Helping People Get Some Sleep in Anxious Times Will Help Underserved Communities, Too

With creativity, companies can help people through a crisis while also helping those most vulnerable.

Don Katz, founder and executive chairman, Audible / Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO, Thrive Global / Sean "Diddy" Combs / Nick Jonas
Don Katz, founder and executive chairman, Audible / Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO, Thrive Global / Sean "Diddy" Combs / Nick Jonas

In ordinary times, sleep is essential to every aspect of a person’s well-being. In extraordinary times of uncertainty, anxiety, and stress, getting the sleep we need is more important than ever. Sleep is the foundation of both a strong immune system and psychological resilience — the very things we need to navigate this pandemic.

And yet, with the COVID-19 crisis, a good night’s sleep has never been harder to come by. Increased stress, the “loss of daytime structure,” and too much screen time are cutting into sleep, writes Lisa Medalie, a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine. Google searches for insomnia hit a record high in early April. And many are seeing an uptick in nightmares, brought on by stress and anxiety.

At the same time, growing data is showing that Americans in underserved communities are disproportionately affected by the virus. Newark, New Jersey — where Audible moved its global headquarters in 2007 — leads the state in the COVID-19 spread, and like other economically disadvantaged cities, historical precedent indicates that job losses and business destruction are destined to be far higher in Newark than in other areas. 

Many of our neighbors in Newark have underlying health conditions like hypertension, asthma, and diabetes that make them particularly vulnerable to developing serious coronavirus-related symptoms. Furthermore, many tend to work essential jobs that require in-person attendance, and thus an increased chance of exposure.

Sleep’s deep connection to health and wellness and the inequitable impact of COVID-19 in the urban core can indeed be societally and programmatically connected. Numerous studies have suggested that socioeconomically disadvantaged communities are more likely to experience sleep patterns associated with adverse health outcomes. The so-called sleep gap and disproportionate medical and economic impacts of the coronavirus both illustrate many of the larger inequality indices we see and can measure across the country.

This is why Audible and Thrive Global have come together, along with the strong voices of Sean “Diddy” Combs, Nick Jonas, and others, to introduce a collection of free audio experiences — from guided meditations and bedtime stories to sound baths and microsteps for better sleep — designed to help people rest during this difficult time.

Beyond helping people navigate an historically anxious time, we’ll also be sustaining and creating restaurant jobs in Newark and providing meals that will be delivered to Newark’s most vulnerable citizens — as well as to the city’s frontline healthcare workers. Audible and Newark allies — including famed chefs Marcus Samuelsson and José Andrés — recently launched Newark Working Kitchens (NWK) to fund local restaurants to help feed as many frontline workers and local residents impacted by the pandemic as possible. Audible has already committed to purchasing 100,000 meals from a network of re-lit restaurants, and we, along with our partners, plan to fund more meals and jobs following the launch of the sleep solution app.

Thrive Global, like Audible, has pivoted its resources and energy into providing its partners, users, and communities with the resources and tools needed to take care of themselves and others. Thrive launched #FirstRespondersFirst with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the CAA Foundation. Through this initiative, Thrive is providing those on the front lines not just with personal protective equipment, but also with child care, food, mental health support, and other resources for demographically and socially diverse workforces.

Joining forces to create a powerful sleep solution at a time when sleep is most crucial, while also partnering with nonprofits to support the most vulnerable communities in Newark, came about because we stepped back to brainstorm new visions of the possible. It’s great to see these initiatives already having an immediate social impact while also laying a foundation for continued impact long after the pandemic.

Entrepreneurs and other corporate leaders everywhere can rethink and redeploy their capacity to launch innovative products, understand customers at a deep and often metrics-driven behavioral level, and also leverage their natural instinct — if they are successful — to discern how investment can generate the best outputs to make a difference. Audible has spent years pursuing models that connect business positives and methodologies to social and economic “flywheels” that work. Newark Working Kitchen’s ability to turn unsustainable restaurants into frontline providers of verifiably delivered meals to society’s most vulnerable in the time of COVID — like #FirstRespondersFirst — is clearly a model that holds up to private sector disciplines.

We decided to write this together to encourage other business leaders — particularly those who see themselves as entrepreneurs capable of working backwards from big visions of the possible versus serving as professional managers — to step back and imagine new ways to connect the dots and make a bigger impact.

The coronavirus pandemic has shocked our individual and collective systems. By imagining creative responses to these unprecedented circumstances, recognizing our deep interconnectedness, and committing to our health and the health of our communities, we can emerge from this challenging historical moment together and stronger than before.

Arianna Huffington is founder and CEO of Thrive Global.

Don Katz is founder and executive chairman of Audible.

Originally published on Fortune.

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