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Achieving daily success through sound sleep

  • Published
  • By Steven Belcher, MS, LPC, LCDC, AADC
  • 7th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron

During these difficult times, it can be tempting to give in a little, to let some things go, and settle in to the moment at hand.  Whether that means extra drinks, all-night gaming, or binging on the latest episode(s!) of your favorite show, sleep can quickly go out the window, down the street, and out of the house for the rest of the night or day.   

Learning to balance good sleep and good living is a valuable skill that can make tasks a bit easier, missions a little smoother, and each day better than it might have been.  But it’s easier said than done, and a recent RAND corporation study found only 37% of service-members sleep the recommended 7-9 hours per average night, with nearly 1/3 getting 5 or less hours nightly and over 50% report clinically significant poor sleep quality. 

Why is sleep important?  It boosts mood, mental efficiency, the immune system, mental and physical health, and reduces likelihood many assorted issues (including but not limited to Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety and depression, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, motor vehicle accidents, muscle tears, weight gain and avoidable errors at work).  It can be made harder to achieve if a person is impacted by mental (e.g., anxiety, depression) or physical health (e.g., chronic pain, sleep apnea, TBI) issues, but improvement is possible. 

How does good sleep happen?  Sleep hygiene is the foundation’s foundation.  It includes (among many elements) a balanced lifestyle of work and play, consistent pattern of sleep and wakefulness (as much as shift work allows!), avoidance of certain things close to bed (e.g., alcohol, stimulants like caffeine or nicotine, strenuous exercise), dedicating use of the bed primarily for sleep and sex, and a sleep-positive environment (cool, dark, and free from distractions like a constantly-buzzing phone or visible alarm clock).  Diets rich in fruits and vegetables also promote healthier sleep patterns.

Chemical substances such as alcohol, antihistamines (e.g., Benadryl), and melatonin are used by some for sleep but come with cost.  Alcohol causes drowsiness but also disrupts restorative REM sleep (leading to tiredness the following day), antihistamines can contribute to sleepwalking and psychological dependence, and melatonin supplements have not been shown in evidence-based studies to be more effective than a placebo (sugar pill), instead possibly helping a person to sleep by encouraging their perception that sleep is now on the way, in turn relaxing a person and making sleep more likely. 

Incorporating relaxing elements such as a few minutes of light yoga, a warm drink (milk or non-caffeinated tea), aromatherapy, and gradually turning down lights and turning off electronic devices before bed can help as well.   

Ok, so you have set yourself up for success with good sleep hygiene and you lie down, and wait, and wait… and toss… and turn, and are still awake!  This happens to all of us eventually, and can be handled with some targeted effort and patience.   And just like passing a PT test, the best time to get ready is not the day before an important deadline or test but in the days and weeks leading up.  Prioritizing sleep and practicing sleep improvement methods over time can and often does yield positive results. 

Below are a few ones commonly offered within sleep clinics.  Try them out and see for yourself if having that solid foundation can add some energy and productivity to your day (or night!).  If you want or need additional support, qualified providers are available to assist within the Behavioral Health Optimization Program (325) 696-4677 and Mental Health Clinic (325) 696-5380.

A Few Commonly Used Sleep Encouragement Tools

4-7-8 Breathing

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Paradoxical Intention

  1. Let your lips part slightly and make a whooshing sound as you exhale through your mouth.
  2. Then close your lips and inhale silently through your nose. Count to 4 in your head.
  3. Then hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  4. After, exhale (with a whoosh sound) for 8 seconds.
  5. Avoid being too alert at the end of each cycle. Try to practice it mindlessly.
  6. Complete this cycle for four full breaths. Let your body sleep if you feel relaxation coming on earlier than anticipated.
  1. Raise your eyebrows as high as possible for 5 seconds. This will tighten your forehead muscles.
  2. Relax your muscles immediately and feel the tension drop. Wait 10 seconds.
  3. Smile widely to create tension in your cheeks. Hold for 5 seconds. Relax.
  4. Pause 10 seconds.
  5. Squint with your eyes shut. Hold 5 seconds. Relax.
  6. Pause 10 seconds.
  7. Tilt your head slightly back so you are comfortably looking at the ceiling. Hold 5 seconds. Relax as your neck sinks back into the pillow.
  8. Pause 10 seconds.
  9. Keep moving down the rest of the body, from your triceps to chest, thighs to feet.
  10. Let yourself fall asleep, even if you do not finish tensing and relaxing the rest of your body.

With this technique, you tell yourself you have to stay awake, hopefully encouraging sleep instead.


Imagine yourself in calm environment and allow yourself to experience all the feelings that go with it. 


A popular image is being near a waterfall, hearing and seeing the echoing, rushing water, scent of damp moss, and cool mist on your face.  

Free and Paid Apps

There are also a multitude of apps that incorporate everything discussed here and more.  Many have free trials as well. 

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