Interview with Arianna Huffington

The founder of The Huffington Post tells us how much sleep deprivation impacts on students’ well-being and how it could account for Donald Trump’s idiosyncratic election campaign

May 19, 2016
Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post

Arianna Huffington is an author, journalist and political commentator. She founded the news website and blog platform The Huffington Post in 2005 and is president and editor-in-chief of its US publication. Her most recent book, The Sleep Revolution, aims to bring to light the global crisis of sleep deprivation. She is coming to the end of the Sleep Revolution College Tour, launched across 50 US university campuses to raise awareness about the importance of sleep and the dangers of sleep deprivation.

Where and when were you born?
I was born in Athens on 15 July 1950.

How has this shaped you?
It is of course hard to know how your life would have been different if you’d been born in some other time and place, but I do think that being from Greece played a big part in my love of conversation, history and, as with all Greeks, food.

What is the Sleep Revolution College Tour about?
It’s about changing cultural norms on college campuses by sparking a national dialogue on sleep, helping make college students realise that having to choose between burnout and success is a false choice. 

Why do students suffer more from a lack of sleep?
The defining ingredients of college life – the pressure to perform and get good grades, the newfound freedom, the yearning to fit in socially and the endless digital distractions – aren’t exactly a recipe for great sleep. Especially when you throw in other damaging habits that have become an accepted part of college life, such as bingeing on energy drinks and alcohol.

Do you think this problem extends to other countries’ universities? Would you consider taking this tour abroad?
I’d love to. Sleep deprivation is a global crisis. A Swedish study found that adolescents getting fewer than seven hours of sleep a night were at a higher risk of failing. An Australian study found that among teens and young adults, short sleep duration was directly associated with higher levels of stress and anxiety. For every hour of lost sleep, the risk of psychological distress went up 14 per cent. And a 2015 survey by the Sleep Council in the UK found that 83 per cent of British teenagers said that their sleep was compromised by anxiety and stress over exams.

What are the best ways of encouraging students to sleep more?
One of the most important steps a student can take is to turn off electronic devices and put them outside the bedroom (or at least across the dorm room) before sleep. It’s not easy, but once you start seeing the tangible benefits of getting even a bit more sleep, it becomes easier to make it a priority.

Did you compromise on sleep when you were a student?
Unfortunately I did. I didn’t really truly come to value the importance of sleep until I collapsed from exhaustion in 2007 and broke my cheekbone. That’s the hard way to learn – I want others to learn the easy way.

Margaret Thatcher famously said that she survived on four hours’ sleep a night. What would you say if a current world leader said something similar?
To me, this is the ultimate indicator of our sleep crisis – not only are we dangerously misguided in our attitude towards sleep, but we are bragging about it. The glamorisation of sleep deprivation is deeply embedded in our culture. Everywhere you turn, sleep deprivation is celebrated, from “You snooze, you lose” to highly burned-out people boasting, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Bragging about getting four to five hours of sleep is not a badge of honour, it’s a red flag. In this campaign season, Donald Trump’s behaviour displays all the symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation: lack of judgement, inability to process basic information, inchoate outbursts of anger, lack of impulse control, trouble listening to others, irritability, mood swings, repetition of nonsensical pabulum, paranoid tendency to spout conspiracy theories and false memories.

How much is a degree worth?
It depends on the person. In the US, the student debt problem is horrible and it is something that we’ve written a lot about at HuffPost. So it all depends on what someone wants to do with their life. There are obvious benefits, but it’s certainly possible to have a happy, meaningful and fulfilling life without one.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
If I could go back in time, I’d introduce my twentysomething self to a quotation by the writer Brian Andreas: “Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.”  

What’s your biggest regret?
On the day my father died, I was giving a speech in Madison, Wisconsin. I'll always regret not cancelling that speech and flying to Athens sooner so that I could have seen him before he died.

Tell us someone you admire.
Eleanor Roosevelt. She was ahead of her time in so many ways and a great role model for women.

What policy would you implement if you were the US higher education minister for the day?
I would start classes later. I strongly support revisiting school start times and I’m so encouraged by all the progress being made on this issue around the world.


Helen Galbraith has been appointed academic registrar and director of planning and academic administration at Keele University. Dr Galbraith, who takes up her position on 25 July, joins from the University of Bristol where she is director of planning and deputy secretary. She is an executive board member of the Higher Education Strategic Planning Association and actively participates in a number of national networks and sector bodies. “I am absolutely delighted to be joining Keele,” she said. “Keele has an ambitious strategy for its future and I am looking forward to being a part of that.”

Stelios Platis has taken up his role as chief executive and managing director of the University of Law. Dr Platis has served at a number of global institutions including the London Business School, the University of Cambridge and the Cyprus International Institute of Management. He also founded and directed, up until 2015, the regulatory consulting and executive education firm, MAP S.Platis, and has been the chairman of the European Institute of Management and Finance. “This is a fascinating position and I am very excited to undertake it,” Dr Platis said. “I am looking forward to contributing to the critical role the university plays in the UK landscape and beyond.”

Heriot-Watt University has appointed Joe Pacitti to the newly created position of strategic projects and policy adviser to the principal. Mr Pacitti joins Heriot-Watt from the Textiles Futures Forum, where he was project manager.

Gary Reed, director of research, business and innovation at Aberystwyth University, has taken up a two-year secondment to the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education as assistant director, membership (Wales).

Luke Blair has been made Imperial College London’s vice-president (communications and public affairs). Mr Blair, whose post is a new one on the leadership team, will take up his role in September.


Print headline: HE & me

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