Monday, December 6, 2010

Sleep Suffers in Wartime Deployment

Despite months or even years of preparation, many troops will struggle to sleep for some time after they arrive in Iraq or Afghanistan. Insomnia affects about 28 percent of deployed American troops, a study in the December issue of the journal SLEEP suggests.

The symptoms may not improve when the tour of duty is over. 21 percent of troops reported difficulty sleeping after returning home to the United States. Troops may have twice the risk of insomnia if they had poor health or mental health problems such as depression or posttraumatic stress disorder prior to deployment.

The study involved 41,225 troops from all service branches and components of the U.S. military, including active duty and Reserve/National Guide personnel. The participants completed a baseline survey with questions about sleep and overall health prior to deployment. About a quarter of the troops responded to a follow-up survey three years later, either in Iraq or Afghanistan, or after returning from either warzone.

Sleep duration was limited even for the troops who did not have insomnia. The average sleep time during wartime was 6.5 hours - slightly less than the recommended amount of sleep for adults. The AASM reports adults require 7 to 8 hours to be fully alert during the daytime.
Insomnia or not, lost sleep may have dire consequences. While military personnel are trained to function on little to no sleep, a single mistake may be fatal.

For us in the civilian world, the findings should come as no surprise. It’s hard to image trying to sleep to the sound of gunfire and explosions or even the prospect of an attack.

As a side note, the study also looked at mothers of young children and pregnant women who served in the military. On average, the women slept less than six hours. The authors speculate that the possibility of future deployment and separation from their families may multiply the normal stress of pregnancy and motherhood.
Photo courtesy United States Marine Corps

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