Feeling tired? Here are hints to fight fatigue

  • Published
  • By Maj. (Dr.) Rhodora Beckinger
  • 81st Aerospace Medicine Squadron
Everyone feels fatigued and the need for sleep on occasion. It could be at the end of a long duty day or, more to one's dismay, early in the morning or halfway through the workday. There's no cure for fatigue, but there are several things that people can do to minimize its effect.

A good night's sleep is the key to performing well the next day. For aircrew members, it is mandatory to have 12 hours off between events, with eight of those hours to be uninterrupted rest. Humans vary greatly in how much sleep they require.

Albert Einstein stated he needed 10 hours of sleep to perform at his peak, while Thomas Edison claimed a few hours a night was plenty.

A normal average amount of sleep is generally eight hours. The minimum amount of sleep to maintain performance during sustained operations is six to eight hours. Fragmented sleep isn't as effective as continuous sleep. If someone is tired, taking "combat naps" is useful. A sleep period as brief as 10 minutes, but no longer than 30 minutes, can be very useful and refreshing.

Equally important is to have and establish good sleep habits. People should try to go to sleep the same time every day, including weekends.

Try to develop a routine before sleep; this can also be useful when a military member is on temporary duty or deployed. Using a bed for sleep is essential; this associates a bed with sleep. If it's necessary for people to sleep outside the normal bedtime period, they should darken the room, keep noise to a minimum and wear clothes that they usually use for sleeping.

People should allow at least four hours between exercise and sleeping, because physical activity tends to wake people up.

Avoid caffeinated beverages including coffee, soda and tea several hours before going to sleep. Alcohol also reduces the quality and amount of sleep. Many people awake from hours of sleep after drinking alcohol and still don't feel refreshed. In other words, alcohol should not be used to help a person to sleep.

Another consideration is circadian rhythms, the body's internal body clock. The body clock normally is about 25 hours. Environmental cues such as light and darkness cause the biological clock to reset for 24 hours. Desynchronization occurs with travel and jet lag when crossing time zones, as well as shift work resulting in people staying up at night and sleeping during the day.

Generally, body cycles change at 40 minutes per day when going east and 60 minutes per day when traveling west. This means the body adjusts to westward travel faster. People should be aware of this and plan accordingly.

What has the Air Force done to combat fatigue? Air Force Aerospace physiologists and flight surgeons provide education in conjunction with experts in fatigue countermeasures. The Air Force Research Laboratory team at Brooks City Base, Texas, used a computer program called the FAST Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool that analyzed different work schedules to design the optimum one for maximum performance. This is especially helpful to personnel who have to do shift work.

At Keesler, Capt. Lisa Wurst, a psychologist in the 81st Medical Operations Squadron mental health flight, leads a new program to help people with sleep that offers an alternative to medications. The class provides education on proper sleep hygiene and nutrition to maximize sleep and encourages participants to maintain a sleep journal.

For more information on this program, call 376-0385. For other information on fatigue, call 376-0444.