FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (April 7, 2015) – Today, 43,000 Soldiers are not ready to deploy because they are either not physically or mentally fit. That is 13.5 brigades worth of unready Soldiers, Col. Deydre Teyhen said.
Teyhen serves as lead for the Performance Triad program, part of the Army Office of the Surgeon General. She spoke to an audience of 300 ROTC and U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, cadets, March 31, during the George C. Marshall Awards and Leadership Conference here.
There are many reasons a Soldier might be non-deployable. But one way Soldiers can stack the deck in their favor – to stay world-wide deployable so they can be an active, supporting member of their unit – is to maintain their resilience through the three prongs of the Performance Triad: getting the proper amount or quality of sleep, activity and nutrition.
“We found during our first Performance Triad pilot” with a battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, 18 months ago, “that only five percent of Soldiers met the [optimum] sleep goals, 40 percent met the activity goals and five percent met nutrition goals. Only one Soldier met all three,” she said.
A Soldier cannot just be physically fit to be ready, she said. It is a balance of all three, including sleep and nutrition.
“You are America’s sons and daughters. But six months from now, you will be responsible for America’s sons and daughters,” she said, stressing the importance of the triad to mental and physical fitness and injury reduction.
Teyhen said people spend about a third of their lives sleeping. It is not time wasted though. Sleep improves memory and decision-making functions that cannot be done during the day when the brain is engaged in conscious decision making.
Most of those improvements come during the fourth, or last, cycle of sleep, she said. If you are not getting at least seven hours of sleep, eight optimal, you are probably not reaching the fourth cycle and that impacts performance.
“If you get less than five hours sleep for five days in a row, you’ll have a 20 percent deficit in your cognitive functioning, which is equivalent to a .08 blood alcohol level,” she said. “You wouldn’t allow your Soldiers to drive under the influence but you might allow them to drive fatigued.” That is why safety briefings before a long weekend are so important.
Last year, there were 122 Soldier fatalities in motor vehicle accidents, she said, while the number killed in Afghanistan was 69. In about 25 percent of those accidents, fatigue was a factor.
By and large, the vast majority of Americans are getting their seven or eight hours of sleep, she said. But in the Army, only 41 percent are.
For Soldiers with post-traumatic stress, anxiety or traumatic brain injury, sleep deprivation worsens the symptoms and makes medication less effective, she said.
Lack of sleep is sometimes unavoidable, she said, such as during military exercises and operations. But new research shows that it is actually possible to “bank” sleep, meaning sleeping extra hours up to two weeks before a period of sleep deprivation. Leaders can build that into their planning, she said.
At Fort Carson, Colorado, leaders switched their physical training regimen from early morning to later in the afternoon, she said, so they could get an extra hour of sleep. They found a huge improvement in productivity.
Another finding is that caffeine can improve performance, but only if taken more than six hours before bedtime. If taken right before bedtime, she said, it disrupts the sleep cycle.
Lastly, during a particular strenuous deployment with little or no sleep, leaders should be looking for gaps in training or operations to allow for sleep. A 20-minute daytime nap has been shown to improve performance.
Activity not only improves mood and bodily functions, it increases problem-solving ability, Teyhen said. She suggested cadets might study for their final exams by reading class notes or listening to audio of the subject matter while walking. Or, walking with a classmate and discussing the material.
Following strenuous exercise, 75 percent of Soldiers do not know how to refuel. “Do any of you?” she asked.
A couple hands went up and one cadet said to drink chocolate milk.
“Correct,” she said. It is relatively cheap and available. No need for protein powder, power drinks or other supplements. If you are lactose intolerant, a banana and peanut butter sandwich will work too.
She then described an ideal activity regiment: 150 minutes of moderate exercise like walking and 75 minutes of vigorous exercise like running or weight lifting a day. Here is where Soldiers beat the average Americans, 63 percent to 44 percent. But 63 percent for Soldiers is still “not a stellar number.”
Physical activity can reduce the signs of depression and anxiety by up to 75 percent, she said. “Our bodies are meant for motion. Endorphins released during exercise are critical to happiness production.”
In the early 1990s, 15 percent of Americans were obese, Teyhen said. Today, that percentage is 34.
Even more surprising, she said, 12 percent of active-duty Soldiers are clinically obese and 66 percent not at their ideal height and weight ratio.
Americans by and large, are overweight and undernourished, with 34 percent of their diet coming from sugar and fats, she said. Research has shown that a person needs about eight servings of fruits or vegetables a day.
The average American eats just one portion of fruits or vegetables every three to six days, she said.
Although the brain’s weight is just 2 percent of the entire body, it consumes 20 percent of the food taken in. Proper fueling of the brain is needed for good executive decision making.
Food is also a big factor in injury rates, she said. People who are slightly overweight have a 15 percent greater chance of being injured and people who are obese are 48 percent more likely to be injured.
Muscular-skeletal injuries are one of biggest factors in Soldiers not being ready, she said. And, 80 percent of those injuries are preventable.
The Army is taking bite-sized steps in increasing proper nutrition, she said.
In South Korea, for example, three types of post-workout lunch boxes are provided following physical training, one designed for strength training, one for road training and one for a little of both.
At Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the dessert bar, which had been at the front of the dining facility, was moved to the back where the salad bar used to be. That simple act resulted in Soldiers consuming more fruits and vegetables, she said, calling it “choice architecture.”