Sleep and Military Readiness
As a leading digital healthcare enterprise to the corporate market, Somnology is committed to the remediation of sleep disorders. Our comprehensive sleep care platform SLaaS® (Sleep Lab as a Service) provides the benefits of sleep evaluation, continuous accurate monitoring, and telehealth sessions with experienced healthcare advisors focused on improving sleep.
A startling 76% of United States military personnel do not get enough sleep at night.1 Those in the military face many unique sleep obstacles due to culture, training, time in service, comorbid conditions, and exposure to combat. In honor of Veterans Day and those who have bravely and selflessly served, keep reading to learn more about sleep and its connection to military readiness.
The Military on Sleep
The Office of the Army Surgeon General recommends that soldiers aim to get at least seven hours of sleep at night. However, as few as four hours is considered acceptable during field training. Prior to events where sleep may be difficult to come by, such as during special missions and operations, soldiers are recommended to get at least nine hours of sleep.
Unfortunately, the following can make getting adequate sleep and being in the military seem like an impossible pairing:
The extremely early start times in the military often clash with soldiers’ circadian rhythms. When soldiers’ schedules are shifted to better fit their sleep-wake cycles, they report an improvement in mood, sleep quality, and reaction times. Soldiers who work night shifts are also at a disadvantage due to being on duty at a time they should be asleep. Working at night can lead to greater risk of injury in service members due to increased inflammation, stress, and lower skeletomuscular strength.2
Sub-par Sleep Conditions
Soldiers often have to sleep in unpredictable, uncomfortable environments. Sometimes, they may be forced to fall asleep in noisy, bright places. Unfortunately, even minimal noise during sleep can trigger a stress response and lower sleep quality.3 Depending on other factors, such as where they serve or are posted, soldiers may have different melatonin levels correlated to their exposure to light. This can disrupt sleep-wake cycles and increase stress levels.
Despite a growing recognition of sleep’s importance, a worrying 2021 report by the Department of Defense found that many members of the military still view sleeping and resting as weak. The military also categorizes caffeine as an acceptable stimulant. As a result, service members are more susceptible to over-consumption and thus greater loss of sleep.4
Dangers of Poor Sleep
Aside from sleep deprivation’s link to a number of chronic health disorders, including dementia, diabetes, PTSD, and cardiovascular disease, it also has more immediate effects. Sleep deprivation can hamper a soldier’s ability to assess threat levels and operate optimally in combat. These lapses in memory or judgment can have dire consequences, leading to injury or death. Soldiers who are regularly sleep deprived report greater incidence of depression, suicide attempts, and substance abuse.
According to a report, two separate collisions caused by fatigue in 2017 resulted in the deaths of 17 sailors.5 In June of 2017, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship, killing seven. Two months later, 10 sailors died from a similar accident involving the USS John S. McCain and a merchant vessel. Both accidents were linked back to patterns of poor sleep and excessive exhaustion.
Sleep Disorders and The Military
Between the years of 2009 and 2015, rates of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) increased 30-fold and insomnia increased 45-fold in military personnel.6 More than half of active service members have OSA, a breathing disorder that lowers sleep quality and causes gasping and choking sounds at night. On top of this, one-third also have insomnia.
Sleep Tips for Military Readiness
1. Change Culture from the Top Down
One of the most important factors in improving military readiness is changing the culture around sleep. Military leaders can help mitigate sleep deprivation by making a commitment to altering schedules to allow for adequate sleep and recovery time. Improving the messaging about sleep from leaders, such as describing it as an operational imperative or vital sign, can help increase awareness and reduce cultural barriers.
2. Identify Sleep Problems and Clinically Manage Sleep Disorders
Implement and encourage the use of validated screening tools to identify those at high risk for sleep disorders. Begin regularly assessing and clinically managing sleep disorders before they become debilitating. Military personnel will benefit from comprehensive sleep-diagnostic tools that go beyond everyday wearables by offering insight and clinical guidance.
3. Address PTSD
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects up to 30% of United States veterans.7 Lack of sleep is a key predictor of PTSD, and insomnia and PTSD frequently occur together. Sleep issues in people with PTSD can occur anywhere from 2 to 45 years after a traumatic event. Certain therapeutic techniques can be helpful in treating PTSD, such as CBT and EMDR. However, if suffering from PTSD, please first consult a health professional.
4. Utilize Sleep Banking and Tactical Naps
Due to the nature of certain operations, 20 minute naps followed by caffeine consumption are required during periods of sleep deprivation.8 If possible, it is optimal to practice sleep banking, or sleeping extra hours preemptively, prior to certain situations. This allows members to perform at or near peak physical capacity.
5. Monitor Caffeine Intake
Although given the seal of approval, caffeine should still be ingested responsibly as overuse can have a detrimental effect on sleep quality. It is advised to stop drinking caffeinated beverages at least six hours prior to bedtime to avoid sleep disruption.9
6. Increase Awareness
Simply increasing awareness around the importance of sleep can go a long way toward building and encouraging better habits in military personnel. Disseminating educational material and opening up conversations around sleep is a great first step.
Somnology has worked with over 22,000 veterans from all 50 states and continues to evaluate over 800 veterans per month for sleep disabilities. Somnology is proud to have saved the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs an estimated 60% in sleep diagnostic costs. Our medical team provides veterans with wearable sleep-assessment gear that allows them to self-monitor from the comfort of their homes. Their data is transmitted to the SLaaS® platform and then dispatched to the appropriate sleep specialists nationwide. Veterans then can meet remotely with a specialist who will implement a plan tailored to their specific needs. To learn more about SLaaS® and the effects of sleep, read our blog or subscribe to our newsletter.