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Naval Hospital Bremerton advocates the Importance of Sleep – You Lose if You Don’t Snooze

Story by Douglas Stutz

Naval Hospital Bremerton

Whether trying for a quick snooze, occasional siesta, or attempted slumber, Sailors and Marines are continually at risk for the actual health threat of insufficient sleep.

Vice Adm. C. Forrest Faison III, Navy Surgeon General and Chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery recently indicated that worsening sleep habits are a definite hazard to wellness.

“Sleep has been identified and prioritized as a leading Health and Wellness Department and disease prevention goal. Sleep is an important element of health and well-being just like nutrition and physical fitness. Adequate sleep is necessary to fight off infection, support the metabolism of sugar to prevent diabetes, perform well in school, and work effectively and safely,” said Trish Skinner, Naval Hospital Bremerton Health and Wellness Department health educator.

According to Fleet and Marine Corps Health Risk Assessment surveys and the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC), personnel are reporting insufficient sleep at a steady increase from 31 percent in 2008-2009 to 37 percent in 2016. A related DoD survey shows that 40.9 percent get 7-8 hours of average sleep, with 43.5 percent getting 5-6 hours and 11.4 percent averaging less than four hours.

“There were 37 percent of military members and 29 percent of civilian staff who reported they do not get enough restful sleep to function well on the job and in their personal life. Our department is focusing on the needs and benefits of adequate sleep with awareness, education and intervention techniques throughout August,” Skinner said.

Information compiled by NMCPHC is an eye-opener, much as the lack of sleep seems to be for many. There’s an estimated 50-70 million adults with chronic sleep and wakefulness disorders; 25 percent of adults report insufficient sleep for at least 15 out of 30 days; and only 31.4 percent of high school students report getting enough sleep on a school night.

Sleep deprivation, lack of rest, and minimal amount of forty-winks are impactful physically as well as mentally. Research shows even young, healthy service members lose 25 percent of their ability to think clearly after only one day without adequate sleep.

“When we sleep our body goes through a very intricate process where it recovers and rebuilds. Short and long-term memories are allocated and stored. It (also) gives our physical body time to rest and rebuilt broken down muscle and tissue,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Christopher Stevens, NHB Mental Health sleep hygiene specialist.

There is a host of overlapping contributors to poor sleep. Technology from video games to smart phones; environmental issues such as noise, temperature and surrounding activity; work schedule such as being on the ‘graveyard shift’ or with duty hours; personal, professional, and/or financial worries, health problems and sleep disorders.

The effects of poor sleep have been documented leading to mishaps involving aviation and motor vehicle accidents; work performance issues with higher error rate; quality of life concerns such as increased fatigue, decreased response time and lowered immune function; and mental health consequences such as irritability.

Yet people still take sleep for granted.

“When we start to feel stressed, self-care is one of the first things we throw out the window. When we have an important test coming up, a deployment, when we are feeling stressed at work, or we are having trouble with our personal lives, it’s very easy for us to find time to accommodate these stressors by neglecting things like physical fitness, nutrition and sleep. In the end, neglecting self-care only helps to decrease performance as we are not able to effectively manage stressors at an optimum level,” explained Stephens.

There are definitive drawbacks with not getting enough sleep. Stephens cited a 2005 report stating that a person won’t be able to recall information or memories as quickly and new skills or information can be totally forgotten.

“Chronic poor sleep can also result in cardiovascular disease, depression and obesity. When it comes to physical recovery, workouts can be totally wasted by not giving our body time to rest and recover,” added Stephens.

Skinner attests that the prevailing consensus is that adults should strive for seven to eight hours of sleep every day for optimum performance. Studies have shown that those who do get that amount of sleep are able to learn and retain information better and outperform those not as rested on daily activities.

There is available guidance to assist with good sleep hygiene. Simple tips to help get a good night sleep include; minimize noise and light; maintain regular sleep and wake hours; foster a comfortable sleep environment; limit caffeine four to six hours before sleep; and limit the use of technology with a screen light at least 15 to 30 minutes before sleeping.

“Many factors impact our ability to fall and stay asleep. Avoiding alcohol use or ‘night-caps’ is important. Alcohol is a sedative that helps us feel sleepy but once the effects wear off, we wake up and are unable to fall back asleep. Whatever we put in our body needs to time to process out. When we drink large amounts of alcohol instead of sleeping our body is unable to engage in mental or physical rejuvenation,” Stephens said.

Yet those in the military, especially in an operational status, know that at times being able to implement such simple tips can be easier said than done.

“It’s no secret that military service often results in periods of decreased sleep. Service members need to use what opportunity they have to get good sleep. Taking time to focus on self-care increases our performance to the physical and mental demands of arduous tasks or deployment. You can think of it like trying to cut down a tree with a blunt saw. Trying it that way is difficult. Taking the time to sharpen the saw will make the cutting down the tree more effective. Our mind and body are like that saw. So take the time to sharpen your saw,” explained Stephens.

The Centers of Disease Control (CDC) advocates that any sleep is better than none. Short 10 to 30 minute naps during the day can help a person recover from sleep loss, increase alertness and improve mood.

There are major sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea (snoring). It is recommended that anyone who consistently experiences trouble sleeping consult a health care professional. Individuals requesting additional information can refer to NHB’s Mental Health Department sleep hygiene specialist.

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