by Megan Thatford
A constant state of exhaustion, surviving on energy drinks, coffee, and barely functioning while in a state of partial delirium are things that many within the military, veteran, law enforcement, and first responder communities consider a way of life.
“It’s the job.”
“It’s the training.”
“It’s just what “we” do.”
These are common statements that provide reoccurring, weak excuses for poor sleep quality. The reality is prolonged lack of sleep increases your risk for illness and may enhance the adverse effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) or post-traumatic stress (PTS).
Among those that suffer from a range of post-traumatic stress and TBI symptoms, insomnia is the most reported complaint. In fact, HunterSeven Foundation, a veteran-founded medical research organization, discovered that 59.1% of veterans suffer from insomnia post-deployment when compared to 12% pre-deployment. However, PTS and TBI are not exclusive to members of the military. On-the-job training and traumatic experiences for emergency responders, law enforcement, and medical providers can increase the risk for PTS and sleep disorders among these populations as well.
For example, there was an increased rate of emergency responders suffering from insomnia after the September 11th attacks, and recently, the rapid burnout rate for medical teams working in COVID-filled hospitals, losing patient after patient, has resulted in increased sleep disorders. These events, paired with shift work, deployments, or a rapid training tempo, drastically increase instances of insomnia and have adverse ripple effects on overall health in both the long- and short-term.
The downward spiral happens easily and quickly, and often goes unnoticed. Exhaustion leads to poor eating, poor eating leads to limited energy, limited energy leads to minimal physical activity. Nighttime restlessness and stress lead to temporary “BandAid-like” solutions in the form of alcohol and over-the-counter medications. Bad nutrition, lack of exercise, and excessive alcohol use have their own sinister influences on the body. Alcohol alone inhibits the body from reaching REM (rapid eye movement), a key phase of sleep. Even a few drinks to simply “shut off” or “wind down” can have a negative impact on quality sleep.
While the importance of sleep has been understood for ages, recent conversations around sleep have focused on quality of sleep and its impact on human performance. High-quality, restorative sleep is a building block in functional medicine, a practice in which discovering and treating the root cause of dysfunction is the path to optimal wellness.
Human performance, a buzz word in recent years, is not limited to athletes, operators, and law enforcement. It is a baseline applicable to every human. The multitude of sleep monitoring devices available to consumers, from Apple to Whoop, measure sleep as a core wellness metric. Sleep performance is easily calculated, and in a data-driven world, everyone can participate without any real effort. Most importantly, everyone can improve their sleep habits and, thus, performance.
For the military, law enforcement, and emergency responder communities, poor human performance puts others at risk. The connection between sleep and performance is so important that it’s become a part of the training regimen for the military. Naps are now recommended by the military and included in the Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness Manual. At Lackland Air Force Base, home to the Air Force Special Warfare Training Wing, Airmen are outfitted with down comforters and pillows and settle in at a comfortable and optimal 65-degree room each night. The focus on good sleep habits and the correlation to overall performance is not a new trend. It is just finally gaining the attention it deserves, which is why sleep products, such as quality 10-inch Nolah mattresses and monitoring devices have flooded the market and are being used by service members and civilians alike.
But with so many options, advice, and benchmarks, how do we really know what is most effective in achieving quality sleep? It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, but identifying root cause dysfunction is a good starting point.
Are you curious about what is preventing you from reaching REM-stage sleep? You need to take a deeper look into your environment and exposures. Is it chronic stress, PTS, shift work, alcohol, or diet? Many will answer yes to all.
For post-9/11 veterans, there are alarming rates of insomnia, according to a VA San Diego Healthcare System study featured in the VA Office of Research and Development newsletter. The study of 5,500 veterans showed 57% of veterans in the study had insomnia, 93% of veterans with insomnia had PTSD, and 78% of study veterans with insomnia had a TBI. However, often insomnia is undiagnosed and untreated, so numbers are likely higher. In short, if you are experiencing insomnia, you are not alone.
However, veterans and emergency responders alike don’t need to read a study to know that insomnia is plaguing their community. They live it. They understand the impact it has on performance, safety to the team, and success of the mission. But in order to create an effective solution, one must understand the consumer experience and problem in need of solving, which is exactly why HunterSeven and Bravo Actual teamed to create a naturally-derived sleep supplement, Rack Out.
Chelsey Poisson, BSN-RN, FP-C, Army Veteran and co-founder of HunterSeven Foundation, a nonprofit organization performing research and education on military toxic exposures, was called upon by Bravo Actual Supplements, a veteran- and law enforcement-owned company, to help create a sleep supplement designed to help fellow veterans, officers, and responders achieve better sleep for optimal performance.
HunterSeven’s research on the veteran community, in combination with their medical team’s experience as a clinical researchers and nurses, provided valuable insight for Bravo Actual as they developed the product. Medical research and science were the drivers for the ingredient selection process, and all components of Rack Out have been proven to aid in one or more of the four stages of sleep.
Members of the HunterSeven and Bravo Actual teams have real-life experiences with insomnia, chronic stress, high-demand jobs, as well as post-traumatic stress, so they understand the impact poor quality sleep has on performance and wellness. This collaboration was inspired by their passion to help veterans and members of law enforcement achieve better sleep with an evidence-based, holistic solution, while still faced with environmental stress and irregular shift work. Rack Out is the first product of its kind, with clinically-researched ingredients to assist with sleep, recovery, and relaxation, while decreasing chronically elevated cortisol levels.
Although there is no one “cure-all” product for instantly improving sleep, pairing a sleep supplement with lifestyle changes, such as limiting screen time before bed and reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, are positive steps toward improved sleep.
If you’re sick of restless nights, constant flow of energy drinks, and never-ending exhaustion, take a hard look at what could be inducing your poor quality sleep. It may be an underlying condition, like post-traumatic stress or TBI, or an external influence, like alcohol or stimulants. Once you’ve discovered that, you’ll be better equipped to take the next steps to get a good night’s sleep and better health.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on December 10, 2020.