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“Screen time” impacts dream time

Your “screen time” might be impacting your sleep. Learn how to reduce the harmful effects of blue light and technology.

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.

Social media smarts

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Have you ever thought about how social media use impacts your well-being and productivity? Learn how to avoid the possible detriments of social media.

The average person spends almost 2 hours each day on social media, probably without considering its impact on well-being and productivity. Maintaining connectedness to friends and family, plus almost instantaneous access to information, are some of the reasons people are drawn to social media. However, for some people, social media usage can lead to increases in depression and anxiety.

Exposure to cyber-bullying and incivility can skew your view of human nature. Feelings of isolation and loneliness can grow if you have a lot of “friends” on social media but don’t have good-quality interactions with some of them, or worse, if you neglect other relationships in your life. Social media impacts your attention and productivity by distracting you and taking your attention away from the task at hand.

How can you make the best of social media?

  • Set clear boundaries on how much and when you will use social media. Look for tools to block sites during times when you need to remain present and task-focused.
  • Beware of social comparison, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy or envy. Remember that people only post what they want others to see, and comparing yourself to others can become destructive.
  • Be selective of what you see in your feed to prioritize what contributes to your life, and filter out what takes away from it. Emotions—positive and negative—are contagious. Monitor how time spent on social media impacts how you feel, and make adjustments accordingly.
  • Disconnect often if you find that you’re spending too much time engaged with your devices. Practice being more present with your friends, spouse, and family. Work toward gaining more face-to-face time with those who mean most to you.

Finally, conduct on social media can have real consequences for Warfighters. You can find general guidelines and review component-specific policies on this DoD CIO web page.

How am I doing? Ask my computer…

Technology can help us be more aware of how we think and even how we feel. It is all still evolving, but these advances are promising for optimal Warfighter training and health.

Good decision-making is crucial to mission success for any Warfighter. Advancements in technology can help build awareness of how people think (that is, how they remember and evaluate information) and even how they feel (recognizing “gut feelings” and what drives them). “Affective computing” and “wearable sensing” are no longer science fiction. Special bracelets or other articles of clothing can sense one’s needs in terms of exercise, diet, and sleep and can even be programmed to communicate physical or emotional needs to others. Optimal training can occur when emotions facilitate learning rather than impede it. And it doesn’t stop with training; “e-health” applications for mental health, delivered via smart phones or other small mobile devices, are promising, especially as the technology continues to advance.

What’s the big IDEO?

The Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis (IDEO), a new orthotic technology designed for limb-salvage patients, helps Warfighters return to running, sports, and combat.

The U.S. Army has developed a device that will not only reduce the number of amputations but will help severely injured Warfighters return to duty. In the past, Warfighters with crushed and battered legs faced amputation or, at best, dysfunction due to pain and weakness. Now, with the introduction of the U.S. Army’s newest orthotic technology, amputations and decreased mobility may be a thing of the past for some.

The Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis (IDEO) is the latest orthotic technology designed for Warfighters whose legs were crushed in combat. It uses technology similar to that of prosthetics worn by amputees and is higher in user satisfaction and performance compared with other braces available. Unlike other braces, IDEO does not depend on ankle movement, so Warfighters with fused ankle bones, where function is limited, can use them with little pain. With each step, IDEO stores energy and transfers it to the back of the brace, which springs the leg forward (similar to running-blade prosthetics). This allows the wearer to continue rebuilding the muscles in his or her leg while also working on functional movement.

In a study conducted by the Center for the Intrepid, eight of ten patients fitted with IDEO were able to run at least two miles without stopping. All ten Warfighters returned to weightlifting, many returned to playing sports or participating in mini-triathlons, and three returned to combat—two with Special Forces and one Army Ranger. The published report emphasized that the success of these patients was due not only to the innovative IDEO but also to the intense rehabilitation program and—most important—the motivation and drive of the individuals.

In combination with rehabilitation programs, IDEO looks like the newest in a wave of innovations that will help Warfighters return to normal function. If you are interested in learning more about IDEO and other innovative rehabilitation programs, please visit the U.S. Army Institute for Surgical Research and the Brooke Army Medical Center’s Center for the Intrepid.

Center for Rehabilitation Sciences Research

The Center for Rehabilitation Sciences Research (CRSR) is working to improve the lives and rehabilitation experience for injured servicemen and women.

Are you or is a service member you know going through rehab for an injury? Well it should be a comfort to know that there are people out there working hard to make sure you/they receive the best and most advanced forms of therapy and technology during rehab. The Center for Rehabilitation Sciences Research (CRSR) is headquartered at the Uniformed Services University, in Bethesda, MD, and their goals are to find solutions for improving rehabilitative care for injured service members and promote successful return to duty and reintegration. Most of their research is focused in the areas of orthopedic trauma, limb loss, and neurological complications, but they’re not working alone. Their expert team of researchers is partnered with other military medical facilities across the country, and they are committed to educating and training future healthcare providers within the military healthcare system. Visit the CRSR website to learn more about their current research, publications, and events.

One small step for man, one giant leap for lower-limb amputees

Thought-controlled bionic technology previously only available for arms now exists for legs. The once-farfetched idea of a bionic man is becoming a reality.

In 2013, the Research Institute of Chicago (RIC) presented the first mind-controlled bionic leg, thanks to support from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command's (USAMRMC) Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC). Until now, this technology was only available for prosthetic arms. These brainy bionic legs are still being studied and perfected, but it’s hoped that they will be available in the next few years. This life-changing technology will be able to help the more than 1,600 service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with amputations. Bionic limbs will make the transition to active duty or civilian life smoother for wounded warriors.

In one case study, a civilian who lost his lower leg in a motorcycle accident underwent a procedure called “Targeted Muscle Re-innervation”. This procedure redirects nerves that originally went to muscles in the amputated limb to still-healthy muscles in the limb above the amputation. As these healthy muscles contract, they generate signals that are detected by sensors within the prosthetic and analyzed by a specially-designed computer chip and program The program rapidly decodes the type of movement the individual is preparing to do, such as bending the knee, and then sends those commands to the leg. This allows the person to walk up and down ramps and stairs and transition between activities without stopping. The user also can move (reposition) the bionic leg just by thinking about it, which is not possible with current motorized prosthetics.

The bionic leg is also showing a decreased rate of falling and quicker response time. Stay tuned for availability of this groundbreaking technology.

[Image Source: RIC/NWU]

Tracking down snipers with smartphones

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New smartphone technology may help Warfighters in combat track down snipers.

If you’re in the military, your smartphone may have just gotten smarter. Researchers have recently developed hardware and software that enables teams with Android smartphones to locate nearby snipers. Acoustic sensors have been developed and used by the military in the past, but this portable attachment hooks up to a smartphone and uses microphone sensors to triangulate a sniper’s location through muzzle blasts and shockwaves. Other sniper sensors have been developed, such as the helmet-mounted sensor back in 2007 that is the predecessor to this smartphone system. According to one source, the Army has plans to send soldiers to Afghanistan with smartphone technology that will allow them to communicate—even text—more effectively out in the field. As smartphones find their way into combat, this kind of technology shows great promise for the near future.

Weapons testing for dummies

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The military is looking for new ways to safely test non-lethal weapons and their potential for injury.

Test dummies are commonly used in the military for training and first aid exercises. Recently, the Pentagon has been working on finding a “human surrogate” for use in testing an array of non-lethal weapons. Modern technology equips these dummies with human-like internal and external organs as well as sensors capable of gathering information about how a person might react to such weapons. Current weapons that use stimuli such as heat, pain, and noise would be tested on these dummies rather than on live human subjects, with the goal of eliminating permanent damage while optimizing effectiveness. Other information collected would help scientists continue to build better models. Non-lethal weapons are often used for crowd-control purposes, so this technology would also benefit law enforcement, which commonly uses such systems.

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