By BethAnn Cameron, Health EducatorJune 1, 2015
Are you ready to take on the day? Sleep is a necessity--just like food, water and air. Sleep is essential to good health, emotional well-being and performance.
Without enough sleep, everyone is at increased risk for:
• Motor vehicle accidents
• Increased obesity, diabetes and heart problems
• Increased risk for psychiatric conditions including depression and substance abuse
Numerous studies have shown that not getting enough sleep may lead a person to:
• React slower
• Have trouble focusing and paying attention
• Get easily confused
• Have trouble remembering new information
• Get stressed more easily
• Make more mistakes and make poor judgments
When Soldiers do not get enough sleep, their ability to judge is diminished. Diminished judgment causes bad tactical decisions, which leads to critical errors such as falling asleep at the wheel, recognizing a threat or reacting too slowly to it.
Weight gain is another problem. A 2008 study in the Sleep Journal showed that people with short sleep times had gained weight and increased their body fat. Lack of sleep has a negative effect on hormones that tell a person when to eat and when to stop eating--this leads to a person overeating.
The good news is behavior changes can resolve sleep problems. Proper sleep practices that promote optimal sleep duration and quality are important for everyone. A person needs at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends these sleep tips:
• Stick to a sleep schedule. As best as possible, go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
• Reset your sleep patterns by establishing a wind-down routine. Plan time to unwind. Relax with meditation, reading or listening to soothing music. It will help cue your body and mind begin into recognizing when it is time to sleep.
• Have a dark, quiet, comfortable and cool sleeping environment. Control light, noise and temperature to promote restful sleep. Do not sleep in areas where there is regular activity. Reduce exposure to noise and light by using earplugs, blackout shades or a sleep mask.
• Use your bed only for sleeping, not for other activities such as reading, watching TV, playing computer games or surfing the web. Turn off all electronic devices.
• Avoid large meals 2-3 hours before bedtime. A large meal can cause indigestion that interferes with sleep.
• Avoid caffeine (coffee, colas, chocolate or teas) and nicotine 2-3 hours before sleeping. These stimulants can cause a person not to sleep for up to eight hours.
• Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. While many people think a drink or two will help them fall asleep, studies have shown that alcohol disrupts sleep.
• Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep. Some medications, such as heart, blood pressure, asthma medications, over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies for coughs, colds or allergies can disrupt sleep patterns.
• Do not exercise at least three hours before bedtime. Exercise makes a person more alert and raises the body temperature, which makes it harder to fall asleep.
• Do not lie in bed awake. If you find yourself still awake after lying in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing (like reading or listening to music) until you feel sleepy.
• Turn the bedroom clock around backwards if you are clock-watcher who wakes up periodically to see how much time it is before having to get up.
• If you are having trouble sleeping after using the above tips, talk with your doctor. Your physician may have other methods to help you to get enough sleep or refer you to a provider for sleep disorders.
Tips for Soldiers
• Sleep whenever possible. Take naps that add up to 7 to 8 hours for each 24-hour period in order to sustain alertness and performance.
• Avoid using over-the-counter "sleep aids," which leave one groggy but do not induce actual sleep.
Tips for Leaders
If Soldiers are struggling to stay awake, then their ability to function is already impaired. Consider a "resupply" of sleep just as important as ammunition, food and water. Provide time for quality sleep in the operation plans. Develop a unit sleep management program that gives Soldiers at least six and preferably 7-8 hours to sleep out of every 24.
Get ready to take on your day by getting a good quality sleep. It benefits everyone and improves military readiness.