Sleep Well//

How Quality Sleep Can Transform Your Mood and Increase Your Empathy — Especially Right Now

If getting the rest you need has been more challenging lately, Thrive Global’s Sleep Editor-at-Large Shelly Ibach is here to help.

Boy_Anupong / Getty Images
Boy_Anupong / Getty Images

Welcome to Sleep Dilemmas, Solved, our column addressing common conundrums about sleep. Here, Shelly Ibach, Thrive Global’s Sleep Editor-at-Large and President & CEO of Sleep Number, consults with other top sleep experts and highlights the best tips on how to improve your sleep, and thus, your overall well-being. 

If you’ve been feeling more irritable, less patient, or just a bit out of sorts recently, you are not alone. Studies have confirmed that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp increase in stress, which can affect everything from our mood to how kind and compassionate we are with others. You are likely to be navigating many changes, which may include working from home for the first time, or juggling work with homeschooling and a myriad of other stressful challenges. These challenges are fraught with ambiguity and uncertainty. There is, however, one crucial  step you can take which has the power to transform the way you feel and show up for your life — prioritizing quality sleep

Recommitting to sleep is critical during the current health crisis. Difficult times like these often have a negative impact on our shut-eye. In fact, according to one study, sleep disturbances have increased dramatically since the onset of the pandemic.The scientific connection between stress and sleep is indisputable. When we are well-rested, we are far more likely to feel calm and clear. On the other hand, when we are tired, we can become anxious or lash out, snapping at friends and family members — behaving in a way that might lead us to feel guilty and bad about ourselves. We can break the cycle with improved sleep.

Remember, what you sleep on matters

While people who sleep on our 360® smart beds are not immune to the stress everyone has been experiencing lately, they’ve managed to gain between six to 17 minutes of restful sleep per night during the pandemic.Studies have shown that even an additional 15 minutes of quality sleep per night is enough to boost productivity, stave off weight gain and strengthen immunity. And that can make a world of difference. It’s so important to have a comfortable, supportive bed — for more reasons than you might think. In addition to the physical and mental recovery quality sleep provides, you’ll benefit spiritually as well. In a study we conducted, 74% of participants who have a Sleep Number 360® smart bed reported that their current sleep quality impacts their kindness towards others in a positive way. 

When we are sleep deprived, it becomes more difficult to regulate our emotions. I consulted Dr. Christopher Winter, M.D., director of the Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine Center, who explained that “sleep is deeply tied to our emotional well-being, and lack of sleep quickly manifests itself in harmful ways. Without sleep, our ability to read emotions and correctly interpret communication rapidly becomes impaired.” Dr. Winter, the author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It, says that all these factors “can add up to making us far less patient, empathetic, and considerate. We lose the capacity to care about others and make socially sound choices. It’s almost like falling back into a type of basic survival mode.” 

Yet this is exactly the time that we need to be thriving, not surviving. If you’ve slept well, you will be far more likely to maintain an even temperament throughout the day and show up as your best self for yourself and for others. Here are some ways to help you achieve the sleep you deserve, and bring more kindness and compassion into all your interactions.

Develop (and stick to) healthy routines

Humans benefit from habitual behavior. As we’ve navigated the pandemic, though, our routines have been disrupted. We can establish new ones in support of our circadian rhythm and achieve higher quality sleep, even when everything else feels uncertain. Being well rested makes for a great day. You’ll be more balanced; it will be easier to handle challenges and find joy.

“Our body’s internal clock — our circadian rhythm — is supported by a consistent sleep routine, meaning going to bed and waking up every day at about the same time. Adhering to that routine can minimize the possibility of adverse health effects,” says Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., a professor in the department of medicine at the University of Chicago who chairs the Sleep Number Scientific Advisory Board. “Routines are very important; consistent sleep and activity patterns have a positive impact on our overall sleep quality. Sleep affects every process in the brain and in the rest of the body.”

A healthy routine is 24 hours long. Personally, I start my day by reflecting on what I am grateful for. It’s a positive perspective that supports balanced emotions. Using my SleepIQ data from my smart bed, I follow my circadian rhythm. It guides me so I become aware of the optimal times to engage in productive work, to work out, to eat dinner and to wind down at bedtime. 

Establishing bedtimes and wake-up times is foundational for good sleep — consistency is key. I create an environment that’s conducive to sleep by dimming the lights and keeping my bedroom cool and calm. I change into cozy, comfortable nightwear. My personal sleep secret is prayer. Being grateful and turning my concerns over to my higher power helps me fall asleep. When I feel stress, or pressure, prayer and stillness bring me a sense of peace. If you don’t follow a specific spiritual path, meditation or your favorite mindfulness practice can have a similar effect.

Practice empathy

As President and CEO of Sleep Number, personally I find being rested supports me in being compassionate. Last week, in a virtual meeting, my leaders were sharing highlights from their teams’ listening and learning sessions. One of the key themes was around the scheduling pressures many families feel, related to the frequent changes to school schedules and   demands from some employers. Obviously, everyone is navigating new obstacles right now — the pandemic has created tremendous ambiguity and different ways of working. And many individuals are facing increased challenges at home. I listened, asked some clarifying questions and reinforced our “Work for Your Day” culture. (Simply put, Work for Your Day means working in a way that is most productive for each individual and team — while driving business results. It’s about flexibility — figuring out what works best for you to support your work and home life.) We discussed how liberating it was for our teams to hear about our flexibility and support. This is a time to support one another, adjust wherever you can to allow individuals to be their best and not endure unnecessary stress. We talked about how inspiring it is to share stories of flexibility and provide time to learn from one another, in relation to how everyone is managing different personal and professional demands. 

Another example of our compassionate, well-rested Sleep Number team: over the weekend I received a note about a newly promoted leader who suddenly needed a few days off in the middle of peak production to care for his mother. The team rallied around him to both cover the gap and give him the support he needed to focus on his mother. This is the kindness that empathy fosters, and it is not possible without quality rest. 

Find opportunities to be extra thoughtful

At Sleep Number, we are passionate about our purpose of helping people achieve quality sleep for a healthy, kinder world. I’ve been awed by how kind and thoughtful my team members are to one another and their customers. What’s telling is how people behave when no one’s looking. I hear and witness examples of our team members’ kindness every day. For example, I recently received an appreciative note from a woman detailing the patience and consideration demonstrated by “Brandon,” a Sleep Number Home Delivery Technician delivering a bed to her elderly father who had recently lost his wife. Noticing his deep sadness and feeling concerned about his welfare, before leaving the apartment Brandon called the man’s daughter, suggesting someone stop by to check on him — an act of kindness which meant a lot to his daughter. We are all inspired by goodness, and quality sleep brings it to the forefront in each of us.

Use sleep as your number one ally

Whatever challenges you are facing, sleep can help you get through them. I can attest to that. Deep rest became crucial for me when I lost my husband, George, three years ago. It was the most devastating loss that I could possibly imagine, after 34 years of marriage. Sleep was the best, natural remedy to help me heal. Now, incidentally, sleep is giving me the energy and serenity I need to find joy every day as I continue to discover what life has in store for me. This summer, I have been building a beautiful park and ponds in George’s honor. It is across from his vineyard at my home. It’s his vision — and I am bringing it to life.     

Life, as George always demonstrated, is a beautiful gift. To be fully present in our lives, we need to be healthy — and kind. If we all set an intention to have consistent quality sleep, I know we will be kinder, more compassionate, and much more empathetic. And after all, our world needs this more than ever.

Sleep well, dream big, Shelly

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