Some people pride themselves on their “ability” to operate on a lack of sleep. “Yea, I get 4 hours of sleep a night, and that’s all I need.” They say it like it’s some badge of honor to suck at sleeping.
We all know there are nights when you’re not going to get the amount of sleep you want. Calls that wake you up in the middle of the night, extended work hours filling out reports, working overtime, running missions outside the wire at unusual hours, and so on. We can’t avoid these situations. What we need to do is to take it a step further, to see if it is acute or chronic sleep deprivation.
Acute sleep deprivation will affect everyone at some point. It’s those long nights of job duties or simply those nights when you can’t fall asleep. The differentiator is that it only lasts for a night or two. It becomes a much bigger problem when your body is neglected sleep over an extended period of time. That pride in getting minimal sleep over the long-term might have greater health consequences than one might think.
Lack of sleep is going to spike your cortisol (stress hormone) levels. From there, your immune system is going to become compromised, making you more prone to illness. Your ability to recover is going to plummet, decreasing your physical performance and opening the window for injury. Add to that the mental toll. Your cognitive ability is going to decrease, making you less focused and more susceptible to making mistakes. Your reaction time and ability to make split-second decisions will go down the drain.
We can combat these with a few strategies. I know not all of these will always be viable, but adhere to them as often as you can. Try to go to bed at the same time every night. Avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before you plan on sleeping. Eliminate light (artificial and natural) before bed as much as possible. Use earplugs to drown out sound (if feasible). Keep your phone and television out of the bedroom. Keep your sleep environment cool. Workout earlier in the day to ensure your core temperature isn’t elevated when it’s time to go to sleep. Hope these help!
Jon Griffith specializes in optimizing performance for firefighters, police, EMS, and military personnel. He is a personal trainer, strength & conditioning specialist, full-time firefighter, and former U.S. Army infantryman. Join the movement to ensure all emergency responders are physically and mentally prepared to face the challenges in their day brings by following Max Fortitude Fitness on Facebook.