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Be  “Mindful of a Good Night’s Sleep”


Friends faculty advisor Michael Irwin, M.D., Director, Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology and Director, Mindful Awareness Research Center shares his evidenced-based advice.


In the midst of this pandemic, a good night’s sleep is what we all need.  Restful and restorative sleep, lasting about 7 hours, helps regulate our emotions so that we can respond to the stresses and challenges that we are facing every day.  Sleep health also protects us from depression by supporting our desire to seek pleasurable and rewarding activities and our ability to experience pleasure including being close with others, which are both attuned to the regulation of the neural circuits and brain neurotransmitters such as dopamine that signal well-being.

            Sleep is also essential for optimal immune function.  During this time when we are concerned about exposure to the coronavirus, it is important to remember that sleep plays a critical role in resistance to viral infections. Our research at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the UCLA Semel Institute has found that as we sleep, the immune system is restored and primed in ways that allow immune cells to recognize and respond robustly to infectious challenges during the day, as reported in Nature[1]. Some of the most remarkable research has experimentally exposed persons to a standard “dose” of the common cold virus, and found that those who reported good sleep quality and sleep duration of at least 7 hours were more likely to resist infection, and if infection occurred, those with adequate sleep had less symptoms.  Additionally, sleep is critical in recovery from viral infections, with evidence that deep sleep, which often occurs in the first half of the night, triggers the immune system to release signals which help contain the viral infection. 

How might we sustain our resilience and sleep health?   The Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) at the UCLA Semel Institute has pioneered research on the benefits of mindfulness, and found that mindfulness reduces stress, treats depression, and improves sleep.  In older adults who notoriously have difficulties with their sleep, the practice of mindfulness, often for as little as 15 minutes before bed,  produces robust improvements in sleep quality within 6 weeks, similar to the benefits found with “gold standard” behavioral interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, a finding reported in JAMA Internal Medicine.[2]  Furthermore, mindfulness practices also have effects on the immune system, by shifting the immune response machinery in ways to resist viral infection and simultaneously to dampen inflammation.  Inflammation is thought to contribute to many of the adverse outcomes associated with coronavirus and other viral infection.  Access to the research-backed mindfulness curriculum developed by MARC is freely available by simply downloading the UCLA Health app “UCLA Mindful”.  Dissemination of this and other tools  necessary to support our emotional health during the Covid-19 pandemic is being led by the UCLA Semel Institute; a link to UCLA Mindful app and other resources to manage stress and support emotional health are posted on the California Coronavirus (Covid-19) Response website: www.covid19.ca.gov and Resources for Emotional Support


1.         Irwin, M.R., Sleep and inflammation: partners in sickness and in health. Nat Rev Immunol, 2019.

2.         Black, D.S., et al., Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med, 2015. 175(4): p. 494-501.