Transcript: Arianna Huffington on We Are Drowning in Data and Starved for Wisdom

The CEO of BMW collapsed during a press conference. The head of MMA at JP Morgan, Jimmy Lee, died on his treadmill. And I mean, I could go on and on and what is interesting is that we’ve kind of convinced the world that exercise and nutrition are important, whether we do it or not, we kind of recognize they’re important.

But the third leg of the stool is sleep. And you have people who literally put the alarm on and they wake up exhausted, then drag themselves to the gym. Which now every sleep scientist, and you have some of the best here at Stanford, will tell you it’s just a terrible mistake for your health and for your weight. If all you care about is your weight, sleep in. Don’t wake up sleep deprived and go the gym, because your body is going to crave carbs and sugars in order to be able to function during the day.

Interviewer: It is somewhat ironic that in the Valley, we have sheer panic attacks when our iPhone depletes in energy down to like 7%. But the fact that we’re charging and running around at 2% doesn’t seem to affect us at all.

Arianna Huffington: That is such a great point. In fact, if you think of it, we do take better care of our smartphones than we take of ourselves. Because as you said I actually begin to panic at about 13%, is yours 7%?

Interviewer: Mine barely gets turned on, so I’m okay.

Arianna Huffington: I normally travel with about three portable chargers just in case. And yet, if you had asked me the day I collapsed, Arianna, how are you? I would have said fine. Because exhaustion had become the new normal. And do you know now, that if you go on Google, at least when I last checked a week ago, and you type out why am I, the most common auto-complete is why am I so tired? And the second most common auto-complete is why am I always tired?

Interviewer: So, I like your mantra of encouraging us all to sleep our way to the top. It’s not my words, credit goes to you. Obviously, it’s all good and well, kind of raising awareness among the rank and file. But the challenge is the environment in which we operate. So to what extent to your point around all these CEOs kind of waking up and literally smelling the coffee, do you think that there should be an equivalent of the giving pledge for sleep whereby you kind of shame everyone into getting rid of that social stigma, writing on paper their commitment to adopt the third metric, embody a work environment which rewards people for coming in rested, auto-deletes emails when they’re on holiday, and gives you taxis to get home at night when you’re sleep deprived and –

Arianna Huffington: What are you doing when you graduate?

Interviewer: Working on this.

Arianna Huffington: These are brilliant ideas. I love the equivalent of the giving pledge, let’s talk about that afterwards. I think this is really a fantastic idea because really, we are talking about the need for a culture shift, and there are pioneers who are leading the way, and removing some of the stigma. When, for example, Satya Nadella, when he became the CEO of Microsoft, told Business Insider that he sleeps for eight hours, and could not be an effective CEO if he did not, that was pretty revolutionary. Because in the past, and when I say in the past, I mean a year ago, before he said it, even if a CEO was sleeping eight hours, he would never admit it. Because the whole idea was the Jon Bon Jovi song that I’ll sleep when I’m dead, or you lose you snooze, you snooze you lose, or congratulating people for working 24/7, which now sleep scientists will tell you is the cognitive equivalent of coming to work drunk. But that has been the prevalent culture.

And now, I mean, actually, last week, too late to include it in the book, was a real tipping point. And that was a McKinsey study that they extracted part of the Harvard Business Review, I don’t know why they didn’t do it for you.

Interviewer: We were busy sleeping.

Arianna Huffington: A mistake, a clear mistake, which the title first of all, when you saw the title, you would have thought it was from The Onion. The title was The Proven Link Between Effective Leadership and Sleep. And it was co-written by the McKinsey Chief Global Learning Officer and a woman who was identified as McKinsey’s sleep specialist. The idea that McKinsey has a sleep specialist, to teach you not how to do without sleep, but to teach you the importance of sleep, shows that we are in an amazing Zeitgeist moment. And once I stop kind of pinching myself, I celebrated the fact that this had happened and reached out of course to the people who wrote it to have them write about it on The Huffington Post, which they’re doing. And incidentally, the sleep specialist has now been hired by Facebook to give these workshops at Facebook.

So this is all an amazing new phenomenon and what I love about this piece, which I highly recommend, is that they walk you through what happens to the prefrontal cortex, which is where the leadership functions, that’s what they call the executive functioning is housed. And how incredibly degraded they are when you are sleep deprived. And then I was co-hosting Squawk Box on Tuesday and I asked Mark Bertolini one of the good things about co-hosting, that you can invite people that you want to bring these messages to the financial community. And I invited Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna because I wanted him to talk about the new initiative he started at Aetna, the third largest health insurance company, which is he asked his employees to track their sleep with the Fitbit and anyone who gets at least seven hours a night gets $25 for each night. And that’s kind of again an amazing statement, by the CEO of a health insurance company. And then he has Duke tracking the results. And they are finding a 7% reduction in healthcare costs in all the wellness programs they have and a 62-minute a week improvement in productivity. So it really helps dispel all these illusions that in order to be productive you have to cut down on sleep.