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NEWS | June 4, 2013

Sleeping soundly: Simple fixes for Service members

By Airman Areca T. Wilson 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Sleep deprivation has many negative side effects, and can take a toll on individuals and their performance. Insufficient sleep can impact learning, memory, emotional regulation, overall health and motor skills.

In 2011, the National Sleep Foundation found that during weeknights, 43% of Americans ages 16 to 64 reported "rarely" or "never" having a good night's sleep or rest followed by a spontaneous awakening, leaving one feeling refreshed and alert.

Fortunately for Service members, the Behavioral Health Optimization Program Clinic located at the Langley Family Health Clinic offers education and recommendations for a wide variety of problems, to include sleep difficulties.

"Sleep plays a key role in how we think, feel and behave," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Elizabeth Najera, 633rd Medical Operations Squadron behavioral health fight commander. "People feel worse emotionally and physically and demonstrate poorer mental and physical performance when they are sleep deprived."

Supporting this fact, Najera said appetite tends to increase without the rest needed to properly function, in turn leading to increased eating and weight gain over time.

Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up feeling tired after a full night's rest not only affects Airmen, but everyone around them, said Najera.

"Chronic sleep deprivation can take a toll on individuals and their performance," said Najera. "It is an individual's responsibility to seek help to prevent a negative impact to the mission."

While most people report feeling their best when they have seven to nine hours of sleep, the amount needed for optimal performance varies on age, physical health, gender and previous sleep amounts. It is important for each individual to evaluate their body's sleep needs in order to perform at their best.

The NSF also found there is a relationship between quality of sleep and bedtime habits. Research shows improved bedtime habits can result in an improved quality and quantity of sleep.

The Behavioral Health Optimization Program Clinic offers the following tips to sleep soundly:

Make your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep.
Ensure the temperature in your room is at a comfortable level and mask disturbances by using a fan or white noise. For those working the night shift, make sure to block out all light. Using your bedroom only for sleep helps you associate it with sleep rather than wakefulness.

Go to bed only when sleepy.
Lying awake in bed can cause frustration, worsening an existing sleep problem. If you cannot fall asleep within 15 minutes, engage in relaxing activities to induce sleepiness.

Don't watch the clock.
When trying to fall asleep, checking the time will only fuel frustration. If watching the clock proves to be too tempting, turn it away so that that the time is not visible.

Set a regular sleep schedule.
Regardless of the time you fell asleep, it is important wake up around the same time each morning. Many people who find it difficult to fall asleep at night will compensate by sleeping during the day. Be sure to maintain the same amount of sleep throughout the week, even on non-work days. It may seem necessary to take a nap after a long day or late night, but resting in the evening can amplify sleep problems. If you decide to take a nap, it is best to limit it to 15 to 30 minutes and to take it in the afternoon.

Unwind before bedtime.
It takes time for your system to slow down and transition to a state of sleepiness after being active. Engage in activities that promote sleep and are not over stimulating to the mind or body, such as puzzles or reading. Refrain from using electronics before bed as the light from it can be stimulating to the brain, delaying sleepiness.

Engage in strenuous exercise.
A workout during the day can have a significant impact on how soundly you sleep at night. While a daily work out is important, avoid exercising two hours before bedtime.

Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bedtime.
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, or substances that can inhibit sleep. It is best to avoid these four to six hours before bed. On the other hand, alcohol can help you fall asleep, but the quality of sleep will be poor. When alcohol is metabolized in the body, sleep can be fragmented causing you to be prone to frequent waking.

Proper sleeping habits are necessary to for a person to maintain peak performance. It is important for every Service member to adopt good habits, pay attention to their needs and seek help if needed.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with the Behavioral Health Optimization Program clinic, call 225-7630. These visits are treated like medical appointments and are available to all beneficiaries.