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Sleep Study Advises Military: Get More Sleep

By Beth Schwinn, DCoE Public Affairs on April 06, 2015

Get this picture: Marine lies in dirt with helmet over eyes
Spc. Keith DeVinney sleeps between exercises during a 2013 field training exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Spc. 1st Class Peter D. Blair)

A new research report sponsored by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury confirms what many in the military have long suspected: service members don’t get nearly enough sleep.

About a third of military members get by on five hours of sleep a night or less, and another third only manage six hours a night. Only 8 percent of civilians get by on five hours of sleep or less, as measured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, conducted by Rand Corp., reported that almost half of service members said they sleep poorly, compared to about a third of the general population. And sleep problems occur at the same rate throughout the military, regardless of whether or not people are deployed.

Side Effects May Include…

More than 18 percent of those surveyed reported using sleep aids such as sleeping pills, which have side effects that present a safety risk in an operational setting.

The study confirms that lack of sleep can have serious consequences for brain function and psychological health, according to U.S. Public Health Service Lt. Evette Pinder, a psychological health epidemiologist at Deployment Health Clinical Center.

Resilience, emotional regulation and interpersonal relationships are impaired by sleep deficiency. The survey analysis supports a link between sleep quantity and quality, and physical health problems, such as obesity, and reports that sleep problems are a risk factor for depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.

According to the survey, a third of service members feel fatigued at least three to four times a week, and 17 percent reported that lack of sleep impairs their ability to function.

Detour Ahead…

Finding easy solutions for sleep-deprived service members can be complicated. Common barriers keeping our warriors from getting adequate sleep include:

  • Attitudes. Sleep is viewed as a luxury in the military, and those who insist on getting to bed may be viewed as slackers.
  • Manpower. Service members say they often work fatigued because there’s no one to replace them.
  • Shift work. Many warfighters report taking coffee or energy drinks to keep them awake at night and medications to help them sleep during the day. These practices hurt sleep quality.
  • Information. Service members and care providers aren’t informed about how to solve sleep problems.
  • Providers. Not enough military care providers are trained to treat sleep issues.

For Best Results…

The report recommends the Defense Department take steps to prevent sleep problems, increase identification and diagnosis of sleep problems, clinically manage sleep disorders and promote sleep health, and improve sleep in training and operational contexts. The full text can be found on the Rand website.

Check out these resources to learn ways to improve sleep:

Comments (15)

  • Pamela 07 Apr

    This is why I do what I do! Sleep is SO important especially with our military service members and veterans. It's why I bring yoga to veterans, military service members and their families through www.yoga2sleep.com with an initiative to help them get "better sleep for the best life."
  • John G 09 Apr

    my time with the 82nd airborne and being in a infantry unit we had to condition or selfis to operate with little to no sleep. It was a matter of life or death you had to be able to complete the mission and in combat there is no clock. I have after the service keep my ability to work long hours with out little or no sleep for many years. But am completely burnt and the Va. I go to at first had little to no idea how to treat sleep deprivation or veterans with multiple sleep disorders. But know after 4 yrs. they starting to real sleep Docs who know what they are doing and capable of handling my care. If you want things to change you have to complain and be patient and president.
  • KENT TAYLOR 09 Apr

    Is there a connection or link between PTSD & Sleep Apnea in veterans.
  • Kenneth Mckenna 09 Apr

    when you're a person who has chronic pain, chronic insomnia, Anxiety run wild, and panic attacks, who finds out the upper Big Wigs are mandating to get everyone off all meds, then preach to me about getting more sleep.
    Not everyone is suicidal, and abuses there Meds. But from what I'm told everyone will be treated the same. HIGH RISK. Not Fair.
  • Edgar W. King 09 Apr

    Why is there no mention of possible Sleep Apnea for some who do not sleep well?  
    I was not Sleep Tested for this condition until after I was released from the military and it was then to late to make a claim for the condition but relief was soon restored.  
    All of our Combat Arms and other hazardous duty soldiers should have a mandatory test for Sleep Apnea as part of their MOS/POR qualification.
  • Gary Robertson 10 Apr

    I've been telling the VA this for years. I worked up to 18 hours a day while I was on active duty. Most military supervisors or managers don't care if you work long hours as long as you get some sleep...I was subjected to going without sleep for periods of 3 days at a time while training for war at Fort Hood during the 70's and yes my senior people knew well what they were doing. A switch went off in my head and even today I don't sleep...I still go 3 or 4 days without sleep and I don't ask for this...I've been retired for 22 years and lack of sleep deprives me of quality of life in more ways than this study thinks...The VA and while on active duty my commanders and some senior enlisted didn't give a crap about your sleep issues as long as your job-mission was completed period...If the daily mission was completed they looked good to their bosses and live went on...I feel this lack of sleep and yes sleep deprivation has destroyed so much inside my brain I now have memory loss, short term more than long term and the longer your body goes through this sleep deprivation stage your body doesn't allow you to reverse the negative that is created. My body has stayed on the awake mode and is still keeping me from going to sleep until my body is totally exhausted and no unless I am sick I can't sleep during the daylight hours. I really have to be totally drained in order to sleep and I thank my bosses for this curse. the things you discussed below are just a tip of this iceberg and I do not feel enough was really done to help reverse the effects of severe long terms of abuse over sleep. I wasn't part of this limited study and every study is limited because they all have certain questions that are asked so that they can manipulate the data to meet the needs of their objective. Statistics are just that manipulation of numbers to meet the needs generated by the mission required just like this study. I copied your data here because you don't get into every area sleep destroys and it all should be reviewed before one manipulates data and these are just some of the areas of concern; resilience, emotional regulation and interpersonal relationships are impaired by sleep deficiency. Physical pain, actual pain, damage done to one's body short and long term by management to those who are required to complete missions without the manpower necessary to do the job without causing harm to members of our military. I currently have16 herniated discs in my spine and it was caused by doing my job yet I left the service with 4 herniated discs and the medical system has refused for 22 years to take an MRI although some of there doctors told me to my face the VA would never take the MRI and they still conducted medical boards to rate my disability without the proof I had been complaining about. The system conducted these medical boards without necessary radiological reports just maybe they would have seen the other herniated discs in the areas I had been complaining about since 1975 and with this data they might have found out that these are some of the reasons I might not be sleeping. There are so many reasons that keep people from sleeping and we need to change how our health care providers listen to patients and just if they take the time to ask questions about sleep they might learn about their patient. Taking 20 minutes to see a patient isn't enough time to find out what brought the patient in to see that doctor on that day just shows us that the system doesn't care but they do care about manipulating statistics so it doesn't make doctors or any business related to those statistics look bad. Just so you understand I once ran 10 to 20 miles daily to relieve stress and to stay in shape and did so with at least 4 herniated discs but had to stop because of the amount of pain I was in. Today I am 130 pound heavier and wish I could reduce so I could get away from some of the illnesses that come with being over weight but our healthcare system is broken. It does not care about the patient who wants to lose weight but can't due to issues caused by being injured and the inability to sleep. All factors play a part in this and I just wish our medical system wasn't so broken it might actually help their patient instead of helping insurance companies or hospitals or doctors get richer? I might ramble here but I do have so much to say it can't be said statistics don't allow for it. The survey analysis supports a link between sleep quantity and quality, and physical health problems, such as obesity, and reports that sleep problems are a risk factor for depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.

    According to the survey, a third of service members feel fatigued at least three to four times a week, and 17 percent reported that lack of sleep impairs their ability to function

  • DCoE Public Affairs 10 Apr

    John, thank you for sharing your experience with us. We are glad that you seem to be getting the care you need.
  • DCoE Public Affairs 10 Apr

    Kent and Edgar, we did not include sleep apnea in our news article, but the full report does include more information on sleep apnea. You can access the full study at http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR739.html. We also found this study specifically on PTSD and sleep apnea in veterans that you may find of interest: http://www.aasmnet.org/jcsm/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=29506.
  • DCoE Public Affairs 10 Apr

    Kenneth, we're sorry to hear that you're struggling with multiple issues and feel like you're not getting the support and help you need. If you would like to talk to someone at the DCoE Outreach Center for resources or help in your area, please call 866-966-1020.
  • Billy Harris 11 Apr

    In the military I was so sleepy I couldn't keep my eyes open for any classes I had to attend.
    I had no ideal that was a medical problem until I was getting out of the service. I listed that on
    my medical paper work and I file a claim with the V.A. for benefit and they denied me the claim.
  • DCoE Public Affairs 16 Apr

    Billy, thanks for sharing your experience. If you are still struggling with sleep issues, please know there are resources available. The DCoE Outreach Center is available 24/7 to answer your questions. Call 866-966-1020 or live chat at realwarriors.net/livechat.  The Real Warriors Campaign also offers some tips on how to develop healthy sleep habits at http://realwarriors.net/active/deployment/sleep.php.
  • Lisa 23 Jul

    My husband started suffering from sleep apnea during his third deployment, and it has affected his sleep quality as well as his physical performance. It is directly correlated to his time in Afghanistan, so I think more research should be done on sleep apnea and deployments, as a very large percentage of our soldiers have it compared to the civilian population in the same age groups. He doesn't meet any of the normal prerequisites often present before onset.
  • DCoE Public Affairs 28 Jul

    Lisa, thank you for sharing your husband’s situation with us. Sleep is an area of great importance that we are still learning more about every day. If you need resources in your area, please call the DCoE Outreach Center (open all hours of the night!) at 866-966-1020.
  • Sonia Smith 14 Aug

    I am a nurse practitioner and I specialize in pediatric sleep medicine. I realize that parents of children who do not sleep are sleep-deprived themselves. This directly affects their job performance, emotional control, and physical health. In addition, the military spends an exorbitant amount of money to care for military dependents with chronic illnesses and ADHD. Many illnesses in children are exacerbated by poor sleep and many behavior problems, including ADHD symptoms, may be caused or worsened by sleep disturbances. My hope is that military providers spend the time to screen children for sleep disturbances and refer children for evaluation of all aspects of sleeping problems - not just obstructive sleep apnea.
  • DCoE Public Affairs 20 Aug

    Thank you for sharing your opinion, sleep is an area of great importance that we are still learning more about every day. 

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