These Are The Troops Most Affected By The Military's Worsening Sleep Problem

Health & Fitness
Photo via DoD

The U.S. military's sleep problem is getting worse, and it's hurting certain troops more than others.


Instances of insomnia among military personnel have nearly quadrupled in the last decade, rising from 16 reported cases in every 1,000 troops in 2005 to 75 in every 1,000 in 2014, a 372% increase, according to a new study published in the Journal of Sleep Research.

Cases of obstructive sleep apnea — blockages in the upper airway that affect breathing — have seen a five-fold increase, rising from 44 cases in every 1,000 troops in 2005 to 273 in every 1,000 in 2014, a 517% jump.

Overall, the incidence of the two disorders among service members is nearly double that of the U.S. civilian population.

“Sleep disorders are a serious problem that interferes with the ability of soldiers to do their jobs effectively,” study author Harris Lieberman of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine told Reuters. “When you’re sleep deprived, you can’t use your brain in the way soldiers need to do … You’re unable to think at the level you can perform at when well-rested.”

If this research is correct, the results suggest that out of the total U.S. military population of 1.4 million personnel, some 105,000 were dealing with insomnia and 382,200 with sleep apnea — which would mean that, as of 2014, nearly a third of America’s fighting force isn’t getting adequate sleep.

The impact of sleep issues isn’t spread equally across the armed forces. The study reveals that while men tend to experience higher rates of sleep apnea, it’s women who have to deal with insomnia most. Generally, African-Americans, senior enlisted personnel, Army personnel, and all individuals over the age of 40 disproportionately report falling victim to both disorders.

The findings support the results of a 2015 RAND Corporation study on sleep problems in the U.S. military, in which nearly half the service members surveyed reported “clinically significant” poor sleep quality. Only 37% of service members reported getting the recommended eight hours of sack time each night.

This is a big problem for the Department of Defense. Pentagon research has shown for years that poor sleep patterns negatively impact operational readiness and future health and well-being. The 2015 RAND study found that 33% of service members reported feeling fatigued more than 3 times a week due to lack of sleep, while 51% reported some sort of sleep-related impact on their daily responsibilities.

The RAND study also suggests that clinical fatigue creates a vicious cycle of chemical dependence among service members, in which troops use energy drinks and other stimulants to make up for their sleep debt and turn to sleep aids to help them finally conk out at night:

A prior study by Joint Mental Health Advisory Team 7, established to assess the behavioral health and treatment of deployed forces, found that almost 50 percent of deployed servicemembers used energy drinks on a daily basis. 

Less is known, however, about how frequently servicemembers use these products after returning home. In the RAND sample, only 8–10 percent reported daily use of energy drinks, but service members in the sample tended to be older, all were married, and most were not currently deployed, which could help to explain the differences between the RAND and Joint Mental Health Advisory Team studies.

The use of sleep medications was more common: More than 18 percent of servicemembers surveyed reported using sleep medications in the past month, which is consistent with use among the general population.

While RAND noted at the time that the “efficacy and safety” of medical supplements in military settings hasn’t been fully explored, chronic use is likely to contribute to long-term health problems, which could pose a big problem down the line for a VA already facing increasing health-care costs.

But the pressing problem isn’t future health-care costs: It’s operational readiness downrange. And with sleep disorders on the rise, American combat troops aren’t nearly as sharp and efficient as they should be — a condition that could come with deadly consequences.

Casperassets.rbl.ms

Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, "Fatigue is the best pillow." True story, Benny. There's nothing like pushing your body so far past exhaustion that you'd willingly, even longingly, take a nap on a concrete slab.

Take $75 off a Casper Mattress and $150 off a Wave Mattress with code TASKANDPURPOSE

And no one knows that better than military service members and we have the pictures to prove it.

Read More Show Less
Staff Sgt. Daniel Christopher Evans was arrested on Jan. 29, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Wilmington Police Department, North Carolina.)

A special operations Marine is due in court on March 7 after being arrested last year for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, Task & Purpose has learned.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Christopher Evans was arrested and charged with assault inflicting serious injury on July 29, 2018, according to Jennifer Dandron, a spokeswoman for police in Wilmington, North Carolina. Evans is currently assigned as a Critical Skills Operator with the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, according to the Marine Corps Personnel Locator.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Elyse Ping Medvigy conducts a call-for-fire during an artillery shoot south of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2014. Medvigy, a fire support officer assigned to the 4th Infantry Division's Company D, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, is the first female company fire support officer to serve in an infantry brigade combat team supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston (Photo by U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston)

Following Trump's inauguration, some supporters of ground combat integration assumed he would quickly move to reinstate a ban on women in jobs like the infantry. When this did not happen, advocates breathed a collective sigh of relief, and hundreds of qualified women charted a course in history by entering the newly opened occupational fields.

So earlier this week when the Wall Street Journal published an editorial against women in ground combat by conservative political commentator Heather Mac Donald, the inclination of many ground combat integration supporters was to dismiss it outright. But given Trump's proclivity to make knee jerk policy decisions in response to falling approval ratings and the court's tradition of deference to the military when it comes to policies affecting good order and discipline, it would be unwise to assume the 2016 lifting of the ban on women in ground combat is a done deal.

Read More Show Less

R. Lee Ermey was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday.

Best known for his iconic role as the Marine Corps drill instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in the war drama Full Metal Jacket, Ermey died April 15, 2018 at age 74 due to complications from pneumonia, Task & Purpose previously reported.

Read More Show Less
A B-2 Spirit bomber deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and F-22 Raptors from the Hawaii Air National Guard's 154th Wing fly near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, during a interoperability training mission Jan. 15, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Russ Scalf)

The U.S. Air Force has two of its most elite aircraft — the B-2 Spirit bomber and the F-22 Raptor — training together in the Pacific, reassuring America's allies and sending a warning to strategic competitors and adversaries about the sheer power the U.S. brings to the table.

These stunning photos show the powerful aircraft tearing across the Pacific, where the U.S. has increasingly found itself facing challenges from a rising China.

Read More Show Less