Catching zzz's does the body good

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman David Dobrydney
  • 313th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The 313th Air Expeditionary Wing is made up of Airmen who came from bases across the United States, often at a moment's notice.

Airman 1st Class Patrick Garred, a crew chief with the 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pittsburgh, Pa., said the trip across multiple time zones wasn't too difficult for him since he got some rest on the way. His colleagues on the night shift however, only slept a few hours before having to report to work.

"The 12 hour shifts make it hard to get rest, but I guess it's just part of the deployment," Airman Garred said.

Other Airmen have come up with strategies to adjust to the time changes.

"I try to stay awake the whole day," said Capt. Brigitt Kincaid, pilot with the 128th Air Refueling Wing, Milwaukee, Wis. "If you can do that, you can sleep really well that first night."

The changes in sleep rhythm have been observed by Dr. (Lt. Col.) Eric Vinson, 313th Medical Group flight surgeon.

"Because of the intense nature of this deployment, people are working longer hours than they're used to and not having much relief," he said.

As a flight surgeon, Doctor Vinson's primary responsibility is to care for aircrews and health issues related to flying. Part of his military training included ways to optimize crew rest cycles. Doctor Vinson has been able to apply those lessons to the rest of the deployed personnel and even to himself in his civilian job as an emergency room surgeon.

"We all have a natural circadian rhythm going from rest to wakefulness," he said. "Your body takes cues from your environment that can affect that rhythm, such as light, food and activity."

Travel also disrupts sleep cycles. For every time zone an individual crosses, it can take up to a week for their bodies to become acclimated to the change.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, there are many strategies for keeping good sleep hygiene. Tips include not going to bed hungry, getting up at the same time each morning and not going to bed until you are actually sleepy. If you aren't sleepy, then experts recommend getting up and doing something relaxing such as reading a book.

While sleep may seem trivial compared to the mission, Dr. Vinson warned that the negative effects of sleeplessness build up over time.

"Sleep deprivation is cumulative," he said. "If you don't consistently get enough sleep, eventually your body is going to force you to sleep in inappropriate places. That could affect mission accomplishment."