Sleep keeps you, your unit Army strong

by Kira M. Koon
U.S. Army Public Health Command

Sleep is often thought of as a luxury that falls by the wayside when we are busy and stressed. 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.

The effects of sleep deprivation can sneak up on you and cause a serious decrease in your ability to stay sharp. Some common consequences of sleep deprivation include decreased performance and concentration, increased stress, slow reaction times, confusion, memory lapses, and poor judgment. Inadequate sleep is also linked with increased risk of motor vehicle accidents, increased risk of diabetes and heart problems, and increased risk for psychiatric conditions including depression and substance abuse.

In other words, without enough sleep, you put both yourself and your fellow Soldiers at risk.

For optimal performance, most Soldiers need seven to eight hours of sleep every 24 hours, and it is best if this sleep is not interrupted. However, as a Soldier, you might not be able to have seven hours of continuous sleeping time each day. In such cases, shorter sleep periods that add up to between seven and eight hours for each 24-hour period can also sustain alertness and performance.

Getting quality sleep depends on many factors, including your stress levels, the surrounding physical environment and what you eat, drink and do close to bedtime. Sleep experts recommend following these tips:

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. Give yourself 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. A light snack is OK, but avoid large meals and too many fluids two to three hours prior to bedtime. A large meal can cause indigestion that interferes with sleep. Drinking too many fluids can have you running for the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Coffee, colas, certain teas and chocolate contain caffeine, and its effects can last for eight hours. Nicotine is also a stimulant and can cause smokers to sleep only very lightly.

Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. While many people think a drink or two will help them fall asleep, 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, and 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 first before taking any medication.

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 lay 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 sleepy.

Talk to your doctor if you continue to have trouble sleeping. If you continue to find yourself feeling tired and not alert, talk to your doctor. An underlying health problem might be affecting your sleep.