As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. And doing without sleep has only intensified Meg Hourihan's passion for head-on-the-pillow time. An internet entrepreneur and cofounder of the popular, free web publishing platform Blogger, Hourihan has sacrificed her fair share of Zzzs in the service of a bigger, better web. But she’s never lost her love of nodding off.
You may not have heard of Hourihan, but you probably encounter her work anytime you boot up Chrome. Beyond Blogger, which was acquired by Google in 2003, Hourihan co-founded Kinja with Gawker owner Nick Denton. She’s done more than merely give a platform to millions of writers across the globe; she was instrumental in creating the new media landscape we love (and love to lament) today.
Hourihan, who splits her time between New York City and Vermont, has lately taken a break from paradigm-changing to focus on her two young children. In her own words, here’s what sleep means to her.
I like to think I have a regular sleep schedule but lately my sleeping has been terrible. I’m a morning person and feel best when I’m in bed, lights-out by 10 or 10:30 and then I’ll naturally wake up between six or 6:30, feeling pretty refreshed and happy. Except that hasn’t been my reality for a while now. I keep staying up too late, sleeping horribly and waking up in the night, and then dragging myself out of bed by 7:15 feeling exhausted with puffy eyes and all-over grouchiness.
When I worked as a consultant, I regularly stayed awake until about 12:30 or one a.m. and was up again before six a.m. That was brutal because it was Monday to Friday on that schedule.
I’d try and sleep all weekend and, because we worked onsite at our client’s location, I was often on a plane Monday in the a.m. and Friday in the p.m. I would just sleep the whole time on the plane — it was insane. Like, I’d fall asleep as soon as I’d pre-board and sleep through taxi, takeoff, the whole flight and landing. I’d wake up when the seatbelt sign would ding.
I can sleep any place, any time.
This was a similar sleep schedule to what I kept in college when I rowed crew and was up at five a.m. I have been forever scarred by these nights of limited sleep and prioritize sleep as much as I can.
I do a lot of traveling now, but in cars between New York City and my house in Vermont. When I do go across time zones, I kind of just try and ignore jet lag. I’ll spend a couple days before trying to get more on the schedule of the new place and then, when I arrive, I just throw myself into that time zone. It’s usually fine when I’m there, like in Europe, and then a total nightmare for a week or so after I return. I’m just a zombie going to bed at five p.m.
I’ve only ever stayed up all night three times. Two were ill-advised college experiences I won’t discuss. The other was for work, when we were trying to get the redesigned Blogger site up before heading to SXSW in 2000.
Never ever ever stay up all night launching a brand new website. You make a thousand mistakes. And don’t compound it by then flying from San Francisco to Austin and expecting the site to just work fine while you have only limited internet access to fix anything that — of course! of course! — is broken because you coded it all on no sleep. Seems obvious, right?
That said, it was thrilling to launch it basically at SXSW. That was when we launched the orange Blogger B logo, and it felt pretty cool at the time to just get it done and then go hang out with lots of people and give out t-shirts with the new logo on them. And we survived. I think we probably re-coded the whole thing when we got back so that it actually functioned properly.
What’s keeping me up these days? All kinds of dumb real life grown-up stuff, like “What’s going on with my son and why’s he having trouble sleeping?” and “I need new health insurance for 2016” and “Did I remember to run the dishwasher before I got in bed?” All those crazy things that jolt you awake at three a.m. or, in my case, keep me awake after I go to the bathroom at three a.m. I try really hard to relax at those times and do deep yoga breathing and just talk myself back to sleep. Sometimes it works. Most times it doesn’t.
Some of my best sleeps have been naps. I’m a huge napper when I get the chance. None of these 20-minute cat naps for me. Shades down, clothes off, under the covers, at least an hour, maybe more. That said, by the time I usually get around to napping, I’m so exhausted it’s more a like a half day in bed recovery situation. Calling it a nap is perhaps a bit of a lie.
On my bedside table: My iPhone being charged and a bedside light. There’s always a mix of books that I’m reading or poking around in, mostly from the New York Public Library. Currently: Longbourn by Jo Baker, Essays of E.B. White, No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh, The Major Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson and The Everything Homeschooling Book.
Most importantly, I have my MUJI Aroma Diffuser , which I use with cypress oil as I’m falling asleep. I read this great article a few years ago about the important of "shinrin-yoku," or forest bathing. When I’m in NYC, I use my diffuser to get the calming effects of forest bathing as I attempt to drift off to sleep in the crazy busy city that never does.
I’ve realized over the years that when I don’t take good care of myself, I don’t take good care of those around me. If I’m exhausted and working 12 plus hour days (like at startups) I’m a cranky overly emotional employee and boss. When I’m up too late and then have to get my kids off to school or be fully present with them on the weekend, I’m not as kind and as patient as I can be when I’ve slept well.
I also now recognize my need to exercise consistently. Currently: hot yoga, running, arduous hikes in summer and downhill skiing in winter. If I exercise, I clear my brain; if I exercise hard, I get tired; if I’m tired, I sleep well; if I’m really tired, I sleep really well. Then I wake up and am a pleasant person. It’s a virtuous cycle I highly recommend.