Stages of Sleep


You’ve been taught since childhood that getting about 8 hours of sleep per night is the ideal amount of sleep. While it is true that 8 hours of sleep is a good quantity sleep goal for most adults, what about sleep quality? Sleep quantity refers to the amount of sleep, whereas sleep quality refers to the amount of time we spend in the deep stages of sleep. 

The 5 Stages of Sleep

There are five stages of sleep: 1, 2, 3, 4, and REM (rapid eye movement). When we fall asleep, we will progress through each stage of sleep in a cyclical manner. On average, one complete cycle takes about 90-110 minutes. Once completed, we will start over with stage 1 and complete the cycle over and over again until waking. 

The first few stages of sleep are short in duration, usually about 5-15 minutes, and consist of light sleep. During these stages of sleep, body temperature drops and heart rate begins to slow down. As the body enters into stages 3 and 4, sleep begins to get a bit deeper. These are the stages in sleep which blood supply to the tissues increases. This encourages muscle growth and tissue repair. 

As the body moves into REM sleep, muscles are relaxed. As the name suggests, brain activity increases during this stage, which causes rapid eye movement. It is also during this stage that dreaming occurs. Our brain begins to store memories of things that happened during the day and makes room for new ones. Old “waste” is removed from the brain and energy is provided to the body which supports daytime performance.

What Can We Do?

Create a bedroom that is ideal for deep, restorative sleep. The bedroom should be cool, quiet, and dark. Make sure pillows and blankets are comfortable too. If the bedroom is too hot or too loud, for example, we may find ourselves waking up before we reach REM sleep.

Take diet into account as well. Alcohol can disrupt REM sleep. Although it may help us fall asleep faster, it will cause problems later on. As our body metabolizes alcohol, it interferes with our sleep cycle, shortening the duration of REM sleep. Thus, we may wake up feeling groggy after a night of drinking and sleeping a good amount. This is why it is a good idea to avoid alcohol at least 6 hours prior to bedtime. The same goes for caffeine. 



News Roundup: DoD Health Experts Want Troops to Cut Back on Energy Drinks


A recent study by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, titled "Energy drink consumption and its association with sleep problems among US service members on a combat deployment," looked at data from over 1,000 soldiers and Marines conducting operations in Afghanistan in 2010. The results found that nearly 45 percent of deployed military personnel consumed at least one energy drink daily, while nearly 14 percent reported drinking three or more per day. Those who drank three or more drinks per day experienced the worst health effects.

This week's news roundup brings to you a collection of articles and blog posts related to energy drink consumption by military personnel.

DoD Health Experts Want Troops to Cut Back on Energy Drinks. “Energy drinks are also loaded with sugar. Some cans pack a punch of 27 grams of sugar, two-thirds of the recommended daily maximum for men, and 2 grams more than the maximum doctors recommend for women. Some service members can double or even triple that if they drink more than one energy drink per day.”

Army warns of new threat: Energy drinks. CNN. “These products generally are unregulated and can have negative side effects," the report said. "Those who drank three or more drinks a day also were more likely to report sleep disruption related to stress and illness and were more likely to fall asleep during briefings or on guard duty.”

The science behind why you should stop chugging so many energy drinks. “One area that's concerning to Deuster is the ingredient taurine. The chemical compound is an amino acid found in animal tissue. Many energy drink makers purport the ingredient will enhance mental and physical performance, but researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center report that little is actually known about taurine's neuroendocrine effects.”

Keep unsafe energy drinks off bases. Stars and Stripes. “In combat, these cocktails of energy drinks, workout supplements and prescription drugs can tip a troop over from just feeling on edge to having a full-fledged panic attack. A DOD study found that soldiers consuming sports supplements were more likely to seek medical attention for irregular heartbeats: Twenty percent of the troops were unable to promptly return to duty and 10 percent required aeromedical evacuation.”

Staying Active in the Winter


Baby, it’s cold outside! But don’t let the cooler temperatures stop you from staying active. Those who stay active in the winter experience a boost in their immune system, which helps fight off seasonal illness like the colds, the flu, and ear infections. Staying active year-round also helps to prevent weight gain and aches/pains that are associated with sedentary behavior.

If you exercise outdoors, you will reduce your chances of getting Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Being outside helps reduce depression and boosts feel good endorphins. Both of which helps to reduce risk for SAD.

Having an outlet for expending energy is especially important for teens and children. Providing ideas and opportunities to be active will help prevent hearing those dreaded two words: “I’m bored”. Some ideas may be easier to cultivate interest than others (e.g. sleigh riding vs. shoveling snow).

Below is a list of ideas for the whole family.

Outside Opportunities

  • Sledding/snow tubing
  • Building a snowman
  • Snowball fight
  • Building an igloo
  • Ice skating
  • Shovel the driveway

Inside Opportunities

  • Soccer
  • Rock climbing
  • Swimming
  • Basketball
  • Volleyball
  • Laser tag
  • Hide and go seek
  • Power walking at the mall
  • House cleaning

Whether you choose to venture outside or stay indoors, there’s plenty of opportunities to stay active when it’s cold outside. Fitting in physical activity year-round can help reduce depression, maintain a healthy weight, boost immunity, and improve sleep, to name few. 

The Difference between Portion and Serving Size

One of the best ways to keep calorie intake under control is to learn how to estimate portion size. Most people turn to the nutrition label for guidance on portion size. The nutrition label, however, contains information on the serving size rather than the portion size. Understanding the difference between these two things is key in reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.

What’s the Difference between Serving Size and Portion Size?

A portion size refers to the amount of food on our plate, or the amount we consume. It can be small or big. We decide what our portion size is. Use this guide as a quick reference when estimating portion size.

A serving size is a measured amount of food or drink (e.g. one slice of bread, 2 oz. of cheese). It is indicated on the nutrition label and is based off of the serving size the manufacturer suggests on the package. So, our portion may actually contain several servings. For example, one 20 oz. bottle of soda is usually consumed as one portion. In reality, it contains 2.5 servings because one serving is 8 oz. Therefore, one portion of soda contains several servings.



Simply knowing how many servings we are eating or drinking and the calorie content per serving is what is important to staying within our calorie target. Let’s go over some ways to be more aware of our portion sizes so that we will know how to better estimate and control calorie intake.

What to do.

Avoid eating straight from the box/bag/container.

Measure out one portion of the food or drink and place it in a separate container.Did you know that one serving of peanut butter is only 2 tablespoons? Most people who make a peanut butter sandwich use more than 2 tablespoons. This can be an issue for those who are tracking calories in an effort to lose weight. 

Use Smaller Dishes at Home.

Using smaller dishes and utensils has been shown to reduce portion sizes. This makes sense if we think about it. One cup of vegetables looks like a lot more food when placed on a smaller plate versus a larger plate.

Start out with Smaller Portions on Our Plate.

Start out with a smaller amount of food on our plate and then go back for seconds only if we are hungry. We have a tendency to eat all the food that is on our plate, regardless of how much is there. By starting out with a smaller portion, we will be more aware of how much we are actually eating.

Don’t Place the Serving Dishes on the Table.

Leave serving dishes on a separate table than the one we are eating at. This helps to reduce over-eating. We are less likely to go for seconds (or thirds) if we have to actually get up and walk over to the serving dishes, as compared to when they are right in front of us. This also causes us to stop and think “am I really hungry for more? Or just wanting to eat more because it’s right in front of me?”.

When Dinning Out

Portion sizes at restaurants are over-the-top large! Try ordering an appetizer for the main meal. Appetizers are much closer to the recommended portion size than main entrees are. If we do order a larger meal, ask the server for a box and pack up half of your meal right away. This is also a money saver because we can eat the leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day!

Bottom Line

A portion size refers to the amount of food we actually consume. A serving size is a measured amount of food or drink, as indicated on the nutrition label. By understanding the difference between serving size and portion size, we can better control our calorie intake.  

Sugar Vs. Added Sugar

You may have been wondering, what is the difference between naturally occurring sugar and added sugar?  Naturally occurring sugar is sugar found in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and milk. Added sugar is sugar that is added to processed foods and drinks, such as breads, sauces, and sodas.


Nutritionally speaking, there is a vast and important difference between foods that have naturally occurring sugar and foods that have added sugar. Foods that contain naturally occurring sugar are often a good source of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. These foods cause a slow and steady rise in blood sugar, which is ideal for sustaining energy levels. This is because the fiber helps slow digestion and extends the release of energy.

Comparatively, foods high in added sugar often lack fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and are laden with excess calories and saturated (unhealthy) fat. Eating foods high in added sugar and fat and low in fiber will lead to an energy burst followed closely by an energy crash. This is because with high levels of added sugar, blood sugar levels sky rocket. Without fiber (or protein) to help slow the absorption of sugar into the blood stream, digestion progresses quickly and a “sugar crash” is imminent.

Sources of Added Sugar

The major sources of added sugars in American diets are regular soft drinks, candy, cakes, cookies, pies, and fruit drinks (e.g. fruit punch, juices with added sugar); dairy desserts and milk products (ice cream, sweetened yogurt and sweetened milk); and other grains (cinnamon toast and honey-nut waffles). It can be difficult to know how much sugar is added versus naturally occurring. One rule of thumb is that if the food/drink doesn’t have a nutrition label (e.g. whole fruit), then it doesn’t have any added sugar. You will find foods like these in the produce section of the grocery store. Plain milk, plain Greek yogurt, cheese, and meat are examples of foods that may have a nutrition label, but do not contain added sugar.

Thankfully, the new nutrition label guidelines will make it easier to differentiate between naturally occurring sugar and added sugar. Most food manufactures will have until 2018 to comply with the new regulations. In the meantime, stick to whole foods if you want to avoid added sugar.


Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that provides energy to fuel the body…. Why does it have such a bad reputation if it is an energy source for the body? The problem with sugar in today’s world is that most people are consuming way too much of it. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. This far exceeds the 2015-2020 dietary Guidelines for Americans which recommends no more than 10% of daily calories come from added sugar. Notice the guidelines are for added sugar rather than naturally occurring sugar.

If you are interested in sweet alternatives to high added sugar foods, check out this Army H.E.A.L.T.H. blog.