Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.
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.
Hemp is turning up in a variety of foods, beverages, and dietary supplements, and most service members need to keep an eye out for this ingredient on product labels. While hemp provides important nutrients such as protein, it also contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient in marijuana. The levels of THC in hemp used for food and supplements are much lower than those in marijuana, so products containing hemp shouldn’t get you “high.” But don’t run to the store just yet! Although DoD does not have a specific policy regarding hemp, each service does. Check the OPSS FAQ about hemp for your service’s policy on hemp.
The Food and Drug Administration just unveiled an updated Nutrition Facts panel, which is easier to read and reflects the 2015–2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Recently revised after 20 years, this new format must appear on all packaged foods by July 2018 (with some exceptions). These are the facts to know:
- Highlighted calories, servings per container, and serving sizes. This information is larger and bold, making it easier to find at a glance.
- Vitamin D and potassium. These are now listed, since many Americans don’t get enough of these important minerals. Vitamin D maintains bone health, and potassium can help reduce blood pressure. Vitamins A and C are no longer included since deficiencies of these are rare.
- Added sugars. “Total Sugars” includes what’s added and what’s naturally occurring (but with “Added Sugars” also noted separately). This new information is especially important for those who are managing their nutritional needs and limiting their calories to less than 10% from added sugars.
- Updated “Serving size.” These now match what people typically eat or drink. For example, a single serving of soda might be 12 or 20 oz., depending on the packaging.
- Clearer footnote. The footnote better explains what “% Daily Value” means.
- Multiple serving sizes. Some packages, such as a pint of ice cream, include two columns: “per serving” and “per package.” This makes it easier to choose whether to eat or drink one serving—or the entire package—at one time.
Watch for the new Nutrition Facts panel to appear on your favorite packages soon. In the meantime, you can view it below.
Close relationships provide social support that can help relieve stress. One type we don’t know much about is “bromances”—close friendships between two men—but how these help or hurt stress levels isn’t clear.
It’s hard to do scientific research on this topic with humans because it would involve intentionally stressing people out to see how they respond. Who would volunteer for that?! So instead, scientists who study human social behavior use rats, which have social behavior very similar to that of humans. To learn more about the impact of bromances on stress, they observed male rat “friendships” under stressful situations. Here’s what they found.
Under mildly stressful situations, male rats became more social and cooperative with other male rats, compared to when they weren’t stressed. The rats’ oxytocin levels increased. They touched and snuggled other male rats more. Under severely stressful situations though, the male rats’ behavior changed. They were no longer cooperative and became withdrawn, isolated, and aggressive.
Of course, people aren’t rats, and one research study is never a good foundation for reliable conclusions, often raising more questions than it answers. However, it can give us “food for thought.” One idea from this study is that bromances seem beneficial, depending on stress level. Your friendships with other guys might help keep mild stress at bay. So spending time with your fellow men just might help you feel calmer.
Yet in severely stressful situations, bromances didn’t serve the same purpose. The rats became disconnected and hostile. Could the same be true for male humans? We can’t say for sure, but men exposed to severely stressful situations that result in PTSD sometimes have similar reactions.
Looking for ways to beef up your own stress-management skills? Check out HPRC’s Stress Management Strategies section. Concerned about your friend’s or spouse’s reaction to stress? Our Post-Deployment section has some resources to help.
There are “steps” you can take to protect your feet from blisters. Common among athletes and service members, they might seem like a minor nuisance. However, if left untreated, they can lead to serious infections, sepsis (blood infection), and knee, ankle, or hip injuries.
Blisters result from a combination of friction and moisture. They’ve been blamed on shoe fit or lacing style, but scientific research has shown this isn’t necessarily the case. Common remedies—such as applying antiperspirant or drying powders to the bottom of the foot—aren’t very effective. And in some instances, they can cause irritation, increasing your chances of developing more blisters.
So if friction and moisture are causing problems, then wearing proper socks can bring relief. Look for ones made from acrylic fibers or materials other than cotton, which tends to stay wet. Synthetic materials (nylon, neoprene, and polyester) reduce the amount of shoe-to-sock and sock-to-foot friction by wicking moisture away from your skin. Padded socks also help because they allow for movement within the yarn, reducing frictional forces.
Some evidence suggests wearing a synthetic nylon or polyester liner with an outer-padded wool sock can help prevent blisters. Tip: Try finding your ideal sock before buying boots or shoes because the added bulk might affect the shoe size you need.
You also can reduce your risk of blisters by planning ahead, especially on extremely hot or rainy days. Avoid puddles. Remember to bring an extra pair of socks too. And avoid pouring water on your head since it can drip down into your shoes. Keep your feet happy and blister-free.
Men with cancer, especially those in the military, might hesitate to tap into helpful resources such as support groups that offer information and encouragement. Battles with cancer often trigger feelings of fear and vulnerability, and men are socialized from childhood to believe that it’s “weak” to show sensitivity. Just because men don’t express their emotions often doesn’t mean they don’t feel them. And it doesn’t mean they should have to face cancer and related challenges alone.
There’s a difference between “dwelling” on your feelings and expressing them. Speaking up often helps men process their emotions and feel less troubled. Sharing doesn’t always feel like the thing to do; the support environment makes a big difference. So what’s an optimal support group? Some men with cancer prefer these 3 qualities:
- being able to connect with others,
- participating in mixed-gender groups, and
- meeting those with mixed diagnoses.
There are other factors to consider too. Some support groups are led by professionals, while others are led by cancer survivors. Some are disease-specific (for example, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers). Some groups are age- or gender-specific (for example, young adults, men, women, etc.), while others are time-limited, such as a 6-week series for those newly diagnosed.
But there are trade-offs, since these groups support different coping needs. While a mixed-gender group with various diagnoses can help you express yourself more easily, you might also benefit from one that shares specific information and uses a problem-solving approach.
Before you reach for dietary supplements marketed as “testosterone boosters,” consider this: They probably won’t produce the results you’re looking for, and while some of the ingredients in these products might not be cause for concern, others might put your health and career at risk. To learn more about the safety and effectiveness these types of supplements, visit the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about testosterone boosters. However, if you’re concerned about your testosterone levels or if you’re experiencing related symptoms such as low sex drive, insomnia, or depression, talk to your healthcare provider.
Your team wins when you have a good attitude, manage your emotions, and care about your teammates. But your team can break down, especially when members let their talents or controlling ways interfere with reaching team goals.
What individual traits make a team stronger? Managing your emotions can make you a better teammate, unite your group, and help your team thrive. People who deal with their emotions well are often good “team players” because they tend to listen openly to other points of view. And they’re less likely to feel threatened when wrong.
With emotions in check, you’re more likely to be cooperative and open to resolving conflict, instead of avoiding it. Just one team member with a negative outlook can affect the whole team, while those with a “can do” attitude can improve atmosphere and team performance.
What individual traits break down a team? Teammates rely on each other for the team’s overall success, but those with too much talent can break down a team. Teams don’t function well when talent—from one or a select few—dominates the group.
That’s why cohesiveness is essential to solid teamwork. If individuals try to dominate, unity breaks down and can cause arguments over authority. Teams become weaker when members are more concerned with advancing themselves and undermining their teammates, interfering with reaching the common goal.
How do your traits impact your unit? How do they affect your family? Check out HPRC’s Mental Resilience and Family Resilience sections and learn how to become a more effective team member—at work and home.
In 2015, HPRC posted an introductory article on trigger points. Commonly called muscle knots, these tight and sometimes painful spots often can be treated on your own. But when that fails, they might need further attention from a healthcare professional. Such treatment might include trigger point injections directly into the affected muscle. Another treatment is dry needling (similar to acupuncture), in which a healthcare specialist uses shallowly inserted thin needles without injection. The effectiveness of trigger point injections and dry needling for pain management varies.
To read a basic description and introduction, visit “What exactly is a ‘trigger point’?” At-home treatments for trigger points include massage, manually or with a massage ball, and foam-rolling exercises. To learn more about treatments your healthcare provider can offer, read on.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., but with proper precautions you can decrease your risk considerably. The sun releases invisible ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can cause cataracts (clouding of the eye lens) and skin cancers. An estimated 63,000 new cases and 9,000 reported deaths from melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—occur each year.
UV rays also cause tanning and sunburns—and can damage your skin after only 15 minutes of exposure. They weaken the skin’s elasticity, causing wrinkling, rash, and freckles too.
Remember that you can get sun damage on sunny and cloudy days. UV rays penetrate clouds, exposing you to 80% of the sun’s harmful effects. The good news is that you can take steps to protect yourself from UV rays, while enjoying the outdoors.
- Limit your time in the sun. Seek shade and try to avoid sun exposure during midday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) when the rays are strongest. And avoid suntanning and burning.
- Cover up. Wear protective clothing, including hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants when going outdoors. Remember that protection decreases when clothes are wet.
- Apply sunscreen. Use water-resistant sunscreen with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 15 or higher. Apply and let it absorb 15–30 minutes before heading outdoors. Use lip balm with SPF 30 or higher to protect your lips too. Reapply every 2 hours or after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.
- Protect your eyes. Wear sunglasses to cover the skin around your eyes and help prevent eye damage. When choosing sunglasses, check the label to make sure they block 100% of UV rays.