In her book, “The Sleep Revolution,” Huffington discusses the importance of good sleep in the definition of a successful life.
Huffington’s obsession with sleep — triggered by an incident where she collapsed in her home office and “found herself in a pool of blood” — led her to develop a strict evening routine.
Huffington treats her nightly habit as a “sacrosanct ritual,” according to an article she wrote in Motto.
She starts off by “escorting” her electronic devices out of her room, followed by a hot bath with epsom salts. She then changes into clothes that are specifically designated for sleep.
Sometimes she drinks chamomile or lavender tea to help her sleep, and she writes down the things that she is grateful for that day, according to her book.
Huffington doesn’t set an alarm and wakes up “naturally” after about eight hours of sleep. In the morning, she meditates for 30 minutes, gets on her exercise bike for another 30, and spends at least 10 minutes doing yoga. During the day, she tries to cut off her caffeine intake by 2 p.m., according to an interview on the lifestyle website The Early Hour.
After experimenting with Jack Dorsey’s brutal morning routine, I was excited to try something that wouldn’t leave me reaching for a third cup of coffee at 3 p.m.
Also, I often feel guilty when I prioritise sleep over work, my social life, or whatever else I feel I should be doing instead. If I could commit to sleeping eight hours in the name of work, I’m all in.
Wanting to get the most of the experiment, I decided to adopt Huffington's morning routine as well as her evening one. That included cutting out caffeine after 2 p.m.
I prepared by cleaning my tiny bathtub and purchasing two essentials -- bath salts and herbal tea.
I decided to start my experiment on Sunday night. At 8:30 p.m., I posted the picture of my coconut-pomegranate bath salts on Instagram and put my phone on the dresser in front of my bed.
Huffington sleeps without electronics in her room, but in my tiny studio apartment, that would me leaving them outside or in the bathroom. I settled for putting them out of reach from my bed.
I suddenly remembered that my phone was low on battery. When I went to plug it in, I saw that saw someone had commented on my photo and had to fight the urge to check it.
I made myself a cup of chai tea to drink in the bath, and after the first sip realised that I was drinking caffeine. Oops. But it was relaxing! And it tasted so good!
I felt like I was in the bath for 15 minutes, but it was probably more like five.
After the bath, I picked up my copy of Huffington's 'The Sleep Revolution' and started reading. By 9:20 p.m., I started getting sleepy, so I started filling out my gratitude journal in a yellow notebook I'd purchased specifically for this experiment.
By 9:30 p.m., I was out.
Morning: To my surprise, I rose at 5:20 a.m. without an alarm, and I felt refreshed and ready to get up.
After following Dorsey's routine of meditating for 30 minutes each morning, my instinct was to reach for my phone to use my guided meditation app. I opted for a 'Breath Connection' 20-minute meditation. It felt easy and familiar.
Given the lack of an exercise bike in my apartment, I opted to go for an early morning jog. 6 a.m. runs can be difficult, but I never regret them, especially when I get a beautiful view of the East River.
Yoga was next part of the routine. I started a 15-minute morning yoga sequence from Greatist and immediately made a mental note to incorporate more stretching into my workout. I had never felt so much pain during downward dog.
By 7:30 a.m., I had showered and was enjoying my coffee and breakfast while reading the news. This is one part of my personal routine that I don't like to give up. Mornings and evenings are when I make time to read longform pieces and op-ed analysis of what's happening in the world. It gets my brain going!
I left the house at 8:20 a.m. and was at work by 9 a.m.
Workday: I didn't take many notes about my productivity during the day, which I can only assume meant that I was SUPER productive. Eight hours of sleep does wonders for the brain, after all.
I did note that I had coffee at 3 p.m., which broke Huffington's no-caffeine-after-2 p.m. rule. But it was more than six hours before my anticipated bedtime (9:30 or 10 p.m.), so I figured I was OK.
Evening: I went to the gym for an hour after work, not because I wanted to torture myself again, but because I am training for the Tough Mudder race. Some of the moves require weight equipment that I don't have at home.
I came back exhausted, took a quick cold shower, then reheated and ate yesterday's dinner.
I was tempted to skip the bath because I had taken a shower, but my husband encouraged me to stick to the routine.
So I made myself a cup of tea and drew a hot bath with salts. After five minutes, I was very hot and sleepy.
I put on my sleeping tank top and shorts, read more of 'The Sleep Revolution,' and jotted down what I was grateful for that day. I was asleep by 9:30 p.m.
Morning: I woke up, but something told me it wasn't quite 5 a.m. yet. I checked my phone, and it was 4:40 a.m. I went back to sleep.
My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. I was about to hit the snooze button, until my phone fell off the dresser and shut off, causing a brief panic before it came on again.
By then I was awake and definitely did not want to go back to bed. I went to check Facebook and found a storm of unread messages, mostly gossip from my grad school classmates. I reminded myself to meditate and told myself off for checking social media first thing in the morning.
My 30-minute workout consisted of sprints, squat jumps, and pull-ups. It took about 30 minutes to get to the closest outdoor gym, so my workout ended up lasting an hour and a half. When I got home, I dutifully did my 10 minutes of yoga before getting ready for work.
Workday: Work was productive. I definitely found it easier to concentrate than when I did Dorsey's morning routine. The only discomfort was the soreness from my workout. I guess that's why there is a 'tough' before mudder. I think that the next day might be a yoga day.
Evening: Doing my workout in the morning meant that I could go home and cook dinner straight away. But I was feeling lazy that night, so it ended up being a meal of refried beans and turkey bacon on tortillas with a side of greens.
My husband and I ate dinner and talked at our tiny table without our laptops, which I realised we hadn't done in a long time. That sounds bad, and the scary thing is that I didn't even notice we were doing it.
At 8:30 p.m., I escorted my electronics to the dining table, away from the bed. As the bath filled, I made myself some of the vanilla chamomile tea.
I got very sweaty in the bath, and drinking hot tea probably made it worse. I think I took a five-minute bath before I turned on the shower to cool down. I felt good.
In bed, I read more of 'The Sleep Revolution.' I started dozing at 9:20, and it was time for gratitude journaling. It's nice to end the day on a positive note, though I did struggle to be specific and different each day.
My favourite moments of the day tended to center around eating good food, feeling exercise endorphins, spending time with my husband, and working toward my childhood dream of becoming a journalist in New York City.
I realised that being grateful for the same things each day isn't bad -- it makes you appreciate what you might otherwise take for granted.
Morning: Tuesday's Tough Mudder training definitely ruined me. So I skipped the workout and did 15 minutes of yoga instead.
Huffington's purpose for yoga might be mindfulness, but it did my muscles a lot of good.
The combination of meditation and yoga made me feel calm, and I got to work early at 9 a.m.
Workday: Another productive day. I had a sudden craving for Diet Pepsi at lunch and made the mistake of succumbing to it. Not doing that again.
I began to lose steam around 5 p.m., which was a little strange. Shouldn't I still be super focused? When I mentioned this to my husband, he pointed out that I'd been awake for an hour longer than usual, so I should expect to be tired an hour earlier. Maybe that was it.
Evening: Tonight's bath routine didn't involve tea. But I was a lot more relaxed, and involuntarily closed my eyes and meditated for a little bit. I drank my tea in bed as I read about how the sleep-deprivation trend got started (damn you, steel industry!).
An insight in the book made me chuckle. In the chapter about sleep deprivation at colleges, Huffington mentioned an advertisement for Red Bull that said 'no one wishes they slept more in college.'
Looking back, if there was one regret I had about college it was EXACTLY the fact that I spent so much of it sleep deprived. For a long time, I convinced myself that I needed to learn to survive on less sleep and work more hours to be successful. I stretched myself way too thin by running a student organisation, working 16 to 20 hours a week, and studying law.
Fortunately, I never collapsed like Huffington did, but I put my family and friends through a lot of unnecessary teary outbursts due to exhaustion.
Morning: I crossed the room to hit snooze for the first time. I felt a little guilty, but not too guilty.
After all, Huffington writes in the book that the need to snooze means you need more sleep.
Meditation was automatic. I felt a bit unmotivated to go for a run, but made myself do it anyway and instantly felt glad I did. A short yoga session followed the run.
I then checked my email and social media. Huffington doesn't do these things in the morning, but I didn't know when else I would be able to. On this new schedule, by the time I get home, make dinner, and clean up, I don't have long until my electronic curfew is up.
Workday: It was a productive day, and my focus level stayed steady. I didn't have a second coffee to combat the post-lunch crash, nor did I feel like I needed one.
Evening: A strange thing happened -- I started getting stressed when I left work. It started with me thinking that I needed to get home quickly so I would have time to check my personal emails, Facebook messages, and WhatsApp messages from my family.
When I start stressing about small things, it's like opening Pandora's box. My head fills with other stresses, like returning to grad school in the fall, my finances, my future, etc.
My husband told me when I got home that I seemed to have 'an air of grumpiness.' I got annoyed and sat in bed reading the news on my laptop, eating yesterday's black-bean bolognese, and wondered why I felt so grumpy. I was so zen this morning and crushing it at work!
I got into the bath early, at 8 p.m. Huffington has said that her bath is partly a reflection time where she mulls over the stresses of her day. Maybe I was just tired from being so focused at work, and my body was telling me that it was getting used to the new schedule.
I almost forgot my gratitude journal, but reminded myself just as I was about to climb into bed. It was good to end the day with positivity.
Morning: I woke up without an alarm. I laid in bed with my eyes closed for 10 minutes before sitting up to meditate.
I needed to do the day's Tough Mudder training at the gym. I decided to do a Yoga for Strength and Focus session in the morning and hit the gym after work. Why is it harder to complete 43 minutes of yoga than it is to run for 43 minutes?
My guess is that yoga doesn't give me an immediate 'high' the way that running does -- the benefits are more gradual.
Workday: I was super productive, particularly given that it was a Friday. I went for a 20-minute walk during lunch, because the day before, when I went out to buy food, I was much more focused in the afternoon. It was a super-hot day, but I think the walk made a difference.
Evening: There was nothing significant about my routine on Friday evening, aside from the fact that I did it (and continued to do it on Saturday and Sunday).
I really enjoyed this evening routine, apart from the electronics curfew and having to scrub my tub vigorously before every bath.
No productivity hacks will be effective if I don't get seven to eight hours of sleep
Sleep is my magic formula. I felt so much better this week doing Huffington's morning and evening routines than I did doing Dorsey's morning routine, simply because I made sure I got enough sleep each night.
Apart from Dorsey's 5 a.m. start, Huffington has a similar morning routine to Dorsey -- meditation, exercise, and a cup of coffee.
The only difference is that Huffington practices yoga every morning, and she doesn't have a set time for waking up. I was up at 5:30 a.m. most mornings and felt a lot more refreshed than during my experiment with Dorsey's morning routine.
Having a transition to bedtime helped a lot with my sleep quality
I was initially sceptical about the effectiveness of taking a hot bath before bed. The whole electronics curfew thing was tough also, since I like to catch up on news and keep up with life admin in the evenings. Not to mention that I want to read messages from family and friends who are on the other side of the world!
But adopting both rituals proved to do wonders to my sleep. When I wasn't doing this routine, on a good day, I would fall asleep within half an hour. Sometimes, if I was feeling stressed, it could take a full hour.
With Huffington's evening ritual, I averaged 10 to 15 minutes before I was in deep snooze. I slept like a baby that week! I never once jolted awake in the middle of the night.
However, the electronic curfew can be restrictive
One day I missed out on plans that my friends had made for that night because I didn't check social media. Also, Facebook is how I communicate with my family back in New Zealand, and with the time difference, the best time for me to talk to them is often just before my bedtime in New York.
Also, I really missed devouring longform articles in bed before I sleep.
I think I would try to adopt this curfew whenever possible, but not be so restrictive. I just have to learn to stop myself from going down on an Instagram rabbit hole, which I often did prior to this experiment.
Self-care doesn't happen automatically
It takes deliberate intention to get up early, exercise, and meditate. You have to choose to turn off your electronic devices, take baths, and spend time counting your blessings before you go to bed.
I justified this 'self-care' in the name of work. If I were to do this personal experiment on my own, I would feel guilty about carving out time for myself to take a bath or meditate. I would also be less willing to talk about it to my peers out of fear that they would ridicule me, which is a pretty stupid reason.
In the age where working long hours is still seen as a badge of honour, I've realised how important it is to set boundaries for yourself and be confident in your choices to prioritise your health. No one knows your own body and what it needs better than you do.
I'm generally not productive at night
Some people are night owls, but I've come to realise that whenever I've tried to do any work at night, I'm only half as focused. I'm better off waking up earlier the next day.
Prioritising sleep made it easier to tackle challenging tasks and maintain other healthy habits
I love how I feel after a morning workout, but my biggest struggle has always been getting out the door in the first place. I didn't face the same level of resistance from my brain the entire week I practiced Huffington's bedtime ritual.
I also noticed that I ate a lot healthier that week, and I wasn't easily swayed by the smell of greasy burgers or seeing people sip iced frappuccinos on a hot day. I didn't want to interrupt how good I felt, so saying no to a milkshake didn't feel like a difficult thing to do.
It seems like sleep really does have a flow-on effect, and now that I know what it's done to my productivity and wellbeing, I'm hoping I can feel less guilty about making it a priority.
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