Filed under: Sleep
Sleep lays the foundation for the health and well-being of service members and their families, but for many, it’s hard to get enough sleep to maintain optimal performance. Sleep loss impacts many domains of optimal functioning—whether you’re at home, at work, or on a mission. For example, trying to drive a vehicle on an empty tank of fuel isn’t a good idea, but many people routinely “operate” themselves on little or no sleep. In general, sleep deprivation can compromise your cognitive function, ability to manage emotions and handle stress, relationships with others, and physical and nutritional conditioning. Read more...
Time spent with smartphones, tablets, and computers can impact your ability to get healthy sleep. The primary culprit is exposure to blue light that’s emitted from all electronic devices. Using them at night can disrupt your natural circadian rhythm and suppress the secretion of melatonin, a powerful sleep hormone. When your eyes are exposed to artificial light, you might feel more awake when you should be getting ready to wind down. Try these tips to minimize the impact of blue light:
- Set a “2-hour” rule. Turn off handheld devices and televisions at least 2 hours before bedtime. And dim the lights at home. Try to avoid lying in bed and scrolling social media and email before bedtime too. If you happen to read something stress-inducing or upsetting, your day might end on a negative note. Try reading a book, journaling, or reflecting on something you feel grateful for instead.
- Block the blue. If you can’t avoid electronic devices before bed, some tools can help offset blue-light exposure. Many mobile devices come equipped with blue-light reducing functions already installed. You also can purchase blue-light blocking glasses with amber lenses. Or download software that adjusts the light on your screen, depending on the time of day and your location.
- Use light wisely. Not all light exposure is bad. Head outside into real sunlight, especially when it’s early, so you can sleep better at night. Leverage blue-light exposure appropriately during the day, if possible. It can boost your energy and readiness, increase alertness, and enhance cognitive function and mood.
Screens and devices are unavoidable. Still, they’re often an important part of daily life. Understanding their effects on sleep can help you choose how and when to make best use of technology. To learn more about blue-light exposure, visit the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) web page.
Unless something is “off” with your health, it’s hard to get too much sleep. But “banking” extra sleep can improve your performance.
Be sure to get some extra sleep in advance, especially if you’re heading out on a mission—where performance really matters—or about to endure a stretch of sleep deprivation. It’s unclear how much extra sleep you need to perform your best. But some evidence suggests those who sleep approximately 9–10 hours nightly for one week—before any situation involving performance or sleep deprivation—perform well. And those who bank extra sleep before a sleep-deprivation event tend to bounce back quicker during recovery time.
What about extreme sleepiness? If you’re unable to wake up or stay awake after you’ve had plenty of sleep, you might be experiencing hypersomnia. Make sure to consult your healthcare provider.
When you wake up at the end of a sleep cycle, you initially feel rested and fresh. If you wake up before a sleep cycle finishes, you’ll probably feel groggy. However, you still get the benefits of that sleep. Here’s how it works: There are 5 stages of brain activity in one sleep cycle. And each cycle lasts about 90–120 minutes. You fall asleep during the earlier stages.
Next, you experience deep, restful sleep. Your heart rate and breathing slow down during these stages, while your body remains still. Your brain is most active during the final sleep stage. As you dream, your eyes move under your eyelids in rapid eye movement (REM). If you wake up during these later stages, you’ll likely feel groggy. You’ll feel more rested waking up at the end of a sleep cycle (ideally in the morning, after several sleep cycles). Or you can feel refreshed waking up after a 20–30 minute nap (before you enter deep sleep).
Sleeping 8–9 hours every day is important—however it happens. And you can shake off any grogginess or “sleep inertia” if you take 15–30 minutes to fully awaken. Standing upright and spending time in light—ideally daylight—can help! As long as you have enough time to fully overcome sleep inertia, you might find that the benefits of a little extra sleep are worth it.
Don’t worry about getting enough deep sleep or REM sleep. Trust your body! It has an amazing ability to recuperate when you catch up on sleep. And it will quickly fall into whatever stage of sleep you need most.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) is making sure everyone knows about the importance of sleep. A balanced lifestyle includes proper nutrition, physical fitness, and healthy sleep. A good night’s rest can especially improve your performance on-duty and off-duty.
HPRC offers many resources to help you learn about sleep, assess your own rest patterns, and improve your sleep habits. Also be sure to check out NSF's site, where you can download helpful sleep tips, an infographic with ideas on how to “celebrate” Sleep Awareness Week, and additional healthy-sleep tools.
It’s a fact: Teens need more sleep than adults. While most adults require a minimum of 7–8 hours of shut-eye, teens need 9 or more hours. (Newborns sleep 16–18 hours, preschoolers 11–12 hours, and school-age kids 10+ hours.)
However, most teens tend to sleep only 7.4 hours on school nights. Middle- and high-school students also have different sleep cycles from adults, making it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. most nights. Homework, exams, sports, and other extracurriculars—even changes such as daylight savings time—can also throw your teen’s snooze schedule off-kilter. Does your teen crave screen time late at night? Blue light from computers, tablets, and cell phones can throw off their sleep cycles too. Plus, tuning into a recent text or social media post can get the brain going, which can also make it hard to fall asleep.
Teens’ body clocks can cause them to go to bed late and sleep late in the morning. Added to this, early school start times make it difficult for teens to get enough sleep. If possible, ask your local school officials about later start times, or consider finding schools with later start times. Students who attend schools that start later have:
- More weeknight sleep
- Less daytime sleepiness
- Fewer concentration problems
- Better attendance
- Improved academic performance
- Fewer car accidents
Using a sleep diary to track your routines can steer you to healthy slumber. You probably know that your sleep is affected by factors such as caffeine, dietary supplements, medications, alcohol, exercise, and naps. The timing of these things and your sleep schedule have a big effect too.
But if you’re like many others, you might want to learn more about the patterns that help or hurt your sleep. Use HPRC’s Sleep Diary to figure out how to get some more quality Z’s—and wake up rested and raring to go!
Sleep is vital. Think about it: sleep loss causes performance to suffer, but getting plenty of sleep results in better performance. Most people wouldn’t consider going without food or water, and sleep is no different—it’s a necessity. Lack of sleep is equivalent to being drunk. In fact, after being awake for 18–20 hours, you’d function as if you had a blood-alcohol content of .1% (about four drinks for a 150-pound man). Little or no sleep affects your eye-hand coordination, reaction time, and multitasking abilities—and how you remember important sequences, remain attentive, and stay organized. If you’re tired, you may be able to learn skills and work well enough, but training while fatigued might impact your ability to do your best.
Many people believe that they can overcome being tired or “get used to it.” But evidence suggests sleeping only 6 hours can jeopardize your resilience, health, and well-being. As people become more sleep-deprived, they become less aware that they’re impaired. When someone says, “I’m used to being tired,” they’re simply used to having impaired awareness and judgment. When possible, sleep more to help boost your energy level, thinking ability, and readiness!
You’ve just finished a marathon; you’ve put your body through hell, but it’s not over yet. Recovering can be just important as the time you put in training for race day. Taking the right recovery measures can help you avoid lingering soreness and injury and help you get back on the road sooner.
- Food. After an intense workout such as a marathon, it’s important to refuel with carbs and protein. Think whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, dairy products, and legumes. You’ve probably been thinking about your post-race meal for some time. But before you binge, plan ahead.
- Hydrate. Drink lots of fluids and eat juicy fruits and vegetables to replace the fluids lost during the race. See HPRC's Hydration Infosheet for hydration guidelines during and after exercise.
- Massage/Foam roll. Massage by a professional or self-massage (such as foam rolling), increases blood flow and help heal damaged muscles. Foam rolling also helps stretch out tight muscles and decrease soreness.
- Exercise. Light exercise (not running) within a day or two after a race can help you recover by increasing blood flow, which brings nutrients into and flushes toxins out of your muscles. Keep it light; go for an easy bike ride, hit the pool, or even go for a light walk.
- Sleep. Sleep is critical to recovery, not only after a race but for general health and optimal functioning. Sleep is the time when your body restores and repairs, which is especially important after the stress you’ve put it through. Take that extra nap; you deserve it!
- Ice bath. While this method of recovery hasn’t actually been proven to be effective, sitting in a tub of ice water after a race or hard workout is still a popular method. People report that this makes them feel better, and mental recovery is very important.
Many factors affect your sleep, including stress and exercise, but your diet can also have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep, particularly in the hours before you go to bed. By improving your evening food habits you can sleep better, which can have a positive impact on your mental and physical performance, immune function, relationships, and overall health and well-being. Try these tips to be on your way to a better night’s sleep:
- Limit caffeine. Caffeine can disturb your sleep even many hours later. If you typically drink coffee or tea in the afternoon or after dinner, opt for a decaffeinated version. And be wary of hidden sources of caffeine.
- Avoid alcohol. Some people think of alcoholic beverages as a nightcap to help you sleep better. While it may help you go to sleep faster, it also reduces sleep quality by waking you up in the middle of the night.
- Eat balanced meals. Eating balanced meals daily will help you get all the nutrients you need, such as B vitamins and magnesium, to promote better sleep. A balanced plate is ½ a plate of fruits and vegetables, ¼ plate of whole grains or starchy vegetables (corn, peas, potatoes), and ¼ protein, plus a serving of healthy fat (oil, avocado). In addition, your body takes long to digest fats, so eating too much fat may keep you from falling asleep.
For more strategies on how to improve your sleep, check out HPRC’s Sleep Optimization section.