ARLINGTON, Va. (April 7, 2015) – Sleep is as important as food and water, yet many military Service members wrestle with insomnia or wake up too early. The result can be serious health problems or reduced readiness.
The good news is, even with the demands of military service, many sleep problems may be avoided or resolved, said U.S. Public Health Service Commander Tony Satterfield, a psychologist with the Defense Health Agency, or DHA.
There are several measures Service members can follow to prevent the piling up of sleep deficit hours, said Satterfield, DHA’s deployment psychological health program manager. It may take some convincing for the troops, though.
“Some Service members may feel they don’t need much sleep to function effectively. They often view sleep as an unproductive use of time – it’s undervalued,” he said.
The amount of sleep required varies with individuals. Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep, some do fine with six hours per night – but the number should not dip below six hours, Satterfield said.
First, relax …
Service members can get “wound up” from periods of stress and boredom throughout the day. Satterfield’s first piece of advice to warfighters is to unwind by practicing relaxation techniques, such as controlled breathing.
“It can be difficult to shut down the brain especially if you have the habit of worrying, but shifting your focus to thoughts that are relaxing or neutral can help. Listen to calming music or sounds,” he said.
Other simple tips from Satterfield:
• Military life can be unpredictable, but when possible, keep a similar bedtime and wake up time each day of the week to help maintain a consistent pattern of sleep.
• While some people may find a brief rest or “power nap” helpful, napping can also disrupt normal sleep patterns and actually make it more difficult to fall asleep at night. If you do take a nap, keep it brief (less than an hour) and well before your regular bedtime.
• Avoid stimulants (such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol), large meals and exercise within a few hours of bedtime.
• Find a quiet, comfortable place to sleep – free of distractions, such as televisions and video games.
• Use ear plugs and a sleep mask to block out distractions. These aids may take a period of time to get used to, but give them a try.
• Eat healthy foods and exercise, which can help regulate your sleep. Check Operation Live Well at www.health.mil/Military-Health-Topics/Operation-Live-Well for tips on maintaining your overall health. See afterdeployment.org for video tips on getting a better night’s sleep.
If these suggestions do not solve a sleep problem, Service members should consult their primary care doctor. A more serious sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or a contributing health condition, may be present. In any case, a good night’s sleep is critical to a Service member’s health and to mission success.