Sleepless in the Service

Research shows military personnel have trouble sleeping

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) New research suggests that military deployment affects sleep quality and quantity. The study, which is the first to examine sleep patterns in relation to deployment among all branches of the military, analyzed a population of 41,225 military service members.

According to lead author Amber D. Seelig, data analyst for the Department of Deployment Health Research at the Naval Health Research Center, "The primary finding of this study is that deployment does appear to affect sleep patterns in our population."

The study involved military personnel who completed a baseline survey between 2001 and 2003. Between 2004 and 2006, the service members completed a follow-up survey, with about 27 percent of participants completing the follow-up during or after deployment in support of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Results from the study show that participants were more than twice as likely to have sleep problems if they had preexisting symptoms of mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. Similarly, those who reported their health as fair/poor in the baseline survey were more than twice as likely to report trouble sleeping. Additionally, the groups surveyed during deployment and post-deployment reported sleeping substantially less than the non-deployed group. This difference, however, became insignificant after accounting for follow-up mental health conditions and combat exposure.

The authors reported that trouble sleeping often occurs in conjunction with mental health issues. They suggest that promoting healthier sleep habits within the military will help service members long-term by addressing and reducing mental health problems. 

Nearly every subgroup in the study reported moderate sleep restriction: an adjusted average of 6.5 hours of sleep every 24-hour period. The authors say that such sleeping patterns can have a lasting impact on performance that is not easily reversed.

A separate sub-analysis found that pregnant and postpartum women in all three deployment groups were getting an average of less than 6 hours of sleep. The researchers suggest that the normal stresses of motherhood are amplified by the potential of deployment and separation from their families. According to Seelig, it seems that military service women "were reporting much shorter sleep than civilian pregnant women."

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 2, 2010
Last Updated:
December 3, 2010