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Sleeping on the job?

Servicemembers under the gun on ZZZs

The consequences of sleep deprivation are actually greater in the military than in the civilian community because they (military members) are risking their lives. Photo credit: David Vergun

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Sleep deprivation is no joke; with consequences relative to both personal health and military performance, the issue of not getting enough sleep is one that should be taken seriously. Dr. Elham Rezvanian, who specializes in neurology and sleep medicine has been in the medical field for 15 years, and with Pacific Medical Centers since August 2013. Having experience with sleep-related disorders and tendencies, Dr. Rezvanian breaks down the cyclic ramifications of sleep and the effects it has on military members.

What is the official definition of sleep deprivation?

We need to feel refreshed when we wake up in the morning in order to function properly. Keeping this in mind, the general definition of sleep deprivation is when someone regularly and routinely sleeps less than the amount of hours that is required for feeling refreshed for optimum functioning.

Is it classified as a disorder?

It is not classified as a disorder, but sleep deprivation is more of a misbehavior that can actually lead to many other disorders.

What is the importance of obtaining enough sleep for military personnel and people in general?

We need to sleep enough to have normal cognitive and psychological function. That includes: short-term memory, decision making, attention levels, logical reasoning, judgment, mood, and energy levels. We need to sleep enough in order to have a better quality of life. People who are sleep-deprived constantly complain about not having any energy or being tired for certain activities, so they are not really enjoying their life to the greatest capacity; their life quality is poor. It's also important to get enough sleep to maintain a healthy cardiovascular and immune system in order to avoid risks of hypertension, heart attacks and general sickness.

How has sleep deprivation proven to impact work performance?

Sleep deprivation can increase the likelihood of accidents and work-related errors due to slower reaction times. The result of this is that it takes longer for them to respond to stimuli, and that can in turn increase the number of safety violations. It impacts concentration, multitasking abilities, and tardiness and absences from work.

What are some of the negative repercussions of sleep deprivation in the military?

Specific to the military, people need a high level of vigilance in order to cope with hostile environments, operating conflict systems, participating in detailed mission planning and specific motor skills for sharp shooting. The consequences of deprivation are actually greater in the military than in the civilian community because they (military members) are risking their lives. Because of this, they need to have sound judgment, decision-making skills, and good levels of attention and concentration.

How many hours of sleep per night would you recommend for the average adult?

For the average adult, we do recommend seven to nine hours of sleep per night. There are people who can run on less and those who need to sleep longer, but since the definition of getting a good night's sleep means feeling refreshed, it can vary. Someone may sleep for nine hours but not feel refreshed when they wake up; they are not functional and should therefore aim for more hours of sleep, perhaps 10. In general we don't recommend sleeping less than 6 hours within 24 hours. Please keep in mind that sleep quality is also as important as sleep quantity in order to feel refreshed upon awakening. Some people may feel groggy upon awakening in the morning, but this resolves after 10-15 minutes. This is called "sleep inertia" which can be seen with normal sleep hours.

What are some ways for people to ensure they receive the adequate amount of sleep?

The best thing is to be highly functional, to not feel fatigued or tired, and to not fall asleep unintentionally throughout the day. To feel refreshed, it is important to have a regulated sleep schedule. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day is imperative to this. Some military personnel have to be up very early or go to sleep very late, and for those people scheduled short naps (about 15-20 minutes) can be helpful.

What positive aspects are incorporated into work performance when people are getting the right amount of sleep on a nightly basis?

It's been proven to increase efficiency and multitasking. When you're not sleep-deprived, you're at your optimum functioning levels - this saves you time and energy as you no longer have to repeat tasks due to doing them correctly the first time.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know about sleep deprivation and how it affects quality of work?

I want people to consider the importance of having good sleep hygiene. Many times, sleep deprivation does happen because of work, but there are other behaviors that can cause this. Watching TV, looking at our cell phones, texting, being on the computer - these are the behaviors that lead to sleep deprivation and a poor quality of sleep. I want people to focus on having a regular sleep schedule as well as good sleep hygiene. If you feel tired upon awakening despite getting an enough amount of sleep at night, please talk to your doctor about it. This might be due to poor sleep quality and you may benefit from further evaluation by a sleep specialist.

Dr. Elham Rezvanian, MD, practices sleep medicine and neurology at Pacific Medical Centers in its Beacon Hill, Northgate, Renton and Diagnostic Center for Sleep Health clinics. Pacific Medical Centers is a private, not-for-profit, multi-specialty health care network with 150 primary and specialty care providers. Its nine locations are in the Puget Sound neighborhoods of Beacon Hill, Canyon Park, Federal Way, First Hill, Lakewood, Lynnwood, Northgate, Puyallup, Renton and Totem Lake. To better serve its patients, PacMed plans to open a clinic in Lacey in 2016. Pacific Medical Centers serves patients with commercial insurance, retired military and their families, family members of active-duty personnel, as well as the underserved in our community.

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