Sleep deprivation not uncommon for Soldiers
April 14, 2014
By David Vergun
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FALLS CHURCH, Va. (Army News Service, April 14, 2014) -- Sleep deprivation isn't just from insomnia or all-night partying. In the Army, lack of sleep often results from operational requirements or high-operations tempo training, said a brigade combat team commander.
Col. Dave M. Hodne, commander, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo., said he realizes the Army's emphasis on getting adequate sleep each night -- seven or eight hours -- but sometimes Soldiers simply must "balance health with readiness."
Sleep, along with activity and nutrition, are the three prongs of the Army's Performance Triad. Each of the three has been identified as a factor which contributes a great deal to a Soldier's health and resilience.
Hodne spoke at the Brain Health Consortium, hosted by the Army surgeon general, Friday, here. Most of the speakers were clinicians, but the consortium wanted to get a commander's perspective as well.
After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in 1991, Hodne served in a variety of infantry and special operations assignments throughout his career, including deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Rangers think sleep is a crutch," he admitted. But as a Ranger commander, he said he always tried to build as much sleep time into the schedule as possible, realizing the importance of adequate sleep to mental alertness and physical endurance.
Lack of sleep, along with stress and fatigue can undermine resilience, he said.
And a buildup of stressors, like lack of sleep, may factor into post-traumatic stress and even suicidal thoughts.
He said a private in his unit, just out of Basic Combat Training, recently expressed suicidal ideation. He'd never seen combat, Hodne said. That goes to show that "other environmental factors can play a role" as well.
And, those factors can be unpredictable, he added, noting that in one Ranger unit he commanded there were three suicides: an officer, a non-commissioned officer and a junior enlisted Soldier.
All three of those Soldiers' "Global Assessment Tool scores exceeded mine," he said, meaning their responses indicated a lower risk than his own. "So if you're looking for triggers that set this off" and want clear signs that something is wrong, there's not always a consistent pattern of predictability.
The Global Assessment Tool, or GAT 2.0, is a survey Soldiers take at least once a year and more frequently when deployed. It assesses their physical and psychological health based on the five dimensions of strength: social, emotional, spiritual, family and physical fitness.
While lack of sleep may not have been a factor in any of those suicides, Hodne said it can at the very least degrade performance. When deployed, his Soldiers often went on night raids. He called it their "vampire schedule."
During the day when there was some down time, they couldn't just "turn a switch and go to sleep. You just can't force that."
Hodne said there's no easy solution to sleep deprivation as it relates to mission performance. However, there are two ways he said Soldiers can complete their missions without adequate sleep.
First, he said, there needs to be a lot of repetitive training, so much so in fact that behaviors become automatic through muscle memory.
A second technique, he said, is to make training so painful or challenging that Soldiers won't forget the lessons they learned, and in combat it will be second nature.
Speaking to his own sleep habits, Hodne said he gets to bed early and gets his children to bed by 8 p.m.
But in the Army, that's not always possible.
The Army's Office of the Surgeon General advises getting seven or eight hours of sleep, staying active throughout the day, and eating nutritious food.
The Army's surgeon general also put out a statement saying sleep disorders and sleep deprivation affect about 70 million Americans each year and may increase the risk for stroke, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
Such disorders may also be an indicator of other health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and may "put you at risk for accidents or cause you to make mission-critical errors due to impaired judgment, decision-making and concentration."
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