When it comes to how much sleep our troops are getting, the situation is a bit of a nightmare: More than 40 percent of active duty military members report sleeping five hours or fewer per night. Early wake-up calls, shifts that can easily last longer than 24 hours, and nighttime disturbances when deployed are some of the reasons that troops are missing out on logging enough shuteye.
It’s no surprise then that 85 percent of active duty military members have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or insomnia. Not only can a sleep disorder cause extreme fatigue, but it could also affect their jobs and their safety. In fact, 39 percent of the Navy and 42 percent of the Marine Corps say that they frequently don’t get enough sleep to function well at work—not a good sign, considering that when it comes to tasks such as decision-making and risk analysis, people who regularly sleep fewer than eight hours a night may perform as poorly as those who have not slept at all in 36 hours.
Luckily, this problem hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Army, for example, is dedicated to making better sleep a priority, and is conducting research trials to determine what strategies could help their soldiers. One they’re testing out: sleep banking, where soldiers aim to rack up additional hours of sleep in the days leading up to a period when they won’t have much time to rest. The Navy, too, is taking the sleep problem seriously and is changing shift schedules to help sailors feel more rested, and the Air Force’s medical policies typically recommend seven or eight hours of sleep when missions allow for it. Hopefully these newer strategies will allow U.S. troops to get more shuteye while also squashing the belief that sleep deprivation is simply an unavoidable part of being in the military.