Maj. Allison Brager, Ph.D.
U.S. Army Soldier, author, and neurobiologist, Maj. Allison Brager, Ph.D. is the U.S. Army’s leading expert in sleep practices and she has championed the implementation of quality sleep techniques and education throughout the force. She is involved in the Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) system – a program that helps our soldiers get good quality sleep and stay as healthy as possible. Her tips and techniques, which help our troops and soldiers sleep so they can protect our country, can help busy women improve their sleep habits.
Why is sleep so important?
Without enough sleep, the body has no means to repair and recover. Just like our bodies need to repair and recover after a workout, our brains need to repair and recover for our brain health. Sleep clears toxins and waste that build up across the day, and it also prevents our brain from being emotionally hijacked so that we can continue to make sound and rational decisions.
What are some of the health benefits of being well-rested?
All the aspects of our health are connected, and if sleep is compromised, all mental faculties, including your mood, suffer greatly until adequate sleep is achieved. The benefits of being well-rested are endless. Sufficient sleep optimizes alertness, vigilance, mood, memory, learning, decision-making, calculating risk, and interpersonal relationships.
I didn’t get any sleep last night and have a big day today. What steps can I take so I can function properly on no sleep?
If you find yourself up all night, there are steps you can take to recover from a bad night’s sleep: Find the Light – Our sleep system ‘resets’ in the morning through early morning light exposure. Try to get outside for some sunshine as soon as you wake up for a spark of energy to start your day, even if you haven’t had the best night of sleep. Work in Sprints of 25 Minutes – Sunlight paired with frequent breaks can help protect performance and productivity under conditions of sleep loss. The technique of working for 25 minutes at a time, known as the Pomodoro method, has been championed by some of the top business schools in the world and makes sense from a neuroscience viewpoint, given the average human’s attention span.
What is “healthy sleep” and how much do I need?
Ideally, everyone should be aiming for 8 hours of sleep a night. One night of sleep loss may be challenging for next-day performance if the individual is already chronically sleep deprived, which is defined as consistently getting less than 70% of daily sleep needs. Army research has consistently shown that it only takes three days of getting less than 70% of sleep needs for any individual to be significantly physiologically and psychologically compromised by lack of sleep. The only way to recover is through paying back that sleep debt.
Every night, I have difficulty falling asleep. What can I do to try to improve my sleep overall?
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, these steps can help:
Avoid caffeine at least 6-8 hours before bed. Coffee’s rate of clearance from the body can be as much as 8 hours, potentially disrupting your sleep schedule.
Nutrition Matters – Prioritize your hydration and eat nutrient-dense food rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. All aspects of our health work together, and your sleep will suffer if your nutrition is off.
Get Moving – Exercise regularly with moderate activity. Simply making exercise a part of a weekly routine will make a difference in how a person feels and can also positively impact the quality of their sleep.
Only Use Your Bed For Sleep – Allowing yourself to scroll on your phone, watch television, or answer late-night emails in bed can negatively impact sleep. Set up a relaxing space to unwind in the hours leading up to bedtime, and head to your bedroom right before you plan to fall asleep.
Take a Quick Nap – Studies show several benefits to even a short 10-minute nap for physical and mental performance. Even if you are a person who can’t nap, lying down for 10 minutes with your eyes closed and focusing on your breath can help.
Phone a Friend – Conversation with friends and even strangers is often stimulating (and novel!) and increases activity in wake-promoting areas of the brain. Use a night of poor sleep to your advantage to bond with friends.