JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD, Wash. - Whether on a combat patrol or on the road home to see family for the holidays, sleep is essential to the alertness and safety of all soldiers and their families.
Sleep is also one of three focus areas of the Performance Triad – a holistic approach to personal well-being that includes sound nutrition practices and safe physical activity.
According to the U.S. Army Leader’s Guide to Combat and Operational Stress Control, “Soldiers require 7-8 hours of high quality sleep every 24-hour period to sustain operational readiness.” However, how well a person sleeps is just as important as how long.
Lt. Col. Vincent Mysliwiec, M.D., the medical director of sleep service at Madigan Army Medical Center, said that five hours of solid sleep is more beneficial than eight hours of broken sleep.
“Everything we do during our day affects our sleep. Just like we have schedules in our lives, our body and our mind get used to sleeping on a regular time schedule,” he said.
Soldiers should wake up at the same time every day, including weekends. Mysliwiec said deviations of more than an hour to a person’s sleep schedule can result in “social jetlag.”
“Just like if you fly to the east coast, to the west coast or back, that three hour time change can affect your sleep in an adverse way,” he added.
Mysliwiec recommended soldiers schedule caffeine intake and exercise well before they intend to lie down for the night. Limit exercise to three hours and caffeine to six hours before bed.
“Although caffeine can help keep us awake during the day, it can lead to sleep fragmentation or poor quality sleep at night,” he said.
Falling asleep to a late night television show can also degrade sleep quality. Mysliwiec said direct light, like that emitted from smart phones, tablets, computers and televisions, can actually cause people to stay awake. To avoid a restless night, try turning the power off early.
“It’s best to avoid watching TV or doing any computer related activities one hour prior to bed,” he said.
Another habit that can ease the body into quality rest, is establishing a sleep ritual which Mysliwiec called “setting the mood for sleep.” Sleep ritual behaviors can vary from person to person.
“There are many things that can be helpful for an individual, and it takes actually working with these to determine which works best for you,” Mysliwiec explained. “Is it reading a book? Is it taking a shower or taking a bath? Is it having a non-caffeinated cup of tea? These are the types of activities that can help you fall asleep without any side effects.”
The Performance Triad Leader’s Guide and Planner also recommends sleeping in a dark environment. Sleeping with an eye mask, using heavy blinds or even taping trash bags to windows can help.
A little discipline during the day can prepare your body and mind for a restful night. When it comes to sleep, remember that quality is just as important as quantity.