Sleep Disturbances In Service Members Can Cause Brain Impairment, Fatigue, Depression
In a recent study of over 2,500 Iraq and Afghanistan military veterans , 63% reported poor sleep quality which was associated with poor resilience or hardiness. It took longer to fall asleep, lower sleep efficiency, shorter duration, and greater daytime disturbance.
As reported by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, it was found that Gulf War veterans showed an association between poor sleep quality and reduced grey matter in the brain’s frontal lobes. The frontal lobe of the brain is responsible for the executive functions, which include ongoing /working memory, future planning and prioritizing, impulse control, and the ability to focus and maintain attention to important but nonexciting information.
This connection to brain impairment and poor sleep quality was independent of other Gulf War related problems such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)., depression, trauma exposure , and psychotropic medication use. Frontal lobe impairment makes it extremely difficult for the returning veteran to operate “normally” socially, physically, and to work at peak efficiency.
Women in the military who were returning veterans were sleeping less than civilian women, often less than 6 hours average per night.
While sleep deprivation is part of the military culture, the high prevalence of short sleep duration was surprising and greatly increases the risk of accidents and sometimes the compensatory use of using stimulants the nest day which can impair judgment and increase fear and anxiety in active duty personnel. Studies have shown that the average serviceman or servicewoman enters the service comparatively healthy, but then suffers health problems from the onset of sleep disorders. Problems with sleep develop early in training and continue throughout their career. It’s common for average sleep to go from 8-9 hours/night at home to 5-6 hours per night during basic training.
In addition to brain impairment cited above, sleep disturbance frequently leads to increased confusion, fatigue and depression.
It is well known that the stress of combat produces many mental health problems as well as sleep disorders. The stigma for seeking help for sleep problems is lower than for mental health problems. Therefore, it is important to promote the need for sleep disorder treatment as a gateway to also improving psychological health in returning service members.
Poor sleep quality linked to reduced resilience among veterans. Science Daily, June, 2015
Addressing Sleep Disorders in Service Members and Veterans, National Register of Health Service Psychologists, 2014