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Filed under: Sleep

Start your children’s good sleep habits early

Sleep is an essential part of post-exercise recovery, and good sleep habits begin in childhood. A recent Canadian report on bringing up children as athletes provides valuable input for children at various ages.

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!

Recovery after exercise—it does a body good

Your workout doesn’t end with the last rep or quarter-mile sprint. Proper recovery after exercise is just as important as the exercise itself to stay fit, healthy, and injury-free.

In the military, physical activity is probably part of your daily routine, but do you also have a post-workout strategy? Good recovery is just as important as the workout itself. “Recovery” can mean what you do—or don’t do—right after exercise. It also can mean taking a day off from working out altogether. Either way, it’s a critical component of your overall fitness program that can help prevent injuries.

First, it’s important to rehydrate and refuel after exercise to replace the fluids and nutrients lost during exercise, heal damaged muscles, and build more muscle. A combination of protein and carbs are the key for recovery. Some suggestions for post-exercise snacks are:

  • Low-fat yogurt with fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Turkey wrap
  • PB&J sandwich
  • Chocolate milk (For more information about chocolate milk as a recovery snack, see HPRC’s Healthy Tip.)

Sometimes, after a particularly hard workout, you need a day of rest with no exercise. Listen to your body. If you have some lingering aches and pains that could worsen with exercise, take a day off. Sleep and rest are also important for proper recovery, staying fit and healthy, and achieving overall readiness and resilience. Make sure you get all the important components of your exercise routine in order to achieve peak fitness and keep injuries at bay.

Caffeine and performance—limit your intake for best performance.

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Caffeine shouldn't be a replacement for sleep, and too much degrades your physical performance.

Caffeine in moderate doses can boost both physical and cognitive performance. It can help maintain alertness when you are doing long boring activities such as highway driving. It is especially effective for enhancing alertness and mental performance when individuals are sleep deprived. However, if you can, it is better to get the sleep your body needs. The suggested level of intake for enhancing cognitive performance is relatively low—one or two cups of coffee or one or two energy drinks (about 80-200 mg of caffeine). Larger doses can cause side effects (e.g. nervousness, irritability, shakiness, and trouble sleeping). It is very important not to consume large amounts of caffeine before trying to sleep. Blood levels of caffeine peak at about 60 minutes and are maintained for approximately two to three hours. Thus, although each person is different, another dose after four hours may confer additional benefits for activities of long duration or when alertness must be maintained.

The bottom line is, more caffeine will not improve performance—and may actually degrade it due to various negative side effects at higher doses.

Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) has now been launched to answer many of your questions about Dietary Supplements. Visit the OPSS section of HPRC’s website now to learn more!

Late night studying is not worth passing up quality sleep time

Help your children optimize their learning by making sure they get enough sleep instead of cramming.

For many students, sleep is often sacrificed for studying. If it comes down to one or the other, sleep may be the better choice. According to a 2012 study, when students sacrificed sleep for studying, it was harder for them to pay attention in class and perform well on tests or assignments the following day. Warfighters are students too, as they often have to learn on the job. So help yourself and your children to optimize learning by optimizing sleep! Check out HPRC’s “Sleep Optimization” section and articles in response to “Questions from the Field” about sleep for ideas about how to do so.

Times and rhythms of sleep

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Your environment affects your sleep pattern—when you change time zones, make sure you adjust to get your best sleep at key times.

Our bodies know when to sleep thanks to “circadian rhythms,” which are regulated by our brains on a 24-hour cycle. Circadian rhythms are linked to core body temperature, so ideally you should always sleep between 0300 and 0500, when your core body temperature is lowest and your performance abilities are at their lowest. Keep in mind that your individual circadian schedule is based on where you are and takes cue from environmental factors such as the sun and from social patterns. When crossing time zones, your internal clock needs time to adjust, which can take several days. Factors that influence this adaptation are:

  • how many time zones are crossed, and
  • whether you fly eastward or westward—the former takes longer to adjust.

Keep in mind that, in order to make up sleep or to adjust to a new zone, the best times to sleep are between 0300-0500 or 1300-1500.

For tips on how to improve your quality or length of sleep check out HPRC’s Sleep Optimization section, and for information on how sleep loss impacts all of the areas of Total Fitness check out HPRC’s Overview on sleep loss.

Sleep loss can affect how you manage stress

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Not getting enough sleep impacts key factors in your ability to manage stress.

Think about this: Not getting enough sleep has a serious impact on how and what you think—your memory and concentration suffer, as do your awareness of your surroundings and your reaction time. Sleep loss affects your ability to make good decisions and puts you on edge, making you susceptible to your emotions. There’s more: Sleep loss also affects your ability to think positively and solve problems effectively. All of these are key factors in managing stress. Making good decisions now reduces your stress over the long term, and this can be compromised when you’re not at your peak. Bottom line: Focus on getting enough sleep to help you manage your stress.

For more on how to get better sleep, check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics information on sleep management. For how sleep loss affects all the areas of fitness, check out the HPRC’s Total Force Fitness article on The impact of sleep loss on total fitness.

Impact of sleep loss on relationships

Sleep loss impacts many areas of Total Force Fitness—relationships being one of them.

Although there are individual differences in sleep needs, most people need seven to eight hours of sleep at night to function optimally, and anyone who sleeps only four to five hours each night will experience some loss of performance. Sleep loss hinders your ability to accurately interpret the emotions of others and identify what they’re feeling. Specifically, sleep loss impacts your ability to interpret the emotions anger and happiness expressed in the faces of others, making it difficult to interact effectively and communicate clearly with the people around you, reducing one’s ability to maintain good relationships.

For tips on how to improve your sleep quality or length, check out HPRC’s Sleep Optimization section, and for tips on strengthening your relationships, check out HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.

Exercise and sleep

Regular exercise improves sleep quality but doesn’t make up for shortage of sleep.

It’s been commonly thought that exercise can ward off the effects of sleep loss, but it turns out that exercise only mitigates sleepiness and fatigue for an hour and doesn’t seem to have any effect on boosting performance throughout the day. Although regular exercise—both strength training and high-intensity endurance—does help you sleep better, it can’t replace lack of sleep—only actual sleep will do that. The loss of sleep affects physical performance primarily by reducing your motivation to exercise—so, when thinking about your workout plan for the week, include a plan to get enough sleep.

For information on how to improve the quality and length of your sleep, check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics Sleep Optimization section. For information on how sleep loss impacts other areas of fitness, check out the HPRC’s Total Force Fitness article The impact of sleep loss on total fitness, and for information on physical fitness check out HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain.

Sleep for total fitness

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
One of the major factors Warfighters have to face in attempting to achieve total fitness is getting enough sleep to prevent dangerous fatigue, which can impact many aspects of fitness.

One thing all Warfighters need—and often don’t get enough of—is sleep. This essential restorative affects, and is affected by, virtually every aspect of total fitness. HPRC has already taken a look at the basics of sleep in “How Much Sleep Does a Warfighter Need?” Now we take a look at how it relates to mind tactics, stress management, relationships, exercise, nutrition, dietary supplements, and environment in a new review: “The impact of sleep on total fitness.” Insufficient sleep will make it difficult to concentrate, make decisions, solve problems, and cope with stress. It affects your relationships with others as well as your physical endurance. Exercise, nutrition, and environment—especially time zone changes—affect how well you sleep. Some dietary supplements may enable you to function with little sleep for a while, but in the long run they can’t substitute for a regular night’s sleep. Sleep significantly impacts ALL areas of Total Fitness and can greatly enhance or undermine your ability to be fit and resilient.

Physical activity can boost quality sleep

A new study suggests that exercising at least 150 minutes a week can help people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day.

Besides keeping you healthy and fit, exercise has another important benefit. According to a news release from Oregon State University, a study conducted on more than 2,600 men and women between ages 18 to 85 found that individuals who exercise for 150 minutes a week at a moderate to vigorous level experience a 65% improvement in sleep quality. In addition, active people experienced less daytime sleepiness than those who are inactive. These findings appeared to be across the board—subjects experienced better sleep regardless of age, weight, and other health habits. For many, regular physical activity can be an effective, non-pharmaceutical alternative to improving sleep and concentration levels during waking hours.

The study, which was published in the December 2011 issue of Mental Health and Physical Activity, adds more evidence to the amazing body of research that demonstrates the importance of exercise for overall health.

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