STAYING ON THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD
BY JOHN VANVORST   |   FBI National Academy Physical Training Unit

Sleep Hygiene Basics -- Rest Like the Best




In honor of World Sleep Day on March 15, 2019, how many of you got the recommended quantity and quality of uninterrupted, continuous sleep your body needs to feel refreshed and restored?  According to the most recent Phillips Global Sleep Survey, adults average only 6.8 hours per night during the week and the number is closer to 6.5 hours here in the U.S.  That number is down from 7.9 hours in 1942!  Since we sleep in cycles of approximately 90 minutes consisting of non-REM and REM sleep, we’re operating on one few sleep cycle each day.  Not surprisingly, the numbers are even worse for law enforcement officers.  Due to long hours, shift work, and unique stressors inherent to the profession, more than half of all police officers don’t get enough sleep.  Long-term sleep deprivation has been linked to range of medical conditions including metabolic and cardiovascular disease, cancer and mental health disorders.

Recently, we’ve added blocks of instruction on sleep hygiene to our Fitness in Law Enforcement classes and additional deep dives on the topic during instructor round-robin elective sessions.  Sleep is not a luxury and it is far more than just the cure for sleepiness, it is an essential brain function!  In fact, it is the foundation of our physical well-being and supports our nutrition and physical training practices. Since you probably didn’t celebrate World Sleep Day, here are 15 best practices and conditions to improve the “4 Pillars” of sleep (regularity, continuity, quantity and quality):

1.

Re-frame your thoughts and prioritize your sleep; it’s a productive use of your time. According to Dr. Matthew Walker, neuroscientist and author of Why We Sleep, “Lack of sleep is like a broken water pipe in your home. It will leak down into every nook and cranny of your physiology.”

2.

The average person needs 7.5 hours of sleep per night ± 0.5; if you’re engaging in heavy physical training, the number is closer to 9 hours. Reverse engineer your sleep routine by determining when you must be awake for the day and work backwards allow enough time for the quantity of sleep you need. If you need to be up at 6:00 a.m., you should be asleep by 10:30 p.m.

3.

Commit to a 10-14 day period where you will not purposely delay sleep and allow yourself to sleep when you’re tired and not use an alarm clock to determine how much sleep you actually need each night.

4.

Expose yourself to natural light during the day early and often to anchor your body’s natural circadian alerting system or internal clock. This helps us naturally keep alert when we should be alert.

5.

Reduce your exposure to blue lights emitted from LED’s in the evening, especially after sunset when our body will normally begin producing melatonin to promote sleep. Blue light exposure will delay and reduce the release of melatonin. Change the settings on your phones and tablets to reduce exposure or invest in blue-light blocking eyewear.

6.

Increase your sleep pressure by increasing your physical activity levels throughout the day, but if possible, try to avoid heavy physical exertion near your bed time. Increases in core body temperature can delay sleep.

7.

Cut the caffeine intake by 12:00 p.m. Caffeine levels peak in the blood stream around 30 minutes after consumption, but can continue to reduce sleep pressure for 8 hours or more.

8.

Limit alcohol consumption as it can disrupt sleep continuity and quantity by increasing trips to the bathroom overnight and reduce overall sleep quality by shortening your deep, slow-wave sleep cycles.

9.

Limit your in-bed activities to sleep and not watching television.

10.

Invest in your sleep environment including the mattress, pillow(s) and bedding…make it as comfortable as possible.

11.

Keep your sleep environment cool, between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit if possible. During the summer months, spend more time outdoors during the day for heat acclimation and improve sleep quality at night even if your room is not as cool as recommended.

12.

Reduce all light exposure in the bedroom by using blackout shades and removing all electronic devices. Use electrical tape over small LED’s and consider eye masks.

13.

Avoid large, heavy meals, fried foods and added sugars near bedtime. A quality protein source makes sense to support physical restoration during deep sleep.

14.

Commit to instituting a set bedtime and wake-up schedule to improve sleep continuity. Social jetlag is the common practice of delaying sleep on the weekends and then attempting to drag your circadian clock back three time zones by Monday.

15.

Limit challenging and difficult mental tasks as bedtime approaches. Wind down physically as well as mentally.

 

References:

Philips Global Sleep Survey – The Global Pursuit of Better Sleep Health (2019)
Supporting Officer Safety Through Family Wellness: The Effects of Sleep Deprivation (International Association of Chiefs of Police)

     

 

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