Sleep is a foundational block of military wellness and health. But only 30% of Service Members get enough of it—with most sleeping less than 6 hours per night. What you believe to be true about sleep will drive your behaviors and sleep habits. For example, if you think you can train your brain and body to endure sleep deprivation, you'll put effort into that. On the flip side, if you’re aware that sleep is essential, you'll make it a priority.
Busting some common myths about sleep can help you change your behavior to improve sleep readiness and performance.
Myth: Many Service Members need no more than 6 hours of sleep.
Just like everyone else, Service Members need 7–9 hours of sleep. While rare genetic mutations allow some to sustain health and performance with less than 7 hours of sleep every night, those mutations only affect 1 in 4 million people worldwide.
Myth: You can train your brain and body to sustain performance with less sleep.
Those who get less than 7 hours per night report increased sleepiness and reduced attention for the first few days of sleep deprivation. Over time, changes in mental and physical capacity level off, and lower performance starts to feel normal. The truth is that sleep-deprived people get used to underperforming—not that they can train to sustain performance with less sleep.
Myth: Stay in bed with your eyes closed if you’re having a hard time falling asleep.
Your brain can learn to associate an environment with a specific behavior, and the goal is to learn and reinforce the association between lying in bed and sleeping. If you can't fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed, then get up, do something relaxing, and go back to bed when you feel tired.
Myth: A good sleeper can fall asleep anytime, anywhere.
Being able to quickly fall asleep anytime during the day—even in lighted, noisy, or hot environments—can be a sign of poor sleep. Getting healthy, adequate sleep at night ensures you have sustained energy and alertness levels during the day.
Myth: Caffeine fixes everything.
When your duties require you to go more than 24 hours without sleep, 200 mg of caffeine can help you sustain alertness and performance. However, lack of sleep impairs your performance across all TFF domains in ways that caffeine can't help. For example, caffeine won't reverse the impact of sleep deprivation on blood sugar and hunger signals.
Myth: Evening exercise always disrupts sleep.
Exercise at any time of the day makes it easier to fall asleep and improves sleep quality. However, vigorous physical activity causes your heart rate and body temperature to temporarily raise. If you exercise too close to bedtime (within 60 minutes), this rise in temperature might make it harder for you to relax and sleep. Figure out how long your body takes to settle down after a workout session and use that as a limit to perform vigorous exercise in the evening.
Myth: A drink or two before bed helps you sleep better.
Alcohol causes you to become unconscious and fall asleep quicker. However, even a small quantity of alcohol consumed close to bedtime reduces sleep quality. Alcohol also makes it harder to spend enough time in the restorative stages of sleep.
Myth: A warm bedroom is the best environment for sleep.
Warm temperatures can help your body relax, but they don't support a good night's sleep. Your internal clock triggers a drop in body temperature around bedtime, helping you fall asleep. Being in a warm bedroom or having too many layers of blankets can disrupt this natural drop in your body temperature and make it harder to fall and stay asleep.
Myth: You’re a bad sleeper if you move or wake up in the middle of the night.
It's normal to occasionally move during sleep. However, if the movement lasts for a long time or disrupts your or your bed partner's sleep, it becomes a cause for concern. It's also normal to have short periods of wakefulness during the night, but you usually don't remember them. Getting up to use the bathroom and quickly going back to sleep is also part of normal sleep.
Myth: Hitting snooze provides extra restful sleep.
Many people hit the snooze button to get an additional 10–20 minutes of sleep, but it brings no real benefit. It's a better practice to set the alarm at the latest time possible to get 7–9 hours of sleep, so you can wake up the first time it goes off—and start your day.
Sleep is essential to performance in all Total Force Fitness domains. If you want to develop habits that help you improve your sleep readiness, fall asleep faster, and sustain quality sleep through the night, check out HPRC's sleep hygiene self-check.