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Sleep on it

The very nature of our jobs in emergency services dictates that at some point in our careers we will be sleep deprived; especially if you work in a busier system with high call volume. The trick to being sleep deprived and not being a zombie comes in optimizing your sleep. For those that unfamiliar with sleep optimization there are a number of tricks that you can use to help you beat fatigue, maintain mental clarity and perform your duties to the best of your abilities. The following five tips are things you can do right now to immediately improve your sleep and help you feel normal again.

  1. Go to bed at a decent hour

Every person that works in the fire, ems and law enforcement are night owls because we are used to being awake at all hours of the night answering calls for service and being there for people. The more times you’re awoken at night will severely effect the quality of sleep that you get at night because the later you go to sleep at night the longer it takes your body to sleep into deep REM sleep. When it takes you longer to fall into that deep sleep your cognitive functions will be severely impaired and that effects how well you perform your job. You should aim to be in bed no later than 11 pm at night with preference being in bed by 9 or 10 at night to give you the most opportunity to hit deep sleep.

2. The darker and cooler the better

A simple albeit overlooked strategy will make a world of difference in how well you sleep at night. The room you’re sleeping in needs to be as dark as possible. You can go about doing this a number ways including putting trash bags over you windows. Anything that emits any kind of light needs to be covered up with a dark colored t-shirt or rag and if you can’t  do any of these things you can get a sleep mask black you out. The last thing you want to do with darkening your room is adjust the room temperature; a study performed by a former navy seal physician found that the optimum room temperature to sleep in is between 65 and 68 degrees, if you get chilled use some extra blankets to keep you warm.

3. Take naps

We all remember when we were kids that we hated taking naps; I know I did. Well, there is some sound knowledge behind this and our parents might not have been so wrong making us nap. Studies have shown that taking a minimum of a 30 minute no longer 90 minute nap between the hours of 1 and 3 pm when you’re prone to be the most tired will greatly improve your sleep quality at night as well as your cognitive ability. The caveat with napping though is you don’t want to do it too often because napping can actually affect how well you sleep at night.

4. Don’t drink caffeine and or excessive amounts of liquid before bed

Simple to say but not so easy to do; especially if you enjoy coffee like some of us do. The problem with drinking caffeine before bed is it will make you more awake and harder to fall asleep at night. If you drink a lot at night before bed you are going to find yourself getting up and down at night to go to the restroom again reducing how well you sleep. Cut out any and all liquids at least 3 to 4 hours before bed to ensure that you can sleep.

5. Don’t go to bed if you’re not tired

You should only go to bed and stay in bed if you’re truly sleepy. If you force yourself to go to bed and stay in bed it has the opposite of the desired effect making you more awake and alert. Earlier in the column it was mentioned to go to bed at a decent hour and this is one situation where you can bend that tip because if you’re not tired it does you no good to go to bed. In the occasion that you find yourself woken up in the night; either because you’re not tired or due to an emergency call you should give yourself 20 minutes to get back to sleep. If you can’t get back to sleep then get out of bed and do something to relax.

For further info on sleep deprivation and how it effects our overall health and conditioning as first responders check out these links…