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Aim High, Sleep Deep

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Elizabeth Davis
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

There are many facets to optimizing human performance, and Second Air Force is tackling how well Airmen sleep.

Sleep issues are highly prevalent among active-duty service members and the numbered air force, responsible for training 93% of the Air Force, recognizes their responsibility to prevent sleep concerns from forming early in an Airman’s career.

“While we toured the wings, sometimes we saw students who were functional zombies, living on energy drinks and no sleep,” said Dr. Brian Davis, Second Air Force chief training officer. “We want to help Airmen develop the discipline to continue with the good habits they created in seven and a half weeks of basic training. Making these choices now will make them a well-rounded, better, stronger Airman for the Air Force.”

The Readiness and Performance Lab (RiPL) at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas was formed through a collaboration between the Military Readiness Psychology fellowship and academic researchers from the University of Virginia and has worked with Second Air Force to research the effects of good and bad sleep.

“Sleep hygiene is just as important as proper nutrition and physical fitness,” said Maj. Gen. Michele Edmondson, Second Air Force commander. “If this is something we can instill in an Airman for the rest of their lives, it will help readiness, morale and promote a healthier force.”

The team created two informative videos, which will be presented to Airmen and Guardians in technical training. The videos explain some of the science behind healthy sleep and provide tips for better sleep health.

“Sleep hygiene are the behaviors we engage in on a daily basis that promote good sleep health,” said Capt. Jordan Ellis, PhD, 59th Medical Wing military readiness psychology fellow. “Much like brushing our teeth, maintaining daily sleep habits prevents more problematic sleep disorders and associated physical and mental health concerns, and optimizes our mental and physical performance.”

According to RiPL, approximately 50 to 70% of Airmen in technical training report insufficient sleep duration or poor sleep quality. The most common causes of poor sleep health for Airmen in technical training include chronic insufficient sleep (consistently sleeping less than six hours per night), inconsistent sleep-wake times (trying to “catch-up” on sleep debt during a weekend), excessive caffeine use, drinking caffeine late into the day, and utilizing their beds as furniture to watch TV, use their phones or play video games.

Poor sleep over time can place individuals at higher risk for symptoms of depression and anxiety. Chronic poor sleep can lead to problems with anticipating and solving problems, acting decisively under pressure, poor communication within a team and poor moral reasoning.

The first step to improve sleep hygiene is to get back to the basics.

“​​Perhaps the number one behavior we can change to improve sleep is to maintain a consistent wake time seven days per week,” said Ellis. “This allows for our natural biological rhythms that govern wakefulness and sleep to optimize. When we sleep in on the weekends, we are often unintentionally jet lagging ourselves each and every week.”

Airmen and Guardians who work swing shifts or have night classes often struggle to maintain a proper sleep schedule.

“Shift work certainly makes sleep more complicated as it often works against our natural biological sleep-wake rhythms," said Ellis. "Individuals on shift work should still work to obtain seven to nine hours of sleep per day, even if this is split into two chunks - for example, sleeping four hours after a shift then getting three more hours before the next shift starts."

Airmen of all ranks can remember that good sleep supports memory consolidation and learning, improves concentration, enhances productivity, boosts mood, combats anxiety and irritability, and is beneficial for overall human performance.

“Human capabilities will make or break our performance in any future conflict,” said Ellis. “When we get our sleep right, it makes just about everything we do that matters easier and more possible.”

For more information, see the following resources about sleep and the military:

The National Library of Medicine: Sleep in the United States Military

Health.Mil: Tactical Napping

The Sleep Foundation: Sleep in the Military