PCS survival guide episode 2: Staying present and getting enough sleep [Audio]

Episode 2 Transcript: During PCS

Ryan: Hello, I’m Dr. Ryan Landoll. I’m one of the assistant deans here at USU, and I’m back here again today with the Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP), the Defense Center of Excellence for Human Performance Optimization, and the operators of the Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC). And we’re here again to discuss how Human Performance Optimization, or HPO, is affected by the PCS process, and what you can do to maintain as much normalcy for you and your families during that time. This is the second in our 3-part series where we’re going to talk about the PCS time frame, and we’re starting with the months leading up to your move day, then the move itself, and then finishing up talking about how do you transition once you’ve gotten to your new duty station. And for many of our students, I like to point out that this information is really applicable whether we are talking about that final PCS at the end of your graduation, or some of your short-term clinical rotations and TDYs that you’ll experience throughout your time here.

For those of you who listened, back in episode 1 we talked a lot about how do you get ready for a PCS, or for an extended TDY, and what goals you set, and how do you maintain flexibility? Today, we are going to talk about strategies that we can use during that PCS experience: How do you get enough sleep and really stay present? Then next time we will talk about what do we do afterwards: How do we ease that transition, find some consistency, maintain our routines, and leverage our social support?

So in this second episode, we’re going to talk about that transition period, and we are going to be joined here today by Dr. Gabe Paoletti and Beth Moylan.

CHAMP/Gabe: Thank you again for having us. I’m Gabe. I’m the mental fitness scientist at CHAMP. My background is in positive psychology and leadership.

CHAMP/Beth: And hi—I’m Beth Moylan, and I’m a Registered Dietitian and senior scientist at CHAMP. My background is in nutrition and holistic health promotion. Also, I am a yoga teacher and draw on my own practice in teaching mindfulness.

Ryan: It’s great to have you guys here, and I’m looking forward to chatting with you all. Last episode we were talking a lot about the run up to moving day and the importance of setting goals and but also being flexible. Alright, now we are here to the day of your move. Where are we going to go from here?

CHAMP/Beth: Right; so the actual moving process is stressful to say the least. There’s also stress from how you left the unit, and that anticipatory stress of what it will it be like when you arrive. Those “first day of school jitters” can take a toll. So we’re going to talk about ways to use mindfulness and optimize sleep, to handle those stresses.

Ryan: So mindfulness is one of those things I think we hear a lot about now. How would you all define mindfulness?

CHAMP/Gabe: We would define mindfulness as a mental state of being focused on and living in the present moment, while accepting your emotions, thoughts, and sensations calmly, without judgment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts really tune into what we’re sensing, really being aware of what’s happening in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. It is really tuning in to and being aware of what you are experiencing right now, in this moment. And by training your mind to stay in the present moment, it can help Service Members cope with stress, difficult emotions, and can help them to perform in the military environment. Focusing on the present helps free your mind from wondering or worrying about what’s happening next or trying to evaluate what’s happened before.

Ryan: It’s funny; I think we hear a lot about this in the military. It’s kind of that current buzzword that’s mentioned a lot by senior leaders and is being promoted in all aspects of life. How do you see how mindfulness relates to the military?

CHAMP/Gabe: Yeah, mindfulness is often brought up especially in combat environments. They’re often characterized as “VUCA,” which is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous, which can easily lead to sensory overload and you might feel yourself overwhelmed. Cultivating mindfulness can help increase your tolerance of these environments and help you to perform at your best. Mindfulness might help you be able to be better at tolerating pain or environmental discomforts like extreme heat. And although PCSing isn’t combat, mindfulness can still help.

For example, say you are taking a shower before you’re packing: Are you really there in the shower—meaning are you aware of the warm water hitting your back? Or are you, in your mind, packing the rest of your house in your mind, and more focused on all of the things that you need to do or that are coming up? And if you become aware that you are packing the rest of your house while you’re in the shower, as your mind’s wandering—that’s okay. Practicing mindfulness doesn’t say you need to suppress those thoughts, but simply being aware is enough, and now you have the choice to either continue planning or to take some time to enjoy that moment of showering.

The practice of mindfulness can really help you to relax, reduce stress, lower your blood pressure, helps you to sleep better, become more focused or alert, and “tune in” to your body to perform better. Also it helps to improve your relationships with those around you. So really it can help you take control of how you approach your mental and physical environment while accepting the things you can’t control, especially as you’re going through PCS.

Ryan: You know, I think whenever I hear mindfulness being talked about, it’s a lot like you said; it’s really something that can be used for almost everything. But I think the challenge is really taking this idea that mindfulness can be helpful, that it’s all about living in the present, and actually translating into what do you do to be mindful. So how would you recommend that people go about doing that?

CHAMP/Beth: We’ve broken it out into the dos and don’ts of being mindful. And one helpful way to think about it is terms of the past, present, and future. I would say that being mindful means you don’t want to dwell too much on the past. Let go of the things you did or didn’t get done, the goals you did or didn’t reach. For example, if you were hoping to earn some qualifications at your last duty station but missed the mark, now’s a good time to let that go. It’s in the past.

But letting go of the past doesn’t mean you can’t savor memories about the people you cared about and experiences you had. It also means you don’t want to focus overly on the future—certainly not at the expense of noticing what is happening now. Being present in the moment helps you to stay grounded. So it’s sometimes said that “the present” is called “the present” because it is a gift. Now that’s a little corny, and it might make you laugh but, I promise you’ll remember it.

You want to notice what is going on right in this moment. Tuning into the world around you is easiest when you engage all your senses. Much as you would with a young child, ask yourself, what do you smell? What do you see? What do you hear? What do you taste? This is one of the techniques to bring yourself out of your thoughts and into the present moment. Much like Gabe was talking about, paying attention to that moment in the shower and whether you’re feeling that water hit your back, but we’ll go over some more techniques later.

Ryan: I think for me, mindfulness, using those physical sensations is a way of grounding us because our brain is almost always set up to focus on change. And this is a way of redirecting, retraining our brain—working a muscle in our brain, so to speak, that it’s not used to using because most of the time it’s been designed and optimized to focus on change. Now I’m curious, one of the other things you mentioned as being important, is the idea of sleep. So tell me a little more about that.

CHAMP/Beth: Sure, well lack of sleep can make it difficult to be present. But we all feel in our lives that a lack of sleep can make that day to day functioning difficult. You might feel groggy, grouchy, or distracted. So of course sleep loss impacts those many aspects of optimal functioning—whether you’re at work, on a mission, or in PCS time just trying to get your stuff together at home.

Sleep loss can seriously impact your brain function. This is scientifically proven. It decreases the amount of working memory we have, it impacts your ability to concentrate, and it lowers your focus and response time. It can also negatively affect our ability to manage emotions and handle stress—which makes relationships with others harder too. All this adds up to a not-so-pretty picture of life while you’re sleep-deprived. And of course, when your routines are thrown off and you are in the midst of packing, moving, or settling—getting enough sleep can be particularly challenging.

Ryan: So I think it’s funny we are talking about this idea of trying to get enough sleep, but we also have so many things to do and we’re encouraging us to be mindful and stay in the moment. It’s hard to do at the same time.

CHAMP/Gabe: At the same time, yes, it’s a little bit difficult. But the 2 really can really interact. And the 2 really impact one another. Let’s consider it in the course of one day, like moving day, how they can interact.

So for starters, getting a good night’s sleep really can help you set the tone for the entire next day. If you don’t get enough sleep, it’s going to be more difficult for you to regulate your emotions. And if you start noticing yourself getting really short with your kids or partner, or like little things are causing you to roll your eyes, or you’re just getting super annoyed at little small stuff, that’s a time where you want to be mindful, you want to pull back and consider: is it because you’re operating on a lack of sleep? Not that they are being annoying or being difficult. Take it as a chance to check in on yourself and recalibrate as needed. You’ll also have more trouble managing stress, less working memory, and are more easily distracted when you have a lack of sleep—all of which are going to affect you and those around you.

There is also a huge impact on performance from sleep loss. Sleep deprivation has effects similar to being drunk. So consider this: Just being awake for just 18 hours straight makes you drive like you have a blood alcohol level of .05. So, for reference, .08 is considered drunk. So that’s just 18 hours. If you’re up to a full 24 hours and drive—say, after a night where you just couldn’t fall asleep but you were busy doing things—it’s like you have a blood alcohol level of .10, which would be over the legal limit.

And more than just driving, sleep loss also reduces your ability to make good decisions and to solve problems. And the worst part or, the sneakiest part, is just like when you’re drunk, you feel like you’re great, and making a ton of sense, making all sorts of good decisions—you don’t realize it. So even though your performance is down, and you think you’re performing great, the sleep loss prevents you from realizing that you’re not fully aware.

Your sleep schedule is important, but obviously so is your kids’ sleep schedule. As any parent knows, how your kids sleep can really affect you and your stress and your ability to focus. So teaching healthy sleeping routines is going to be really important for everyone in your family. Likely it’s possible that your kids’ sleep schedule might get out of order. Just try as best you can to make sure it’s temporary by recommitting to a routine when you get to your new location. Also, naps can be a lifesaver. En route, if driving, they can be huge. Maybe have them bring a pillow or a night mask on long trips to help them re-catch that sleep debt that they might be having. Naps can also help them gradually adjust to time changes if moving across country.

Ryan: I’m hearing that sleep is obviously really important. But when you’re in the middle of a PCS move and you feel like your life’s just is in a state of upheaval, I have to imagine it’s really hard to get a good night’s rest. So sometimes you might have to look for other ways to feel awake in the morning, and I’m thinking about that old cup of coffee.

CHAMP/Beth: Oh, of course, coffee is important! Most people look to caffeine for an energy and a boost on even a regular day, so when you’re sleep-deprived, that coffee becomes extra important. And it’s not just your perception. There’s solid science to support this. Caffeine can help offset some of the effects of sleep loss—so it’s proven to boost both mental and physical performance when operating on a sleep deficit. But there’s also a science for how to use caffeine best to get the most effect and the fewest negative side effects. So it isn’t just about downing coffee after coffee. It’s so fun to tell people about this because there’s actually a strategy to using coffee and optimizing your use of caffeine.

Ryan: Okay, that I gotta hear about. So what does this strategy look like?

CHAMP/Beth: Well for starters, I think of caffeine in terms dose and timing. When you have a cold you follow the directions on how often to take that decongestant. So when you are using caffeine to combat the loss of sleep, you can use it somewhat medicinally. Only personally, I think it’s more fun to drink a cup of coffee!

In terms of doses, the amount of caffeine that can help performance is up to 200 milligrams at once. That should look like about a 12–16 ounce cup of coffee, but it depends on the strength of the brew. And truly, caffeine amounts vary widely. So we have a resource on HPRC to show you some of the breakdown of the amounts of caffeine in different beverages.

So that 200 mg of caffeine would kick in in about 30 minutes and that effect will last 3–4 hours. After 3–4 hours, then you could have your next “dose” of ~200 mg of caffeine or so. And then again after 3–4 hours, you could have another dose. But 200 mg is just the maximin that’s recommended in that timeframe. Different people have different levels of sensitivity to caffeine, so maybe for you, just 50 milligrams, or one cup of black tea, is enough to help you feel alert. You don't need to use all 200 mg. And the amount of caffeine in different beverages varies, so check out our resources on HPRC to see how much caffeine is in, say, the iced tea versus brewed coffee versus espresso. And actually the amount of caffeine can even vary based on the brand of coffee, so that’s pretty interesting to check out.

Ryan: What about the negative effects of coffee? Is there ever such a thing as too much caffeine?

CHAMP/Beth: Well yes, there is. Caffeine is a stimulant, which is why it makes you feel awake. So too much can lead to nervousness, irritability, and shakiness. And at the highest levels, worse side effects are possible too. So we recommend sticking to a maximum of 600–800 mg of caffeine in 24 hours. That gives you enough time to get in about 3 of those doses of 200 mg. Also, another recommendation is to stop caffeine at least 6 hours before bed. Because caffeine is a stimulant and keeps you awake, if it’s still in your system at bedtime, you’re not going to sleep very well. Then you’ll be tired the next day; then you’re going to need more caffeine… and so this cycle will continue.

Also worth mentioning is that energy drinks are very popular right now, particularly in the military community, but everywhere. And there is more information on our website to check out. But it’s important to be informed, sometimes energy drinks contain additional ingredients that could be harmful. Coffee and tea are usually the cleanest sources of caffeine and what I recommend people use. It’s also important to remember that caffeine does not replace sleep. It might make you get through that short term, but over the long term, sleep deficit has many negative consequences.

Ryan: I think that’s so important. I remember when I worked with patients on helping them sleep better, sometimes it’s that caffeine that’s such a culprit there later in the day. Those are some solid ideas on how to leverage caffeine intake when needed, but also thinking about how to prioritize good sleep during this period and keep that balance.

I want to shift a little bit and go back to this idea of mindfulness. Because I’m thinking about it, and it’s this idea of how do you stay mindful with your family? Maybe when you’re on the road, you’re in close quarters, there’s a long drive, surrounded by bad drivers; I don’t know that I want to be in the moment right then!

CHAMP/Gabe: Mindfulness in relationships is really about slowing down your reactions and really listening to what the other person is saying. Which sounds super obvious- so you’re telling me to listen to what they are saying?- but it’s harder than it sounds when you have a lot of stuff going on, when you’re thinking about - maybe what you need to do when you get there, thinking about things that are happening in the past. So it’s really important that as you’re communicating with one another, to try and to stay present, be aware of what’s going on for yourself in that moment, and try and check yourself before you react and say something that might make the interaction get heated, or even blow up. Because we all know those things that we shouldn’t say, but when we’re stressed, or when we’re depleted or tired, it becomes way harder to keep those in. So mindfulness can help us be more intentional. And one strategy that sometimes works for myself, is as I’m communicating rather than thinking about what I want to say, I’m thinking about what they’re going to hear. So what are they going to hear by what I’m saying because they are also stressed, tired, and depleted?

The other thing is, is different parts of the brain are involved in your reactions to situations and to others. So in social interactions, by giving yourself a few extra seconds of slowing down, and really trying to be aware of what’s going on for yourself, what’s going on in the conversation, it helps give all the parts of your brain time to catch up so you can be more thoughtful in your responses. To help with emotional regulation and slow down, pause and recognizing your emotions, labeling it, saying what it is, and noticing how it feels inside. And, then consciously thinking about the best way to manage it can really help set yourself up for success.

So by taking the time to notice and become aware that I’m frustrated or I’m stressed and also in this situation, it makes sense for others to get frustrated and stressed. And realizing that this is going to be difficult, stressful, or maybe exciting for others in my family to move. And for them—it’s not just a big deal for you—it is a big deal for them as well. They’re leaving friends, or they might be excited about what’s coming on next. So just trying to be aware of what’s going on for everyone in the situation can really help.

Also, if your family members begin getting frustrated, mindfully use good communication skills. It is easy when you are stressed during PCSing to be too focused on what you need to do or say next rather than being in the moment and really being there for the other person. So try to practice active listening by making eye contact, summarizing what the other person said, asking clarifying questions, and striving to have a clear understanding of their perspective before moving onto sharing your own.

Ryan: I think we’ve talked a lot about strategically, how important mindfulness is, and maybe some of the ways in which—and times and places—you might use it operationally. Let’s get tactical here. It’s really interesting. I want you walk us through, how do you actually do this? How do you pause and be mindful?

CHAMP/Gabe: Sure, we can walk through one right now.

For starters, let's find your way into a comfortable, seated position. Have your knees bent, feet on the floor. Sit straight up. You might want to place a pillow behind your back to keep your spine lengthened. As you settle in to your seat, remember that your intention right now is to practice quieting the mind, letting go of all those things that draw you out of this present moment.

So with that understanding, gently set aside your to-do list. Set aside all your cares, putting them out of your mind altogether. Close your eyes. Shift your attention away from the noises and sounds going on all around you. Take some deep breaths into this opened space in your lungs, exhaling fully after each breath drawn in. Notice if your mind is drawn out of this moment. That is natural. So when it does, gently, but firmly, bring it back to this moment, without judging yourself. You might have to do this several times. That’s okay. You can also bring your awareness to the sensation of the breath coming into and out of the body. Feel the lungs filling up with air, and see if you can notice all the muscles used to draw that breath in. Not making too much effort here, just noticing. There is nowhere else to be right now, nothing else to do, just breathing, just feeling. As thoughts come, let them come. No need to resist them. Rather, simply acknowledge them, and return your attention back to this moment, right now, breathing in, feeling the breath, breathing out, letting go of the breath.

Bring your attention back into this place, this breath, this moment, without judging or criticizing. Imagine feeling at ease, and letting yourself just be. As you transition to the rest of your day, take a moment to notice how you feel after this experience. Set an intention for the rest of your day to remain as you are now. And know that you can return here anytime you like.

Ryan: Whew! That always feels so relaxing to do, so thank you for walking us through that. I’m kind of curious, where else in other areas of your life do you see a place for us to apply mindfulness?

CHAMP/Beth: Yes, I agree. Gabe that was nice.

Good question. Mindfulness can extend to every area of your life since it is about being more aware of what is happening in your body, your mind, and your outside world. You can apply that to just about anything. As a dietitian, I have been teaching mindfulness around eating and nutrition for years. Just being aware can be a major game changer for people around food habits.

Ryan: So tell me a little more about that.

CHAMP/Beth: One of the most important skills to develop is to recognize our body’s own unique signals for hunger and fullness. It can take some days or weeks to do this. But it starts with asking yourself multiple times a day if you are hungry or how full you are and then paying attention. Notice the sensation in your belly (not everyone experiences a strong tummy-growling type hunger). What is yours like? Some people feel weak or tired, or get cranky, or “hangry.” And for good reason. What does your body feel like? Your mind? Sometimes I walk people through an exercise that has them rate their levels of hunger or fullness on a scale of 1–10. When you start doing that, before and after eating, just checking in with your body, then you start to get the hang of it.

After a few days of that, you can really start making different decisions about eating.

For example, when you are struck by a sudden craving for anything from a cookie to a soda to a taco, you can ask yourself: Are you hungry? It’s only once we get that information that we can notice. And if we are on total autopilot than you won’t even know the answer to that question, are you hungry? And there’s no wrong answer. If you are not hungry, you can ask yourself why you’re drawn to eating. And then that’s part 2; mindfulness lets us start to notice our triggers. So is the cookie a “pick me up” because you are stressed? Or is there a craving because you just saw the sign for the (name-your-favorite-fast-food) restaurant? Is it just time to eat? Suddenly, you can start to distinguish whether you are hungry or not. So we are all susceptible to “quick fixes” for stress or sleep deprivation at times like during a job change or move—and both are happening during a PCS. Mindfulness can be a tool to help you tune in to your eating and your nutrition habits.

Ryan: I’m so susceptible to advertising; that’s almost always why I want to get something to eat. So how would you say you could set yourself up for success then, when you’re in the middle of these transition periods, when you’re on the road and when you’re transitioning with the move?

CHAMP/Beth: One thing you can do to set yourself up for success, is to plan a workout into your day, even if it’s quick. Long car rides can lead to tight muscles and sometimes even pain. You can take frequent breaks to walk and stretch. But that morning or end-of-day workout can really help. Flexibility and range of motion are important parts of physical fitness and preventing injury. Workout time can also be very mindful and stress-reducing. It’s a time to unplug from the rest of the world and other distractions. Whether listening to music or not, your workout can be meditative. If you really focus on the movement of your workout—your form while squatting for example—then you’re going to be in the present moment. And you can't be worried about the move, or your to-do list, or what lies ahead, and be watching your alignment at the same time. Also, aerobic exercises, like running, biking or rowing, involve continuous repetitive movements and can be meditative if you let them. Similarly, focus on the movement and sensations in your body. Tune into your senses: What are you feeling, smelling, seeing? That will help make you mindful.

Workout is a time to reconnect with breath too. Practicing diaphragmatic belly breathing during heavy exercise is important for that activity, and it is likely you’ll perform better. You’ll also be more likely to find that type of breath outside of the gym. There are endless options for squeezing in a workout. Most hotels have a treadmill or some sort of gym, or you can run the stairs, or run outside. Or try a guided workout on your tablet or phone, even the hotel room TV. It’s always a good idea to press pause and move. Just one caveat: Unless you usually work out before bed, be careful of exercising in the two hours before sleep, because it can wake some people up.

For success tomorrow, I would take some time to think about what your eating plan is. In episode 1, we talked about the 80/20 rule and the goal to maintain your healthiest eating habits about 80% of the time during your PCS. It’s never about being perfect when it comes to eating. But PCS can easily turn into an excuse to throw healthfulness out the window. So across a few days or a few weeks that really adds up.

In prepping for your cross-country drive, I would pack a cooler and plan to stop at grocery stores and convenience stores to get new supplies along the way. Yogurt, granola, nuts, fruit—they all make great on-the-go foods. With the money you save during the day by avoiding fast food breakfast and lunch, you can consider a healthy dinner out in the evening as a reward for that travel.

Ryan: Yeah, being on the road is really tough when it comes to being mindful with your eating and also with sleeping; there is just so much change and transition. I remember in the last episode we talked a little bit about how to make the most of our kitchen as we’re packing. I’m wondering if you can tell me a little about—or now, while we’re in the moment, while we’re on the road—what are some things we can do to keep up with this? I know a lot of time the places we’re staying and hotels don’t exactly have a full kitchen at our disposal.

CHAMP/Beth: Right, yeah, there is a lot you can do with just a microwave and a fridge, though. We have a shopping list and some meal ideas on our site for use during TDY or during that extended PCS where you wind up traveling and perhaps you even end up in temporary housing when you first arrive and can’t get into a full kitchen just yet.

One of my favorite easy meals to make is a “make your own bowl.” I throw together rice, beans, avocado, and salsa. I often stock some Tex-Mex or Southwest theme of foods at the grocery store, and then I can use it in multiple ways. If I buy corn tortillas then I can also add beans, spinach, cheese, and use the microwave to make a quick quesadilla. A rotisserie chicken is another good idea—it can go a long way. You can throw chicken on top of a nice kale salad and have a microwaved sweet potato on the side. You could also pull pieces of the rotisserie chicken pieces and add it to your Tex-Mex bowl. Breakfast foods are easy too. Berries and granola with milk or yogurt is easy. And many stores sell hard-boiled eggs now too. It’s not the same as being home, but it works. There’s a lot you can do in those hotel rooms.

Ryan: What do you all think about sleep in hotel rooms, how do you handle that?

CHAMP/Gabe: Sleep can be tough in any new environment, especially when you are stressed. And this makes a vicious sleep and stress cycle regarding PCSing. PCSing can, or I would almost say is, stressful, and stress can cause sleep loss. And as we mentioned earlier, more sleep loss can lead to more stress the next day. So it is critical you are practicing good sleep hygiene to help maximize whatever sleep you can get.

For starters, try as best as you can to maintain normal nighttime routines, or make the environment as close to home as possible. Try to create a quiet, dark, comfortable sleeping environment. Cover windows with darkening drapes or shades, or wear a sleep mask to block light. Try to minimize disturbances from environmental noise with either foam earplugs or use a room fan to muffle noise. And if you can, adjust the room temperature to suit whatever you’re used to. Also, try to start to wind down about one hour prior to sleep. Limit TV and cell phone use 30–60 minutes before bed as much as you possibly can. The blue light exposure especially from cell phone use can mess with your sleep–wake cycle, which is your internal clock that regulates when you feel alert or when you’re ready to fall asleep.

Also try to be intentional about your diet. In terms of alcohol, it’s often believed that a drink or 2 helps people fall asleep faster, and that’s true. But in excess, it doesn’t allow you to get a deep sleep or feel rested. And the goal of sleep is to feel rested. Also, as Beth said, try to stay away from caffeine, nicotine, or other foods that can make it difficult for you to fall asleep.

Finally, although I began by emphasizing the importance of sleep and the vicious cycle between stress and sleep, try as best as you can to stay calm. The worst is when you get in the pattern of checking the clock, where it’s like, “alright, if I fall asleep now, I’ll get 8 hours of sleep.” And then it's an hour later and you’re like, “alright if I fall asleep right this second, I’ll get 7 hours!” And you just get more stressed and more nervous. So if you are having trouble calming down to sleep, you can try mindful breathing. Or try reflecting on 3–5 things you’re grateful for to help alleviate your stress and clear your mind before bed.

Other calming wind-down techniques you can try are taking a warm shower or bath, prayer or meditation, or if you are worried about a lot of things going on, try writing them down in a notebook. Then you can put them aside and if they start popping in your mind, just say “I put them down, I can worry about them tomorrow.”

Another exercise that works is progressive muscle relaxation, which is going through each muscle group and tensing and relaxing it. So again, we have a bunch of resources on HPRC’s sleep optimization section to either give you tips to build great sleep hygiene or to give you tips as to how to calm down your stress so that you can help yourself fall asleep.

Ryan: Awesome. I remember we’ve mentioned the Human Performance Resource Center website, HPRC-online.org, as a great resource to just check out for all this information related to sleep, related to mindfulness, related to nutrition. I’m curious, one of the things I’m thinking about is, okay, we talked about preparation, what happens when we finally get to our new assignment. That first day can feel so jarring, and it can be a really intense time. What do you recommend that Service Members and those that are traveling with them, their families, can do to prepare?

CHAMP/Beth: Well, that final day is a good time to draw on all the resources and techniques we’ve talked about this episode. Hopefully the day before, you got in a good workout, ate a healthy dinner, and used good sleep hygiene to get a good night's sleep. And you now know how to use caffeine strategically in the morning. That morning, the best thing you can do is focus on staying present.

If you are sitting—anywhere—you can do this and no one will know: Place both feet firmly on the ground, meaning uncross your legs and ankles. Notice where the ground is in contact with your shoes. Notice all the points where your body is touching the chair. Notice your back. Notice if your elbows or arms are touching. Let your hands fall heavy on your lap. Let more weight sink into the chair. Soften your gaze. Feel the support of the chair and the earth beneath you. Breathe here. You can stay there noticing. And when your mind begins to wander, start noticing the points of contact from your feet up through the rest of the body again.

Practice this as many times as you need across those first days.

Ryan: Alright great. Well thank you again. I think both of you all have given me enough to fall asleep now, so we’ll sign off. Again, I encourage those of you who are listening in to tune in next time. We’re going to talk about, now that we’ve gone through that first day and that transition, what do we do to sort of get back a sense of normalcy, get back in our routine and kind of move on moving forward? So check us out next time, and in the meantime, go ahead and look at that website again, HPRC-online.org. Thank you guys again for coming in.

PCS survival guide episode 2: Staying present and getting enough sleep [Audio]

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