SANTA MONICA (CNS) – Improving the quality and quantity of sleep for members of the U.S. armed forces following deployment could help reduce health problems, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a released Rand Corp. study released.
The researchers at the Santa Monica-based think tank also found that a lack of consistent and transparent sleep-related policies may impede efforts to promote sleep health among service members.
“The U.S. military has shifted from combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan toward helping service members and veterans re-integrate into non-combat roles,” said Wendy Troxel, co-leader of the study and a behavioral scientist at Rand, a Santa Monica-based nonprofit research organization.
“One issue that is often overlooked once military men and women return home is that of persistent sleep problems, because in many ways such problems are viewed as endemic to military culture,” she said.
Sleep disturbances are a common reaction to stress and are linked to a host of physical and mental health problems. Sleep problems are often chronic, persisting long after service members return home from combat, with adverse consequences for their reintegration and the readiness and resiliency of the force, according to Rand researchers.
Rand billed its study as the first comprehensive review of sleep-related policies and programs across the U.S. Defense Department, examining the frequency of sleep disorders and factors that contribute to it.
A survey of nearly 2,000 service members from all branches of the U.S. military found sleep problems had negative effects on mental health, daytime functioning and perceived operational readiness.
“Military policies on prevention of sleep problems are lacking, and medical policies focus on treating mental disorders that are often linked with sleep problems, instead of sleep itself,” said Regina Shih, project co-leader and a senior social scientist at Rand. “We know that sleep problems may precede the onset of mental disorders.”
The researchers said that historically, military cultural attitudes have tended to discount the importance of sleep. Service members in the survey noted that depriving oneself of sleep is often seen as a badge of honor and acknowledging the need for sleep can be seen as a sign of weakness.
The study recommends widespread education and awareness programs within the Defense Department as one means of shifting cultural attitudes. Policies are needed to educate service members and leaders about the importance of sleep, including awareness on the importance of sleep for resilence, according to Rand.