Sleep experts recommend that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep every night to ensure good health and top performance.
If you’re like most Army National Guard Soldiers, you’re probably thinking: Ha! Not gonna happen. Between a civilian job, covering unit responsibilities, keeping up a social life, and everything else, who has the time?
The problem is skipping out on sleep one night begins a sleep debt. Getting less than six hours of sleep two nights in a row is like an overdrawn bank account—you need to pay it back or your body and mind will suffer. Paying it back means squeezing in an additional 30, 45, or 60 minutes of sleep on top of the required seven to nine hours as soon as you can.
“A Soldier is set up to make errors when sleep-deprived,” said Thomas Balkin, PhD, chief of the department of behavioral biology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
There’s no official number that means you’re sleep deprived, which means it’s a Soldier’s responsibility to recognize the signs.
If you continue to be sleep deprived over the long term, you’re at risk for permanent memory loss, obesity, depression, heart disease, and strokes.
Your body’s SOS signs
Signs you may be sleep deprived include:
- Physical exhaustion during the day
- Weight gain
- Fuzzy memory
- Blowing up during stressful situations
- Decrease in sex drive
- Slow reaction time
- Constantly getting sick
How to make up a sleep debt
Many Soldiers turn to caffeine to stay awake, but that’s only a temporary fix. The real solution is adding an extra 30 to 60 minutes of sleep per night to make up the debt (in addition to the required seven to nine hours). Try these tips:
- Eat dinner at least two hours before bedtime to allow your meal—and energy levels—to settle.
- Set and stick with a curfew. Count backwards from when you need to wake up, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep, plus any extra minutes you’re making up. Set your curfew an hour earlier to give yourself time to fall asleep.
- Try to avoid a sleep marathon, where you attempt to make up a sleep debt over a couple days. Sleeping too long one day will throw off your next night’s sleep and leave you feeling groggy. That’s why finding time to sleep an extra 30 to 60 minutes of sleep per night is ideal when making up a sleep debt.
- Stop screen time—any activity done on a computer, laptop, or television—30 minutes before bed. Yeah, the smartphone counts.
Once you begin catching up on zzz’s, the short-term side effects of sleep deprivation will fade.
If you struggle to fall asleep, try listening to Chill Drills [MP3 11.2MB], relaxation recordings to help Soldiers relax and fall asleep created by Heidi Bauer, a social worker and wife of a Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldier.
Why act now?
The side effects of sleep deprivation can be significant.
Persistent sleep problems can be signs of a sleep disorder, like sleep apnea or insomnia. If you or a family member think you may have a sleep disorder, seek advice from a medical health professional.