According to the preliminary results from a sleep study, the amount and quality of conscripts’ sleep varies considerably
A unique study investigating the sleep of young Finnish men is being conducted at the Vekaranjärvi garrison. Kai Parkkola, who is professor of military medicine at the University of Tampere, is one of the researchers. The Finnish Defence Forces and the University of Helsinki also participate in the study.
“The last stages of the fieldwork are underway. The last conscripts to be included in the study will start their military service in January 2018. We will be able analyse the results next spring and summer,” Parkkola says.
In all, the fieldwork stage will last for about two years. A couple of conscripts at a time sleep with a motion sensor that measures their movements during sleep. The device registers non-REM and REM stages of sleep.
“The research participants sleep among the other conscripts in the barracks. Sleep is measured after normal daily exertion,” Parkkola says.
The participants also fill in a wide-ranging survey where they answer questions on such topics as sleeping and other health habits, life changes, different stressors and internet addiction. Parkkola appreciates the interest the conscripts have shown in the study.
The aim is to analyse the sleep of 150 conscripts.
Men mostly sleep well at the garrison
Preliminary results show that there is considerable variation in the amount and quality of sleep.
“There is great variation. At this point, we can say that some conscripts find the amount and quality of sleep inadequate. On the other hand, some may sleep longer during their military service, if they have not slept enough previously. If they have not had very good coping skills, the rhythm and discipline of the Army may help the men to sleep better,” Parkkola explains.
However, the research findings are inconclusive at this point. What is positive is that a clear majority of the conscripts seem to sleep well.
The Army is a good place to do research
According to Parkkola, Finland provides an excellent place to study the correlation between sleep and performance. The young conscripts are mainly of the same age and have a similar daily rhythm. Because this is the case, the research setting may exclude many factors that would affect the research results if conducted in normal life.
“The rough take is that the conscripts sleep well. However, this hypothesis has not been confirmed by previous research,” Parkkola says.
The Finnish Defence Forces’ guidelines provide the conscripts with the opportunity to sleep for eight hours undisturbed in normal circumstances at the garrisons.
“A completely different matter is how their snoring mates influence the amount and depth of the conscripts’ sleep,” Parkkola adds.
Good sleep leads to good exam results
According to Parkkola, the significance of the amount and quality of sleep has been underestimated in many illnesses. Today, there is much talk about how stress affects sleep but, according to Parkkola, there is not enough research on the association of illness and sleep.
“This is an interesting point. I have reflected on the meaning of sleep for a long time. The lack or poor quality of sleep is a symptom of many diseases, but can also be an independent risk factor in many diseases. Without a doubt, we need further studies,” Parkkola says.
The findings of the current study will benefit both the Finnish Defence Forces and the entire society.
“It would be really interesting to discover the point at which the performance of a tired person will clearly drop. That information could be used in studying, for example. In order to reach optimal results, how many hours should you spend swatting for an exam and how much on sleep?” Parkkola asks.
No mobile phones or caffeine at night
What advise does Parkkola give for getting a good night’s sleep?
“First of all, you should not consume caffeine at night. It raises the level of alertness, which makes falling asleep more difficult and weakens the quality of sleep. If you like to drink coffee in the evenings, you should try drinking decaffeinated coffee,” Parkkola points out.
The study on the conscripts’ sleep has taken into account the effects of caffeine. According to Parkkola, the increase in the intake of energy drinks shows as a factor that weakens the conscripts’ quality of sleep.
“It is good to slow down for an hour or two before you go to sleep. Switch off your mobile phone and other devices. Especially the blue light of a mobile phone prevents good sleep,” Parkkola says.
Exercise has been proven to improve the quality of sleep. However, you should leave enough time for relaxation after exercise.
“Hard exercise just before going to bed may make falling asleep more difficult. Nevertheless, exercise is beneficial to sleep. If a person has not exercised before, half an hour of exercise three or four times a week is a good way to start,” Parkkola says.
Text: Jaakko Kinnunen
Picture: Jonne Renvall