Filed under: Performance
Researchers have long been interested in meditation and its potential benefits. A recent study found that regular meditation practice of 20 minutes a day has a lasting effect on how your brain processes emotions. This suggests that meditation could potentially help your brain handle stress, anxiety, and depression, and possibly other feelings. For those individuals dealing with relocation, deployment after-effects, chronic stress overload, recent family changes, or new training assignments, having a strategy to improve your resilience and help process the expected extra doses of emotions can be helpful.
For more information on meditation, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s meditation page. HPRC will be adding a new section on Mind-Body Strategies in the near future that will give you more resources, too—so check back for that.
"The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you may be." – Robert Fulghum, author & essayist
Don’t waste time hoping for a better situation; make the best of wherever you find yourself and plan to be successful while you’re there using the resources you have. Whether you have performance goals of enhancing your physical fitness, becoming stronger mentally, bolstering your spirit, eating better, or enhancing your relationships, make sure that your “tools” are in good condition and ready to be used at any time. This can be particularly helpful if you (or your loved one) are on TDY or deployment because you can carry your performance-enhancement tools within you and employ them when needed.
For ways to sharpen your tools for Total Fitness (resilience and performance enhancement), check out the One Shot One Kill performance enhancement program to be prepared no matter where you are. Or if you have specific performance areas you want to strengthen, check out the other domains of HPRC’s website: Physical Fitness, Environment, Nutrition, Dietary Supplements, Family & Relationships, and Mind Tactics.
According to a recent report about post-exercise recovery and regeneration for athletes, men over 19 and women over 18 needs 8-10 hours of sleep a night (plus a 30-minute afternoon nap, as needed) for optimal athletic performance.
Continuing good sleep habits established earlier in adolescence such as regular meals, early morning light exposure, and a nightly sleep routine remain important. However, it’s also important to monitor the effects of stress and changes in sleep due to training/military operations.
Even if you’re not an athlete, the recommendations above still apply, except that your total sleep needs are seven to nine hours a night to keep you at your best.
Some additional tips for sleep:
- Regular exercise during the day can help you sleep better at night.
- If you have a question about whether to exercise more or sleep, choose sleep!
- During the night, if you wake up and after 20 minutes haven’t gone back to sleep, get out of bed, do something relaxing, and then get back in bed. You’ll probably fall right asleep.
Also, for a better understanding of your current sleep habits, afterdeployment.org has an online “sleep assessment” that you can take. For more information on how to optimize your sleep, visit the HPRC’s Sleep Optimization section.
Did you know that missing a night of sleep can produce performance results similar to those of being legally drunk? Even losing just a few hours of sleep can result in accidents and poor physical and mental performance. Sleepiness can inhibit balance, coordination, concentration, and response time—creating “the perfect storm” for accidents.
Make sure your sleep is optimal by turning off your electronics and other distractions well before bedtime, exercising during the day, avoiding caffeine late in the day, and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. If you are in a situation where sleep is hard to come by, try to squeeze in naps when possible. For more information and ideas, check out HPRC’s article on sleep and visit HPRC’s Sleep Optimization resources.
Do you know how much sleep you and your loved ones are getting—and supposed to be getting? Keep in mind the recommendations differ by age group. According to a report from Canadian Sport for Life on optimal sleep for athletic performance at all life stages:
- Children under the age of six need 13–16 hours of sleep daily, including longer nighttime sleep and fewer daytime naps as they get older.
- As girls reach the ages of 6–8 and boys reach 6–9, their sleep needs drop to 10–11 hours of sleep a night.
- Girls 8–11 and boys 9–12 need 9 ½ to 10 hours of sleep a night.
- Girls 11–15 and boys 12–16 need around nine hours of sleep a night.
- In addition to their nightly sleep, girls 6-15 and boys 6-16 need a 30-minute-plus nap between 2–4 pm every day.
For young children, meals—particularly breakfast—are an important part of establishing a reliable sleep routine, and as children age they should start developing a 15–30 minute routine before bedtime to get ready physically for sleep. This is also a great opportunity for some quality time between parents and children that you can all look forward to each night.
To make this goal easier, be sure your kids avoid computers and TVs (anything with electronic stimulation) for one to two hours before bedtime. Allow an hour to unwind before bed—try soothing music, reading, and dim lighting.
As children become teenagers, make sure they don’t start incurring a sleep debt by sleeping less than needed. Encourage them to keep regular sleep hours, get early morning light exposure, and carefully gauge their caffeine consumption close to bedtime.
The report mentioned above suggests using a sleep log (and provides a sample log) to get an idea of your and your child’s sleep patterns. Remember that the warrior athletes of tomorrow need to develop good sleep habits today!
The way you interpret what other people say and do affects your performance as a Warfighter. Sometimes you may interpret things in faulty or unproductive ways called “thinking traps.” They can significantly damage your ability to reach your full potential. However, there are methods you can learn and use to develop alternate thoughts that promote productive and positive thoughts—a process is called “cognitive reframing”—that will lead to optimum performance. Learn about how to do it in HPRC’s Performance Strategy on how to “Reframe your ‘thinking traps’ for peak performance.”
Most people associate dehydration with hot weather. Here’s news: You can experience dehydration in cold weather too. Being active outside in cold weather for less than two hours doesn’t usually present a problem. But for long-term exposure such as a field deployment, which can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks, the combination of heavy clothing and high-intensity exercise can lead to increased sweating and the possibility of dehydration. You may not feel as thirsty in cold weather as in other climates, because your body chemistry impairs your brain’s ability to tell you when to hydrate. Cold weather also has the effect of moving body fluids from your extremities to your core, causing increased urine output and adding to dehydration.
The bottom line: When in cold climates, don’t rely on thirst to be an indicator of hydration. Drink often, before you’re thirsty. Water and sports drinks are the best fluids to maintain hydration, even in cold weather conditions. When you’re in a situation where you need to monitor your hydration level keep in mind that carbonated and caffeinated beverages (including energy drinks) have a dehydrating effect since they increase urine flow. Also avoid alcohol consumption in cold weather. It gives a temporary feeling of warmth but interferes with the body’s ability to retain heat since shivering, the normal response to maintain body temperature, is delayed.
Sometimes it’s not easy to hydrate as much as you need, especially when on a mission. One way to measure your hydration status is to monitor the color and volume of your urine. (Snow makes a good test spot.) Dark, scanty urine is an indication of dehydration. Ideally, urine should be light yellow to clear. Enjoy getting some exercise in the cold weather, but be sure to keep your water bottle in tow.
“Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” - Lou Holtz, NFL and NCAA coach
Identifying the differences between these three things—ability, motivation, and attitude—is very important to performance optimization. Assessing your ability to perform a task is where optimization starts. Whether or not you feel like doing something when the situation calls for you to perform, motivation will power you to complete the task. Finally, having a positive attitude about your performance and how things turn out can make the difference between simply getting the job done and performing optimally.
In October 2012, students at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences participated in Operation Bushmaster at Fort Indiantown Gap, PA. The exercise involved a simulated combat environment to test the limits of their physical fitness as well as mental resilience. Military medical students were tasked with managing patient flow in an operational environment, such as tactical relocation over uneven terrain and dealing with changes in environmental conditions.
From a human performance optimization (HPO) standpoint, take-home points for the practical exercise included the importance of being physically fit, especially following guidelines for the prevention of back injuries, and implementing mental strategies for coping in high stress situations.
Understanding how stress affects you both mentally and physically in high-stress situations is important for optimal performance—which is why training under stress is a central part of combat preparation. Knowing what your reactions are, when to pause and take a deep breath, how to use positive self-talk, when to recalibrate one’s physical responses, and how to recharge (sleep and proper nutrition) after a stressful event are key for being at your peak mental performance. Getting support from comrades and using appropriate humor also can help relieve stress.