March’s National Sleep Awareness Month brings attention to the most overlooked part of many military personnel’s health. Service members are expected to get less sleep as part of the job description but outside of duty hours, many service members don’t get the necessary sleep when they can.
“Sleep is often thought of as a luxury that falls by the wayside when we are busy and stressed,” said Kira M. Koon, program evaluator, U.S. Army Public Health Command. “However, getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you can do to be Army Strong. Sleep is a necessity to sustain your performance — just like food, water and air.”
There are many negative effects to sleep deprivation and inadequate sleep that can affect your performance on and off duty. Sleep deprivation can degrade concentration, slow reaction times and increase stress and confusion.
Inadequate sleep is linked to an increased risk of diabetes and heart problems as well as depression and substance abuse. For optimal performance, the National Sleep Foundation recommends service members need seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep every 24 hours.
If uninterrupted sleep isn’t possible, shorter periods of sleep that total between seven and eight hours can maintain performance, Moon said.
Getting quality sleep depends on many factors. U.S. Army Public Health Command sleep experts recommend the following guidelines to get better, healthier sleep:
• Stick to a sleep schedule. As much as possible, go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
• Establish a relaxing routine before bed to give you time to unwind. A relaxing routine might include reading or listening to soothing music and lowering the lights.
• Have a dark, quiet, comfortable and cool sleeping environment. Don’t sleep in areas where there is regular activity. If needed, minimize exposure to noise and light by using ear plugs, blackout shades or a sleep mask.
• Avoid large meals and beverages right before bedtime. Avoid large meals and too many fluids two to three hours prior to bedtime because a large meal can cause indigestion that interferes with sleep and drinking too many fluids at night can wake you up during the night.
• Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Coffee, colas, certain teas and chocolate contain caffeine. Caffeine can affect you for eight hours. Additionally, nicotine can cause users to sleep only very lightly.
• Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. While many people think a drink or two will help them fall asleep, but alcohol actually prevents you from falling into a deep sleep.
• Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep. Some medications such as heart, blood pressure or asthma medications as well as over-the-counter and herbal remedies for coughs, colds or allergies can disrupt sleep patterns. If you are having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor to see if any medications you are taking might be affecting your sleep.
• Exercise is great, but not before bed. Avoid exercising within a few hours before going to bed. Exercise makes us more alert and raises body temperature, which makes it harder to fall asleep.
• Don’t lie in bed awake. If you find yourself still awake after lying in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing, like reading or listening to music until you feel tired.
Active-duty patients who would like to use Madigan Army Medical Center Sleep Services should ask their primary care managers for referrals. Due to the volume of patients at the clinic, nonactive-duty patients needing sleep specialty services are referred to the TRICARE network by their primary care managers.