s sleep is.

So with that in mind, I’d like to focus our discussion mostly on moms today. In your book, you talk about people in our society wearing their exhaustion like badges of honor — and I think this is especially common among moms. There’s this idea that many months, or even years, of chronic sleep deprivation is all part of being a “good mother.” How would you speak to that ideology?

ARIANNA: There’s a misconception that if we want to be a good mom, we have to be going 24/7. Certainly, sleep is challenging for new parents, and there’s no way to get around that. But, at the same time, it’s like they say on airplanes: secure your own oxygen mask first. By taking time to care for yourself, you will be more effective in caring for the ones you love.

DANA: I love that analogy about the oxygen masks, because one of my biggest challenges every single day is convincing parents — again, moms in particular — that a good night’s sleep in not a “luxury” or an “indulgence.”

But the truth is that so many of them feel guilty or selfish for wanting to get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. What would you say to those moms?

ARIANNA: I would tell them that sleep is nonnegotiable. It is not a luxury or an indulgence, but an absolute necessity. If we are giving up sleep in the name of being “a good mom,” we are ironically doing the opposite.

When I was building the Huffington Post and working nonstop, while still trying to be a good mother to my daughters, I was not particularly happy and certainly not present for my daughters. So by sleeping – and, again, I know it’s challenging, especially for mothers with fewer resources (which leads to issues like affordable day care, paid family leave, etc.) – parents aren’t being indulgent, they’re replenishing a valuable resource their children need: the full attention and presence of their parents.

Moms are always making sure the storehouse of baby necessities is always stocked – and to that list of necessities they need to add their own sleep (again, as challenging as that obviously is!).

DANA: There was a great section in the book where you’re speaking with Tom Rath, and he mentioned something that really resonated with me. He said that “we need to rethink sleep as a core family value.” Can you elaborate a little bit on this?

ARIANNA: For most people, the most natural sleep tribe is the family. Most children learn their attitudes about sleep, as they learn most everything else, from their families, from how mom and dad do it. We often use sleep as a punishment to children – in ways that would, for example, be socially unacceptable to do with food and nutrition.

DANA: That’s very true. It’s very common to hear parents to say things like “If you don’t stop that, I’m putting you to bed!” Can you imagine a mom telling her child “If you don’t stop that, I’m going to make you eat some broccoli?”

ARIANNA: And yet, good sleep is no less important for development than good nutrition. So we need to teach our children that sleep is valuable and a good thing – and the best way we can do that is by mirroring those attitudes, by not just telling them how important sleep is, but by showing them.

DANA: I completely agree. I was working with a mom a few weeks ago, and I told her that — in my opinion — letting her 13-month-old baby exist on a diet of “junk sleep” was as bad as feeding him “junk food” (like chips and soda) instead of a healthy diet.

ARIANNA: Sleep is just as important as diet in terms of health and development. In recent years, there’s been a lot of attention paid to family nutrition and most parents now understand the importance of a healthy, balanced diet for their children. There’s a growing demand for organic options, and sales of unhealthy items like soda are declining.

But sleep is just as essential. In fact, Boston Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Judith Owens says sleep is “just as important as good nutrition, physical activity, and wearing your seatbelt.” Dr. Michael Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic takes it a step further, noting that sleep “is our most underrated health habit.”

DANA: Staying on the subject of health… I’ve been helping families with their sleep for 12 years now, and one of the most disturbing trends I’ve seen over that time is the dramatic increase in the number of parents who are medicating their babies and children in order to get them to sleep. The most common ways are with over-the-counter cold medication and melatonin. What are your thoughts on this?

ARIANNA: I’m not a doctor and so can’t give medical advice, but I’d be very concerned about the chronic, long-term use of sleep aids with children, and parents should definitely seek out medical help if they feel they have no other options.

Many people assume cold medication is safer than other sleeping pills. And the over-the-counter market is rapidly expanding, with many people assuming it is the safer alternative.

Procter & Gamble, the maker of ZzzQuil, estimates the over-the-counter sleep-aid market at more than $500 million and growing fast. What helps a ZzzQuil user fall asleep is the active ingredient diphenhydramine, which is also found in Benadryl, the allergy drug often taken for its drowsiness effect, especially on long flights.

Dr. Shalini Paruthi, from the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, explained “that when we use something like diphenhydramine to help us sleep at night, we’re actually using it for its side effect—not its treatment, which is to fight allergies.” Aside from the primary side effects of drowsiness and fatigue, ZzzQuil may also cause headaches, tremors, and a fast, irregular heartbeat.

DANA: We’re almost out of time, Arianna, and so I’d like to change directions for a moment by asking you this:

Women are 2.5 times more likely than men to be “in charge” of responding to a baby who wakes during the night. It’s also been well-documented that in America, women earn 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Are these two things related, and do you see sleep as a feminist issue?

ARIANNA: Absolutely. As women have entered the workplace—a workplace created in large measure by men, which uses our willingness to work long hours until we ultimately burn out as a proxy for commitment and dedication—they are still stuck with the heavy lifting when it comes to housework and caring for the family.
The upshot is that women end up making even more withdrawals from their sleep bank. With the never-ending to-do list, sleep is often the first thing to go. And using burnout and sleep deprivation as a proxy for dedication and commitment to one’s job also keeps women from advancing as far and as fast in the workplace.

DANA: Thanks so much for your time today Arianna! If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to end our conversation with this:

Toward the end of your book, you have a “sleep wishlist,” in which you outline some of the ways you’d like to see us change the way we think about sleep. If you were writing a “sleep wishlist” especially for new mothers, what would it look like?

ARIANNA: Of course, we all wish we had a magical device that could put our children to sleep with the push of a button! But really the most important item on a sleep wish list for a new mom is a little tribe of support. Whether it’s your spouse, your parents, or siblings and friends, having people to help you so that you can catch a nap in the afternoon or have a few hours of uninterrupted sleep at night makes all the difference.

DANA: I love that! As moms, so many of us feel like admitting we need a little help or support is somehow admitting defeat.

But the truth is that we ALL need help from time to time. Whether it’s as simple as asking a friend to come over so you can get a break during the day, or using a resource like The Sleep Sense Program to get your child sleeping straight through the night.

Thanks again for joining me today, Arianna, and sharing so generously with my audience!

Arianna’s book The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time is a great read, and I encourage you to grab a copy on Amazon, Kindle, Audible, or at your local bookstore. I’m Dana Obleman with Arianna Huffington. Sleep well!

Have anything you’d like me to ask Arianna during our next interview? Post in the comments below!

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Straight talk about sleep, parenting,
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