Friday, January 15, 2010

Sleepless Nights for Army Wives

A new study examined how deployment affects the mental health of the wives of U.S. Army soldiers. The results were published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study involved 250,626 wives of active-duty U.S. Army soldiers. Their electronic medical records from 2003 to 2006 were analyzed.

Results were compared according to the deployment status of their husbands. Length of deployment also was considered. Deployments included both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Adjusted results show that the wives of deployed soldiers had more sleep problems than the wives of soldiers who were not deployed. They also had more cases of
depression and anxiety.

They had 11.6 excess cases of sleep disorders per 1,000 wives when the deployment lasted up to 11 months. This rate increased to 23.5 excess cases when their husband was deployed for more than 11 months.

“This study confirms what many people have long suspected,” lead author Alyssa Mansfield, PhD, said in a news release. “It provides compelling evidence that Army spouses are feeling the impact of recent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. The result is more depression, more stress, more sleepless nights.”

The authors noted that current warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan differs greatly from other recent conflicts involving the U.S. Both operations have involved sustained ground combat. They also have been met by strong insurgent attacks.

As a result the wives of deployed soldiers may fear for the safety of their loved ones. At the same time they face the stress of maintaining a household and caring for children alone.

The authors also suggested that the results may underestimate the severity of the problem. In the military seeking care for mental health concerns may involve a stigma. So some spouses may avoid seeking care.

“The majority of active-duty soldiers are married, so we need to pay attention to the needs of their families,” said Mansfield.

Get help for a sleep problem at an AASM-accredited sleep center near you.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Army

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