Category Archives: Sleep

5 Ideas to Boost Your Mental Resilience

Conversations around psychological, mental and emotional health are evolving. While stigma still exists in some communities when it comes to discussing mental health, we all play a role in reducing these barriers. Starting open discussions with yourself and others about your thoughts and emotions is important during the COVID-19 crisis and can help make you more resilient.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and resulted in approximately 48,000 deaths in 2018. However, suicide is preventable. Talking openly about suicide without fear or shame is helpful and encourages help-seeking behavior and effective intervention.

While individuals of all backgrounds and identities may grapple with addressing or improving their mental health, men are featured as a potentially  vulnerable group due to their lower instances of help-seeking behavior. Men die at a higher rate by suicide than women.  One study notes: “too often many men do not talk about feeling down, sad, or depressed, and might not mention emotional or behavioral difficulties at all … although asking for help is difficult for many people, it is well documented that men tend to be reluctant to seek help in various contexts, including help for mental health concerns.”

Since June is Men’s Health Month, we want to highlight opportunities to support men – and everyone – in increasing their mental immunity:

Get enough sleep and rest. Sleep helps us process our experiences and recharge our mind and bodies for what’s ahead. Review common myths around sleep and ways to improve your sleep habits from Real Warriors. It’s okay to feel tired and to take time to rest. Pausing on a task or something you are working on is not a sign of giving up. Although it may seem like there are not enough hours in the day, taking short, 15-minute microbreaks may help you feel more focused and energized.

Grow and nurture your support network. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center outlines how “positive and supportive social relationships and community connections can help buffer the effects of risk factors in people’s lives.” Asking for help is a sign of strength, and building strong social ties leads to a happier and more fulfilled life. Instead of worrying about something, talk it out with a trusted friend or family member. Leaning on others when you need support does not detract from your personal strength – it just helps grow it.

Prioritize self-care. Self-care isn’t limited to cucumber face masks – it means different things to everyone and can be viewed through the lens of several health aspects. Self-care can be physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual or social, whether that means taking time to go for a relaxing bike ride, journaling your thoughts or reading a great book. Learn more about opportunities for self-care from the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s fact sheet on Psychological Toughness.

Role model positive behaviors and actions. Once you’ve developed a few healthy habits or found things that help you unwind, share them with others. Finding opportunities to informally mentor or provide advice to others may help you feel more refreshed. It’s okay to not have all of the answers and to ask questions.

Stay open to change. Several things in life look different over time, and we’re often faced with periods of uncertainty. You may not be able to control every aspect of your life, but you can control your response. Recognize and reflect on the good parts of the day and feel empowered to address adversity by responding more mindfully. When a stressful event occurs, take a moment to stop, regroup and ask yourself how you choose to respond. Focusing on putting energy into what you can control instead of putting energy to things outside of your control can help you feel more grounded.

If you or someone in your network is having a hard time, connect with resources that can help, like the Military Crisis Line. Call 24/7: 1-800-273-8255, press 1, text 838255 or chat.

Relax and Recharge for a Good Night of Sleep

Woman on bed reading book and drinking coffee

Going to sleep at night can be easier said than done. Whether you’re up late reflecting on the past or thinking about the future, our minds may need additional prompting in order to slow down before bed. From our emotional well-being, to our safety, to supporting our circadian rhythm, maintaining healthy sleep habits and routines positively impacts several aspects of our health.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute outlines how sleep deficiency occurs if you have one or more of the following experiences:

  • You don’t get enough sleep (sleep deprivation)
  • You sleep at the wrong time of day (that is, you’re out of sync with your body’s natural clock)
  • You don’t sleep well or get all of the different types of sleep that your body needs
  • You have a sleep disorder that prevents you from getting enough sleep or causes poor quality sleep

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute discusses how sleep deficiency can make you “have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night for optimal health.

Here are a few ideas on how to unwind before going to sleep:

Read a hardcover book or magazine. Scrolling through social media accounts, watching online videos or reading articles from a phone or laptop does not help our minds relax and get ready for sleep. Many sleep experts even recommend removing all digital devices from your bedroom or sleeping area. Although we live in a world of constant digital connectivity, swapping your phone for a book will help you relax and sleep more peacefully through the night.

Write down your thoughts. Instead of ruminating about an experience, take time to journal about your thoughts and experiences to help contextualize them before you go to sleep. For tips on how to get started journaling, check out this article.

Practice physical self-care. Exercise, stretch and/or take a bath to relax your muscles before going to sleep. Consistent exercise and movement throughout the day will also help you sleep better.

Do some light cleaning. Whether it’s your room, apartment, barracks or living space, take time before you go to bed to fold laundry, wipe down your counters or straighten up your papers. Focusing on small tasks each night will help you settle down with a sense of accomplishment and lead to a more relaxing wake up.

Meditate in a way that works for you. Several mobile applications now focus on guiding individuals through breathing and meditation activities. If you have already found a successful way to meditate, consider expanding your sensory experience by using a white noise machine or listening to nature sounds.

Prep for the next day. If you are feeling anxious about what the next day may bring, consider ways for how you can feel more empowered to take on new challenges and opportunities. Consider creating a to-do or goals list for the next day, checking the weather or packing your lunch.

For more ideas on how to get a better night of sleep, review the following items:

Seasonal Self-Care for Military Families

red autumn in the park

“Sweater weather” is here, but there’s more to the fall season than overhauling your family’s wardrobe by swapping bathing suits and sandals for warm jackets and boots. Though cleaning is typically associated with the spring, the fall season is synonymous with change and is an opportunity to clear out the excess and the negative from our lives, tune-up our engines and start fresh. As you notice the leaves starting to change color, the sun setting earlier and the days getting cooler, take a look at how your family’s schedules and routines may have transformed since the summer months as well. The fall season is a good time to evaluate, adjust or establish self-care strategies for yourself and your family to help everyone keep an even keel leading into the holiday season.

In the post Being There for Others Starts with Being There for Yourself, self-care is described as “your oxygen mask for everyday life and unpredictable moments alike.” It includes tending to basic needs that may sometimes fall by the wayside during busy times, such as eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly. Self-care also includes coping skills and strategies to help you regroup and decompress. Good self-care can be challenge for many and is unique for everyone. Check out these ideas to get your entire family on a path to restoring, revitalizing and recharging your self-care routines this fall:

  1. Give Your Fitness Routine a Facelift. Exercise is an overlooked but important type of self-care. Our daily lives are often dictated by schedules and sometimes run on auto-pilot. When things pop up and throw us off course, workout time may be the first thing to go. But exercising isn’t merely a tool to promote physical health or just another item on the to-do list. Your workout can also serve as a daily escape from routine and challenges. If you can’t make it to the gym to take your usual run on the treadmill, move your run outdoors to enjoy the fall foliage, cooler temperatures and convenience that nature has to offer. While building your workout into your regular routine is ideal, switching it up will help you meet your goals without causing your fitness gains to plateau or your schedule to spin out of control. Whether you get in 30 minutes of cardio at the gym or on the trail, you’re still caring for your mental and physical strength. Check out other workouts you can try here.
  1. Make Good Zzz’s a Priority. As we adjust to winding the clocks back an hour, make an effort to help your family build better sleep habits. Creating a sleep-ready environment, following a consistent and relaxing sleep ritual, and avoiding stimulants before bedtime (such as sugar, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine) are all examples of healthy sleep habits that you and your family can incorporate into your self-care practices. A good night’s sleep is so vital, that even slight deprivation beyond the recommended seven to nine hours can negatively affect performance, memory, mood, judgment and healthy stress navigation. In fact, research demonstrates that after only one day without sleep, even young, healthy service members lose 25 percent of their ability to think clearly [1]. For more sleep tips, check out Human Performance Resource Center’s Sleep Optimization section for strategies, apps, assessments and tools.
  1. Make Time for Play Time. Even though it is sometimes dismissed as unproductive, “recess” is just as essential for adults as it is for kids. Play is important for many aspects of our lives, boosting creativity, improving relationships and connection with others, fostering problem-solving skills, improving brain function and fueling emotional well-being. Rather than adding to your sensory overload from electronic gadgets, find unstructured activities that allow you to unplug while having fun and enjoying yourself. Fall provides the perfect backdrop for investing in some play time. Carve or paint a pumpkin with friends or family, jump in a pile of leaves, go apple-picking, attend a local fall festival, or go hiking.
  1. Practice Gratitude. Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to share what you’re thankful for; start now to cultivate an attitude of gratitude throughout the year. New Small ACT Selfie signs with a seasonal twist are now available, providing you and your family with the opportunity to jot down what you’re grateful for, take a photo with the sign, and submit to navysuicideprevention@gmail.com for publishing in the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery on Flickr and Facebook. To keep the practice going, create a gratitude jar and place it in a high-traffic area in your home with small strips of paper and a pen or pencil nearby. Encourage everyone to write down one or two things for which they’re grateful and take a moment to reflect on what life would look like without those things. Whenever challenges arise or anyone needs a motivational boost, pull a strip from the jar.

The onset of the holiday season often sneaks up on us, placing increased demands on our time, wallets and relationships, as well as our physical and emotional health. This year, don’t let taking care of yourself fall by the wayside; make it a priority for your entire family so that you can each find simple and healthy ways to navigate stress, restore a sense of Controllability and enjoy all that the season has to offer. Practicing healthy self-care habits is one way to be there for yourself, your family and Every Sailor, Every Day.

Fatigue: “The Big Grey Elephant in the Room”

USS Freedom, LCS-1 swaps crew

As Sailors, sleep can seem like a luxury or low priority relative to mission demands, and surviving off of little to no sleep is often worn like a badge of honor. However, the amount of sleep the body needs doesn’t vary by individual—seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night is ideal for all Sailors, according to Naval Postgraduate School’s Crew Endurance website.

The 2011 DoD Health Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Personnel found that less than 50 percent of active duty service members get at least seven hours of sleep per night, increasing risk for a myriad of psychological health issues such as depression, anxiety and suicide risk.

A good night’s sleep is so vital that even slight deprivation can negatively affect performance, memory, mood and judgment, as well as one’s perception of and response to stress. When you’re sleepy, you may feel irritable, lack motivation, or lose patience more quickly, impacting everything from decision-making and impulsivity, to family relationships and operational readiness.

Crew Endurance, developed by Naval Postgraduate School with collaboration from Navy’s Operational Stress Control Program, offers practical tips, research and operational tools for promoting adequate rest. To build your endurance:

  • Aim for seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, preferably at the same time each day. While uninterrupted sleep is ideal, compensating for any sleep deficit with a nap has proven benefits. A twenty-minute nap can help mitigate the effects of extended periods without rest on the mind and body, giving you a power boost. Avoid trying to plow through your day without adequate rest. Going 22 hours without sleep has the same effect on performance as being legally drunk!
  • Avoid large meals and vigorous exercise close to bedtime. Consuming a nutritious and balanced diet is essential for fueling the mind and body, however, eating large meals before bedtime can lead to sleep disturbances. Aim to make your last meal of the day your smallest, and avoid alcohol in the last few hours before bedtime. Similarly, while exercising regularly can lead to stable energy throughout the day, avoid exercising within two to three hours before going to bed. For fitness and nutrition tips, check out Navy Physical Readiness.
  • Use caffeine strategically. Coffee and other caffeinated beverages are best suited for the first part of your shift to promote alertness. However, caffeine, including soft drinks, should be avoided before bedtime. Instead, hydrate with nature’s best: water.

Other tips for promoting optimal rest include blocking light and limiting noise in your sleep environment by using eye masks and ear plugs. It’s also preferable to use bright light in the workspace to aid the body’s natural circadian rhythm.

There are several ways to promote healthy sleep and work patterns at the command level as well, such as the Circadian-Based Watch Schedule, which has been tried by more than a dozen ships around the fleet. A circadian-based watchbill is any schedule which is built around a 24-hour day, with stable sleep periods each day vice those built upon 15, 18 or 20 hour days. In combination with adjusting meal hours, allowing adequate time for physical training and holding most meetings mid-day, Circadian-Based Watch Schedules can promote crew alertness, optimize readiness and enhance command climate.

To learn more about sleep, test your fatigue level or find out how your command can implement a Circadian-based Watch Schedule, visit Crew Endurance at my.nps.edu/web/crewendurance/index.

Getting Ahead of the Post-Holiday Blues

21 Days of TSF PSYCH

Now that the gifts have been opened, loved ones have left, holiday leave is ending and leftovers are gone, you may find that the happy is starting to fade with the imminent passing of the holidays. While you might be looking forward to returning to routine, the “come-down” from the fast pace and merriment of the season may leave you feeling a little blue. Here are a few strategies to help you start off the New Year with a positive outlook and shake off the humbugs for good.

Take a Moment to Unplug and Recharge. Though we think of the holidays as a break from work, that’s not always the case. Whether you were forward-deployed, working your usual hours or were hurriedly preparing for family gatherings and last-minute shopping, you may have found yourself short on rest. As the New Year begins, make a commitment to incorporate more downtime into your routine and make sleep a priority, aiming for at least seven hours per day. To help you reach this goal, take advantage of any opportunity for brief naps during the day. And, while staying connected with loved ones is important, consider “unplugging” 15-30 minutes before bedtime to create an optimal sleep environment. Check out this post for more tips to help recharge your resilience with a good night’s sleep.

Get Moving! Physical activity helps increase the production of endorphins (our brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters) helping to counter effects of stress while keeping you physically and emotionally fit. According to the Navy Physical Readiness Program, Sailors should participate in moderate physical activity for at least two hours and 30 minutes per week, and should strength train all major muscle groups at least twice per week. If you’re short on time or motivation, get going with this do-anywhere-workout to help you re-establish your exercise regimen. Short on space? There’s a workout for that, too!

Regain a Sense of Control. Does a lack of green in the bank have you a little blue? Though you may have given it your strongest effort this season, realities of overspending can take anyone by surprise when the bills start to roll in. Knowing where you stand can help you regain a sense of Controllability and peace of mind. Start by collecting your receipts and matching them against expenses to separate holiday transactions from regular household expenses. This will also help to ensure that each expense on your credit card statement is valid (for identity theft information, click here). Now that you have a better idea of what you may owe beyond what you originally budgeted for, you can create a feasible plan to eliminate holiday debt or reduce spending to increase cash on hand. In addition to seeking advice at your local Fleet and Family Support Center, check out www.militarysaves.org, and www.powerpay.org to help you determine the best way ahead.

Connect with Gratitude to Combat Loneliness. Though there are holidays that are oriented toward conveying gratitude and love, you can connect with these feelings at any time of year to reap their benefits. If you find yourself feeling lonely, write a note to a loved one, shipmate or friend describing how he or she makes a difference in your life. Expressing thanks can strengthen connections with others and benefit both parties. Volunteering for a cause that holds personal Meaning is another way to find satisfaction, connection and a sense of purpose.

Try incorporating these small acts into your daily life to help you perk up post-holidays or choose one to practice throughout the New Year. For more strategies to help you keep an even keel, check out Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s updated Relax Relax Toolkit.