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John Legend gets real about rest: “I sing better when I sleep”

May 12, 2022, 8:30 PM UTC
JOhn Legend playing piano and singing into a microphone
John Legend says he sings better when he sleeps.
Kevin Mazur—Getty Images

Singer and songwriter John Legend joined Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive and co-founder of the HuffPost, and Russ Glass, CEO of Headspace Health, to discuss good sleep hygiene habits at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Health Conference, held on May 10 and 11. 

You can watch the video here.

The importance of sleep cannot be overstated. It is integral to productivity, concentration, and emotional intelligence. Healthy sleep also improves cognitive functioning, cardiovascular and brain health, mood, and overall mental health. Most adults require a minimum of 7 hours of sleep, but a 2016 study from the CDC found that one in three American adults don’t get enough rest. And last year, a study spanning 13 countries that was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, found that 40% of people have been affected by sleep related issues during the pandemic.

“One-third of the U.S. population has a sleep disorder,” Glass said during the event. “We see employees are leaving companies at unprecedented rates right now. And one of the huge problems there is that the cost of turnover has gone way up during a pandemic. It’s harder to retrain so that people get that institutional knowledge. It’s harder to create those connections. And so when people leave now, that cost to an organization is far higher than it was pre-pandemic. And so companies have to be thinking about how do we retain people? How do we keep people from getting burned out? Ergo, we’ve got to make sure people are sleeping well.”

Here’s how to ensure you get better quality sleep from the experts:

Prioritize hydration and limit alcohol

“It’s so proven how important sleep is, but as a singer, I must say, I sing better when I sleep,” said Legend. “My body is very in tune with my voice. So my voice reflects how my body is feeling and whether I’m rested, whether I’m hydrated, whether I’m being healthy, not drinking too much, not smoking, all those things matter.”

Hydration is an often overlooked key to quality sleep, and the symptoms of dehydration—headache, dry mouth, and muscle cramps—impede deep and nourishing sleep. Dehydration can also be exacerbated by excessive alcohol intake, which is why some experts recommend limiting alcoholic beverages to one per evening

Embrace mindfulness meditation

Glass touted the benefits of mindfulness meditation, a technique that can help calm your body and mind, as a tool for improving sleep quality. The practice is also useful as an alternative treatment for sleep disturbances, according to the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed health journal. 

“Thousands of studies now have shown it improves sleep, because it changes a number of things in both your body as well as in your brain to help lead to better sleep habits and better sleep,” Glass said. “It drives blood pressure down, it drives heart rate down, it drives breath rate down and it drives heart rate variability up. And as important as anything else, it literally changes pathways in the brain that allows you to when you’re trying to go to sleep, it allows you not to think about the things that are making you crazy during the day, when you’re trying to go to sleep. It allows you to put work aside and is just a critical part of the toolkit that helps us sleep better.” 

Quit using your bed as an office

“Get work out of the bedroom,” Glass said. “You know, create an environment where you’re putting work away and you’re putting the doom scrolling away, and it doesn’t really matter what, but what brings you peace?”

Working from your bedroom diminishes productivity, mood, and sleep quality. Using your bed as an office can strain your wrist, neck, shoulders, and back. It can also encourage your brain to disassociate your bed from the act of sleeping, according to BBC. Additionally, working late hours in bed can negatively affect your biological clock due to your laptop screen emitting blue light that suppresses melatonin. Creating healthy boundaries between work and rest to contribute to better sleep hygiene. 

Create a peaceful nightly sleep ritual

Huffington suggests that bringing gratitude and intentionality into your nightly routine can make all the difference in the quality of your sleep. Nightly rituals improve sleep quality by allowing the body to unwind and easily transition into deep rest. In addition, practicing gratitude has been positively correlated to getting a better night’s sleep

“So for me, having a hot bath or a hot shower is key,” Huffington said.  “Not so much for cleanliness, but it’s more to slow down the brain and make it less likely that you will wake up in the middle of the night and find it hard to sleep. I love reading real physical books in bed that have nothing to do with work like poetry, philosophy, and novels. And also I end the day with what I’m grateful for. Because every day is a mixture of things we’re grateful for and things would rather not have in our lives. So if we can end the day focusing on what we’re grateful for it has a big impact in being able to surrender to sleep.”

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