Revolutions can start anywhere—harbors. fruit markets, smoky cafes. So why not from the bed, too? That, I suppose, is the premise of Arianna Huffington’s obsession with sleep, embodied in last year’s book The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time and by much of the content on her new wellness site, Thrive Global.
Huffington’s response to most everything that ails us mimics the title of Adam Mansbach’s book Go the Fuck to Sleep. Feeling burned out and stressed about your life? Go the fuck to sleep. Need a simple life hack to make you ten times more productive? Go to sleep. How to fix Donald Trump’s nightmare administration? As Huffington told CNBC at Davos, it would all be OK if he just got a little more shut-eye: “[Trump] is the poster child of sleep deprivation.”
Maybe if he got more sleep he’d know not to ask his NSC advisor if a strong dollar is good for the economy:
There is ample evidence of course that Huffington is correct, at least about sleep. Study after study has shown (and as any couple with young children knows) the positive effects of a solid night’s sleep are only equaled by the deleterious shitshow to which sustained sleep deprivation leads. Sleep allows the brain to recharge. Sleep allows the brain to slough off useless memory. Sleep allows for increased cognitive performance and better self-control. So yay for sleep. But for me at least, to frame it in revolutionary terms in these revolutionary times, and especially considering the source, this prudent and reasonable message rankles.
First the source. As anyone even tangentially related to the media knows, Huffington Post, the website founded by Huffington in 2005 and sold to AOL in 2011 for $315 million, operates on a business model in which many, though not all, of its contributors are unpaid. The basic exchange here is self-promotion and exposure for content. Far be from me to critique such an arrangement; both parties are consenting and informed. But it does merit noting—and as someone who tangoed for petty cash with plenty of cheap reapers of content, to this I can attest—that self-promotion and exposure do not pay the rent. And even if you could find a place to sleep, you wouldn’t have time to anyway since this model all but depends on fervid constant output. [The effects, by the way, do not stop with Huffington Post. In fact, this model of content creation or “contributor networks” has spread its bullshit contagion far and wide to the detriment of both contributors and readers.]
So this late realization on the part of Huffington that perhaps sleep and wellness and life balance are things to be valued comes only after she’s ridden on the hunched over backs of the sleepless blogging minions. Their nightmare scrounging bought the high thread count Egyptian cotton sheets on her no doubt queen-sized bed; their debt collection notices stuffed her pillows and from the ground-down nubs of their burned-out selves, she makes her Bulletproof morning coffee.
That might be a tad over the top. More alarming than the sins of the messenger are the implications of Huffington’s implorations to slumber. If this were a world without injustice; if this were a time when the foundations of our democracy weren’t being actively gnawed upon by a cabinet of corporate termites and corpulent tyrants; if, perchance, all of us weren’t being used as the canvas for Trump’s unconstitutional Jackson Pollockian executive ejaculate, well, then sure, let’s all take a nap.
But these are terrifyingly fast moving times when the entire apparatus of public and private life must be leveraged to fight for our freedoms and not just our freedoms but for the life and liberty of those across the world endangered by the Madman of 1600. Now is a time to be awake, not asleep. I don’t impugn Huffington’s motives in offering content like a deep dive into what Claire Underwood’s sheath dress tells us about leadership, a contemplation whether stretching is the new spinning and an inside look at BJ Novak’s morning routine. Clearly if a good night’s sleep, less digital distraction, and Rachel Zoe’s life hacks make you a better person, better people make for better activists.
If self-love is the stepping stone to increased empathy and renewed action, go ahead, spend your days reading Marie Kondo and eight hours a night dreaming of her. Give yourself permission to have an unstructured day. But has our society ever really had a problem focusing on ourselves? Is that truly something that we need build into a feel-good empire complete with pillows embroidered with Huffington’s words of wisdom like “Sleep your way to the top” and travel kit with lavender oil and a cute $100 little bed to tuck your smartphone into? Or is, as I fear, the patina of wellness a disguise for more self-obsession at a time when we might cut directly through ego with direct action for others? Huffington would better serve the public not by advocating through her ecourses and empire that people sleep more but that they wake up. The possibility is dim but the hope lives on. Hey, a guy’s gotta dream.