ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – National Sleep Awareness Week is March 14-20, and the Army Public Health Center here is reminding military community members about the importance of seeking help if they are having difficulty getting quality rest.
Sleep disorders can have adverse impacts on physical and mental readiness. It is often linked to weight problems, accidents and on-the-job injuries, lack of visual and mental acuity, depression and other maladies. A sleep disorder also could be an indicator of post-traumatic stress syndrome, chronic pain, alcohol abuse and emotional struggles.
Although there are more than 80 different sleep disorders, the Army regularly assesses the following five conditions:
• Sleep apnea: A disorder in which one stops breathing for 10 seconds or more during sleep, often several times throughout the night.
• Insomnia: A condition of being unable to fall asleep and/or constantly waking up throughout the night. This diagnosis is given when a person routinely experiences the problem.
• Hypersomnia: A condition in which one is excessively sleepy, unable to stay awake during the day and has trouble waking up right away.
• Narcolepsy: Sometimes associated with hypersomnia, it is a separate diagnosis associated with daytime sleeping. Unlike hypersomnia patients, those with narcolepsy may feel refreshed after their unplanned nap.
• Circadian rhythm disorders: Problems with the sleep-wake cycle. They make a person unable to get rest at desired times.
According to the most recent Army Health of the Force report, 14 percent of active-duty Soldiers had been diagnosed with at least one of these sleep disorders, and quite a few experienced multiple conditions. The report showed sleep apnea and insomnia make up more than 50 percent of all the diagnosed disorders among military members.
The HOF study also identified a predominance of diagnosed cases for “obstructive sleep apnea,” a disorder that is linked to being overweight or obese. Male Soldiers were diagnosed with sleep apnea two times as often as their female counterparts. Insomnia, in contrast to sleep apnea, was diagnosed among female Soldiers over 1.5 times more frequently than males.
Even Soldiers who are not diagnosed with a sleep disorder may get inadequate or poor quality sleep that prevents them from being at their physical and mental best. According to the HOF report, a third of respondents did not get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep for optimal health. The study noted that Soldiers who get only 4-6 hours of overnight rest could experience a 10-15 percent degradation in their performance.
For military personnel, training and deployment situations can make it difficult to maintain a regular sleep schedule and/or find a quiet, dark and comfortable environment in which to sleep. Furthermore, it may be viewed as low priority – getting by with little-to-no sleep may even be considered a “badge of honor.” However, better sleep means increased resilience. Soldiers and leaders should recognize the benefits and strive for good sleep by considering the following:
• PLANNING. Factor adequate sleep time into training schedules and identify means to improve the environment where troops are bunking down for the night.
• TACTICAL NAPPING. During sustained operations, take advantage of short opportunities for napping (20 minutes or less) with a goal of restoring longer sleep periods as soon as possible.
• CAFFEINE OPTIMIZATION. Follow the dosage for optimal alertness guidelines outlined in Army Field Manual 7-22, Holistic Health and Fitness. For most individuals, caffeine will temporarily boost alertness during sustained operations, but should be avoided approximately six hours prior to sleep.
• SLEEP BANKING. If a prolonged period of operation is anticipated, individuals can “bank” sleep (greater than 8-10 hours per rest period) ahead of time. This is effective because sleep loss has compounding, cumulative effects.
• SLEEP ENVIRONMENT. Reduce ambient noises and light; maintain a cool temperature; and sleep on a comfortable surface.
• SLEEPING BEHAVIORS. Prior to sleep, avoid bright and blue lights (turn off TVs and electronics), exercising to exhaustion, consuming heavy meals, taking certain medications, and consuming caffeine and/or alcohol. For a quicker wakeup, turn on lights or let in daylight as soon as possible in the morning.
The following web links are provided for further reading on this subject:
• Army 2019 HOF report: phc.amedd.army.mil/PHC%20Resource%20Library/2019_Health-of-the-Force-webenhanced.pdf.
• Walter Reed Institute of Research – Sleep Research Center: www.wrair.army.mil/sleep-research-center,
• Performance Triad initiative promoting sleep, activity and nutrition among Soldiers and Army Family members: p3.amedd.army.mil.
• Army Wellness Centers: phc.amedd.army.mil/organization/hpw/Pages/ArmyWellnessCenters.aspx.
(Fort Lee Public Affairs Office note: A “Sleep Hygiene” class is offered by the Army Wellness Center. It covers the lifestyle habits that can promote or have a negative impact on sleep. To read more about AWC offerings, visit kenner.tricare.mil/Health-Services/Other/Army-Wellness-Center. Military members, retirees and their families who are experiencing the difficulties with sleep covered in this article should discuss it with their health care provider. Kenner Clinic beneficiaries can call 1-866-533-5242 to make an appointment.)