The more quality sleep we get, the better we function. While important to everyone, this is especially critical for our military personnel, whether active, discharged or retired, as they try to juggle their lives spending long hours overseas or back at home. Yet so often, and for so many servicemen and women, a good night’s rest evades us.
When I was serving in the United States Army, sleep was one of the first things to go as I got ready to deploy to Iraq. The situation only worsened during my tour. My fellow soldiers and I were often woken in the middle of the night by loud noises, from incoming RPGs to gunfire. We’d then rapidly move from our cots in a large warehouse into a bunker outside in the middle of the night. And after I lost my leg, my sleep deprivation escalated as I endured my time in the hospital -- time I spent trying to figure out what my new life with one leg was going to be like. Only after moments of reflection -- Could I still live a normal life with one leg? -- did my stress ease and my sleep improve.
Serving Your Country Often Means Sacrificing Sleep
According to a Blue Star Families (BSF) survey, 15 percent of military personnel experienced sleep challenges as a result of a military lifestyle, and almost 32 percent reported sleep disorders. As I know firsthand, the stressors military personnel contend with can take a toll on your overall quality of life. Leading into deployments, there are longer work hours as you prepare your equipment and engage with your fellow soldiers in battle drills that will be used overseas. To prepare to ship out, my unit conducted field exercises in which we slept in big tents and on cots surrounded by the rest of a team -- conditions that led to nights of only three to four hours of sleep. Add to that the emotional stress of saying goodbye to your family, and the day-to-day tasks required by those serving in all branches of the military, and it becomes all too clear why sleep is difficult to come by.
Deployment Leads To Restless Nights Back Home
The stress associated with an overseas deployment often affects the families back home, as well. Not surprisingly, research indicates that the spouses of those currently deployed claimed poorer sleep quality and more fatigue compared with spouses whose other half is at home. Concern for safety of a loved one can turn into long days and sleepless nights. According to the BSF study, military spouses averaged only 4.7 hours of sleep, or nearly half of the 8.7 hours of sleep Americans get on average.
Promising Signs Of Better Sleep To Come
There are signs, though, that sleeping conditions for active military personnel have been improving since my time in Iraq. Depending on the branch of the military, some soldiers now have more private sleeping quarters and beds, which lead to more and better-quality sleep.
It’s encouraging to see these changes, and more attention being paid to the unique sleep patterns and needs of those serving in the military. Even though soldiers are often able to function on less sleep than the average person does back home, it’s crucial to find a balance in order to stay alert and to function well in high-stress environments.
I've experienced firsthand how much a commitment to high-quality sleep can help sustain you through intense physical and mental challenges. While I was training to compete in the Paratriathlon at the Rio Paralympics, sleep was my secret weapon. It became a priority -- as I needed a sound mind and a clear head to make the most of each of my workouts. With at least eight hours of sleep per night and the ability to adjust my Sleep Number bed to provide the optimum rejuvenation from the day’s workout, I was able to start each new day of training knowing that I was putting my best self forward. My practice times continued to improve with each training session, and I was able not only to qualify for Rio but earn a bronze medal for my country. It’s been a journey that I will never forget!
With Veterans Day in sight, I encourage us all to take the time to express our appreciation to those serving and who have served. They push through tireless days and nights to preserve the freedom that we have here in America. Thank you, and sleep well.
Just like diet and exercise, sleep is unique to each person and important for optimal health. Sleep Number® beds adjust on each side to your ideal level of firmness, comfort and support — your Sleep Number® setting. And when you add SleepIQ® technology, you’ll know what to adjust for your best possible sleep.