Why Sleep Is So Important For Your Immune System

sleep immune system

And tips for a restful night’s sleep

We’re living in uncertain times — and it’s so important that we prioritize our health and wellbeing during this time. A key component of that? Quality sleep, a cause my friend Shelly Ibach has been championing for quite some time. As the President and CEO of Sleep Number, Shelly is an expert in all aspects of sleep, including its vital importance in boosting our immune system. I recently caught up with Shelly (on the phone, from the safety of our own homes) to find out her best tips for quality sleep right now.

Katie Couric: Shelly, you’ve been preaching the importance of a good night’s sleep for quite a while, but it’s never been as important. Why is that?

Shelly Ibach: Consider the positive impact of quality sleep on your mind and body. It is vital for healthy living. It strengthens your immunity, increases your ability to focus, and improves your emotional wellbeing and your overall physical health. It is really the one natural immunity booster.

I know you recently interviewed Dr. Van Cauter, who is the director of the University of Chicago’s research lab on sleep. She studies the link between circadian rhythm, sleep and disease. She also leads Sleep Number’s Scientific Advisory Board. And according to Dr. Van Cauter, the human immune function is profoundly modulated by sleep and circadian rhythm. Studies strongly suggest that insufficient sleep, poor sleep quality, or irregular day-to-day timing of sleep, may all adversely affect our immunities. So in other words, sleep may make you more susceptible to infection or viruses.

Anxiety and sleep is not necessarily the most useful combination. How do you deal with getting a good night’s sleep — despite the fact that your emotional state may feel a little out of whack?

Sleep stabilizes us and it supports our emotional and mental wellbeing, as well as our physical health. So when you’re feeling overly emotional or anxious, sleep actually helps ground us and brings back a feeling of steadiness, decisiveness, and clarity. Therefore, by giving yourself a quality night’s sleep, you’ll be more balanced in your emotional reactions. You’ll likely have less anxiety and feel mentally stronger.

If you think about your night of sleep — and why people talk about eight hours of sleep — the first half of the night is dedicated to your physical recovery, while the second half of your sleep night is all about the mental recovery. That’s when you are recuperating the brain and pruning the unnecessary information. When people shorten their sleep, or they sleep only four or five hours, they’re not giving their brain the rest it needs. That further adds to that overall anxiousness, and it becomes a cycle.

So, how do you break that cycle? Sometimes people have a hard time falling asleep because of their anxiousness, or they’ll wake up at 3 a.m. and won’t be able to get back to sleep. It starts with having the right bed, Katie. Your body has to have the right level of comfort and support so that you can stay asleep. With our research, we’ve proven that people who sleep on the Sleep Number 360 smart bed benefit from 15 minutes more quality sleep every single night, which equates to nearly 100 more hours per year. Our research also shows that people who stopped drinking caffeine by noon benefitted from 13 more restful minutes a night.

What are other things we can try? Isn’t it better to, for example, try to stay off your devices for a certain period of time before you retire for the night?

Absolutely. Reducing or eliminating your screen time at least one hour before your sleep routine time — and making sure you exercise daily — are both important. Our research shows that individuals who exercise daily benefit from seven more minutes of restful sleep. People who make their bed? They get four minutes more restful every single night. All these simple tips can really add up and make a difference.

It’s also important to point out that not enough sleep can almost have a cascade effect on other aspects of your life. When you wake up and you don’t feel rested, you tend to be more irritable. Your whole day can be completely messed up if you’re not getting enough sleep.

It affects all aspects of your well-being. That’s why we always say, sleep is the center of a healthy mind, body and soul. In Twin Cities Business this month, I highlighted that society is beginning to understand how important sleep is to your overall well being, but they don’t yet know how to achieve it.” That’s the next big life change that we’re striving to make at Sleep Number — your bed matters. We want people to really be proud of how well they’re sleeping. Our SleepIQ score is a way to make quality sleep a badge of honor. I’m quite proud of my mine: Last night, it was 86, which is higher than my average.

Obviously, you understand the importance of self-care — that’s why you are the CEO of Sleep Number, Shelly. But is there anything you’ve been doing differently? How are you maintaining your zen?

Well, it’s such an important area for every single leader — and every family member — right now. It does all start with quality sleep, exercise and healthy eating. But I also start every day with gratitude, taking time to be thankful. That restores my faith and ignites my curiosity. I have a great view with a lot of windows in my office. I seek joy every day and I usually find that joy in nature. I’ll share an example from the other night: I was looking out the window and we had eight inches of snow on Easter. And there were 20 deer frolicking around outside the window. All of a sudden, two of these deer stood up on their hind legs and started boxing with their front legs.

That’s such a good example of seeing joy in nature and just being present. That keeps me grounded. Worrying about the future, and projecting about what’s going to happen, can literally waste the day that you’re in. Even now, in the midst of such a difficult time, life is a gift. We need to make sure that we are fully present for it — and enjoying and appreciating all the gifts that it provides us.

That’s really lovely. Not only appreciating nature but being grateful for the things you have to be grateful for. I think I’m going to start my day that way too because it only takes a few minutes. If you think about that and think about the special people in your life, and the things that you have to be thankful for, you’re ahead of the game when you get out of bed.

You start with a great night’s sleep and begin with gratitude, and it gives you your best shot to find all the gifts of the day.

Well, I love my Sleep Number beds, so hopefully, people will check them out if they don’t have one — because I sleep better than ever because of them. You guys are also doing your part to help healthcare workers with PPE, their personal protective equipment. Tell us about that, Shelly.

As a purpose-driven company, we are dedicated to improving peoples’ lives by individualizing sleep experiences. I am so proud of our manufacturing team in Irmo, South Carolina, who has been supporting the South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA) by refurbishing N95 surgical masks.

My team heard of the need to replace the elastic bands — and the sewers rallied and are now completing approximately seven thousand masks a day. This will equate to nearly 200,000 masks for front line health care workers in South Carolina. Additionally, our teams have produced a mask and gown design spec for other health care workers. In fact, we hope to have it approved this week so we can support more individuals during this pandemic. We are grateful to all of them.

We are also championing the importance a good night sleep has on your immune health and emotional well-being. I’d encourage anyone with sleep questions to call a Sleep Number store for over-the-phone, one-on-one assistance from a trained Sleep Professional — or chat with a Sleep Professional online at SleepNumber.com.

Sleep Number sleepers are prioritizing sleep. By looking at our SleepIQ technology data for the last month, we found our sleepers are averaging 7 hours of restful sleep each night! They shifted their bedtime slightly later, but they are gaining minutes by sleeping later in the mornings.

Thank you so much, Shelly!

This originally appeared on Medium.com

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