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Sleep Problems Plague Men and Women Soldiers


Soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan experience significant sleep problems, with new data showing they are 28 percent more likely to have insomnia than nondeployed soldiers. A sub-analysis found that women with children and pregnant women suffer more sleep problems than their peers in civilian life.

Deployment has a significant impact on soldiers’ sleep

Investigators gathered data from 41,225 military service personnel regarding the quality and quantity of their sleep. The information was collected via two surveys: one conducted between 2001 and 2003, and a follow-up survey given between 2004 and 2006. The final results were based on the 27 percent (11,035) of soldiers who completed the second survey during or after deployment.

Among the researchers’ findings was that soldiers were 28 percent more likely to have symptoms of insomnia--difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep—than their fellow soldiers who had not been deployed. The soldiers who completed the follow-up survey after deployment also were 21 percent more likely to experience sleep problems.

Another significant finding was that sleep problems were more common among soldiers who also had mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression, or if they said they were in fair or poor health. Earlier studies have shown that PTSD and depression are serious problems for soldiers who return home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

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A 2006 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for example, noted that one-third of US military personnel from the Iraq war accessed mental health services when they returned home. A 2010 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry reported that an average of 10 percent of returning soldiers suffer from PTSD or depression, with many displaying violent behavior as well.

Ringing in the ears, or tinnitus, is a major cause of long-term sleep problems. Tinnitus is the most common injury suffered by soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a report in the November 2009 issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing.

Among the other significant findings in the new study was that female soldiers--mothers of young children and pregnant women—were averaging less than six hours of sleep per night. According to lead author Amber D. Seelig, data analyst for the Department of Deployment Health Research at the Naval Health Research Center, “We were surprised to see how little sleep pregnant and postpartum women were getting.”

Researchers pointed out that “women in our study were reporting much shorter sleep than civilian pregnant women.” They speculated that the stress of pregnancy and motherhood was exacerbated among female soldiers who face the possibility of future deployment and being away from their children.

The new study, which appears in the December 1 issue of Sleep, suggests that one way to address the sleep problems that plague men and women soldiers is to promote healthier sleep patterns for military personnel. Whether such measures could have a positive impact on sleep among soldiers who suffer the traumas of war is unknown.

Hoge CW et al. JAMA 2006; 295: 1023-32
Holmes S, Padgham N. Journal of Clinical Nursing 2009; 18(21): 2927
Seelig AD et al. Sleep 2010; 33(12): 1615-22
Thomas JL et al. Archives of General Psychiatry 2010; 67(6): 614-23