There never seems to be enough hours in the day to get everything done and get enough sleep. We strive for alertness and productivity, but they often seem easier to dream of than to truly achieve. While strong coffee or energy drinks (which carry their own risks) are popular quick-fixes among Sailors to boost energy and alertness, there may be temptation to use prescription stimulants to strengthen performance on the job. Using prescription stimulants in this way can put Sailors’ health and careers at risk, especially if taking someone else’s medication. There are safe and natural alternatives to prescription stimulants that you can incorporate into your day-to-day routine to boost your energy when you may not always be able to get the sleep you need.
Understanding Prescription Stimulants and their Effects
Prescription medications such as Adderall (Dextroamphetamine-Amphetamine) and Ritalin (Methylphenidate) are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a condition causing chronic inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviors. In some cases, they are also used to treat narcolepsy, a condition marked by intense daytime drowsiness. These medications are central nervous system stimulants that affect certain chemicals in the brain. For people who have ADHD or narcolepsy, these medications are very effective in the treatment of their symptoms and can help them gain the attentiveness and alertness that they need to function in their daily lives.
Because of stimulants’ ability to alleviate inattentiveness and sleepiness in people with ADHD or narcolepsy, some people who do not have diagnosed conditions feel that these medications may create positive results for them. However, a small study of college students co-conducted by the University of Rhode Island and Brown University found that these medications are not helpful to people who do not have ADHD. While they may provide temporary improvement of mood and focus, they do not appear to improve performance or reading comprehension, and they can impair short-term memory. Additionally, if not under the supervision of a doctor, an individual taking prescription stimulants that they have not been prescribed could be at risk of potentially harmful side effects such as heart problems, increased blood pressure or stroke.
Increasing Alertness and Attention Safely
When your watchstanding duty makes you feel like taping your eyelids open, getting these sorts of medications from a friend, family member or shipmate may seem like a good option. But sharing prescription medications can potentially threaten your Navy career. Try these tips to safely work towards becoming more attentive, alert and productive.
- Optimize your sleep. Being tired and fatigued is a huge factor in preventing alertness. Seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night is ideal for Sailors, but it isn’t always possible. Sufficient sleep contributes to better memory, mood and performance. If that sort of sleep schedule is out of reach for you, squeezing in 30-minute or two-hour naps can alleviate fatigue and get you on track. Caffeine may be a helpful energy booster for you but remember to avoid it during the latter half of your day, as it can prevent restful sleep. Large meals, tobacco products, alcohol and exercise before bed can also be disruptive to your sleep, so avoid those in the few hours before you plan to lie down. A helpful tip for watch standing is following a 3/9 watchbill. This includes three-hour watches with nine hours off between watches. Ask your supervisor about following this schedule that maximizes performance and allows for adequate rest.
- Establish a mindful morning routine. Waking up and putting yourself into the right mindset for productivity is essential. Try to find time for activities that promote balanced energy and focus, like meditation, working out and eating a balanced breakfast. Avoid checking your email as that can overload your brain with all the tasks you have to do. The same goes for checking social media and feeling bombarded with all the things that your connections have going on in their lives.
- Focus on the tasks that matter and give yourself breaks. Instead of creating your to-do list with every single one of your tasks in mind, identify what is especially pressing for the day and focus on completing those. Remember that getting things done doesn’t have to be a marathon, so take breaks. Overworking the brain can make productivity even more challenging, frustrating and tiring.
- Complete your most challenging work before lunch. Find yourself feeling sluggish after eating lunch? Try working on your more difficult tasks before your break when the mind is still fresh and you’re able to put forth your best energy. Save the “busy work” that doesn’t require as much creativity or brain power for later.
- Eat for energy and resilience. A balanced diet not only promotes physical health, it also affects emotional and psychological health. Eating can be an emotional response, causing us to snack when bored or tired. Those feelings may cause us to crave processed foods like chips or high-sugar snacks such as cookies. Choosing whole foods over processed foods can positively impact mood and give you the energy you need to get through the day. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains or fruit can provide an energy boost, and lean proteins and vegetables can give your mood a needed boost as well. Caffeine can give you a jolt of energy but in excess can increase anxiety and cause apprehension, agitation and uneasiness as well as dehydration. Most caffeinated energy drinks also contain high amounts of sugar, which can create the unwanted effect of fatigue if blood sugar levels significantly increase too rapidly.
Prescription stimulants are safe and helpful for individuals with diagnosed conditions that require their use but are harmful when used as a quick fix for your energy or productivity deficit. Implementing these tips into your daily routine can help you boost your energy naturally, strengthening your performance without threatening your health or Navy career.
Knowing the Signs and Reaching Out for Help
Seeking help promptly is the best thing you can do for health and safety if you think you or someone you know may have a problem with prescription drug misuse. Signs of prescription drug misuse include:
- Mood swings or hostility
- Abnormal energy
- Significant increase or decrease in fatigue or sleep
- Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
- Asking friends and family members for their medication
- Claiming that their prescription was lost or stolen
If you recognize these signs within yourself or others, speak with your command Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor (DAPA) or doctor, or call 1-866-U-ASK-NPC.
For more information and tips to use prescription drugs safely, visit the Prescription for Discharge campaign online at http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/support/21st_Century_Sailor/DDD/campaigns/prescription/Pages/default.aspx.