Wellness Wednesday: Sleep and improving readiness

Coast Guard All Hands is featuring the monthly “Wellness Wednesday” series to help Coast Guard members learn more about healthy living. Blog author Tim Merrell is the Coast Guard’s Health Promotion Program Manager, a prior health services technician, has a bachelor’s degree in health education, and is a certified personal trainer. Please contact Timothy.M.Merrell@uscg.mil for topic recommendations or questions.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Kyle Hagan, 1st Combat Camera Squadron combat broadcaster, sleeps in during his down day at Exercise Scorpion Lens on United States Army Training Center Fort Jackson, S.C., Feb. 11, 2018. Exercise Scorpion Lens is an annual Ability to Survive and Operate training exercise mandated by Air Force Combat Camera job qualification standards. Held at the United States Army Training Center Fort Jackson, S.C., and the McCrady Training Center, Eastover, S.C. the exercise's purpose is to provide refresher training to combat camera personnel. Individuals are instructed in the areas of combat tactics, photography, videography, and on procedures inherent to support combat camera mission tasks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Castelan)

Sleep is sometimes an overlooked factor when members consider improving their health.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, which means they are getting less than seven hours of sleep a night. Lack of sleep can result in numerous undesirable outcomes  and a significant impact on your performance.

Not getting enough sleep can result in slowed reaction times, memory issues, trouble concentrating, mood changes, weakened immunity, high blood pressure, weight gain, increased risk of heart attack and low sex drive. Lack of sleep can also impact your relationships, making it difficult to practice good communication with your loved ones. Sleep deprivation can also affect you psychologically in the forms of hallucinations, impulsive behavior, depression, paranoia and suicidal thoughts.  Some studies have claimed that driving with less than optimal sleep is the equivalent of driving intoxicated.

Your body uses sleep to restore vital functions for both mental and physical readiness.  The obvious signs that you are not getting enough sleep are yawning, irritability, and daytime fatigue. The quick fix to this may be to grab an extra cup of coffee or some other caffeinated drink. This may help in the short term, but relying on caffeine instead of getting enough sleep can lead to health problems. If you are having trouble getting in your sleep time there are a few things you can do, according to the Human Performance Resource Center.

  • Create a quiet, dark, comfortable sleeping environment.  To optimize your sleep cave, cover you windows with darkening drapes or wear a sleep mask.  Foam earplugs may help to reduce noise. Adjust the temperature to a cool setting may also help.
  • Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex. Avoid eating, drinking, or watching television in bed. Having deep discussions or arguments can also disturb your sleep. Not going to bed angry is a good rule to follow.
  • Stop caffeine at least six hours before bedtime. Caffeine promotes wakefulness and disrupts sleep.
  • Avoid artificial light. Artificial light, especially the light from electronics like iPads, computer monitors and smartphones, are sleep disruptors. This light is absorbed through the eyes, which sends a signal to the pineal gland that it’s daytime and time to halt production of melatonin, the body’s natural sleep cycle regulator.
  • Don’t drink alcohol before bed.  Initially you may feel sleepy after a drink, but it has been found that that alcohol disrupts and lightens you sleep several hours later.
  • Don’t go to bed hungry.  If your stomach is growling, try a small glass of milk before you go to bed.
  • Get your exercise in by early evening.  Try to finish exercising at least three hours before bed.  Exercise is great, but engaging in physical activity right before you, sleep may not give your body enough time to wind down.
  • Maintain a consistent, regular routine that starts with a fixed wake-up time.  Your body will acclimate to a schedule over time, and you will feel much better with a constant routine.
  • Get out of bed if you cannot sleep.  Lying in bed awake can just make you frustrated.  If this happens, it is recommended you get up and try to do something relaxing.
  • Nap wisely but sparingly.  Avoid naps after 3 p.m., and for no more than 30 minutes. Anything longer may disrupt your nighttime sleep.

Sleep, or lack of it, can influence our health in many ways.  The obvious results of sleep deprivation are signs of being cranky and having slower reaction time. The long-term effects may be exacerbating such conditions as weight gain, hypertension, and heart disease. Sleep is important to maintain our readiness and overall health.  If you are not getting seven hours of sleep a night, try some of the tips above.

For more information on sleep and helpful tips to a better sleep, visit the Human Performance Resource Center’s Sleep Optimization website and the Sleep Foundation website.  If you have any other questions or concerns do not hesitate to seek help.

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