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Can you get a good night’s sleep in the military?

Soldiers from the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment try to sleep during a 19-hour flight from Alaska to Australia. (U.S. Army photo by David Vergun) Soldiers from the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment try to sleep during a 19-hour flight from Alaska to Australia. (U.S. Army photo by David Vergun)

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Getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult for service members. The demands of military life are often at odds with proper rest, but even on active duty, you have options to improve your sleep. 

Studies of service members by the Rand Corporation show that poor sleep can lead to a variety of mental and physical health concerns, including increased risk of posttraumatic stress disorder or depression. Poor sleep can also cause problems such as fatigue or daytime impairment during daily tasks.

Many strategies for getting enough rest involve altering your sleep environment, your bedtime or wake-up time. These strategies assume you have control over your schedule and quarters. Often, you don’t control these factors, especially while deployed. Issues such as low manpower, fast-paced work and frequent shift jobs can increase fatigue. What’s more, noise and light may be impossible to regulate.

Although these factors make it difficult to get enough sleep, service members do have some options, said Capt. Anne Dobmeyer, a clinical health psychologist with the Deployment Health Clinical Center:

  • Sleep masks and ear plugs can help service members cope with environments they are unable to control.
  • Avoid electronic use and blue light. Light from screens and electronic devices can interfere with sleep.
  • Don’t exercise, eat, or drink in excess in the two hours before bed.
  • Be careful with alcohol, nicotine and drug use. Though these substances might help you relax, they inhibit sound sleep.
  • Use the bed for sleep and sex only. Avoid reading or doing other activities in bed.

Though napping isn’t usually encouraged, it’s a way to cope when your schedule doesn’t allow for regular rest. “Naps can be used when needed if there is diminished opportunity for sleep due to duty requirements,” Dobmeyer said. “However, in most cases, eliminating naps and focusing on having a regular bedtime and waking time lead to better sleep.”

Service members can also take advantage of sleep resources from AfterDeployment and the Dream EZ app for help with better sleep habits.

Involve Your Commander

Communicating with your leadership can make a difference for everyone in the unit. Educating leaders on sleep health is an important part of sleep wellness, because poor sleep makes it harder for everyone to accomplish the mission. A recent study determined that there is a direct link between “sleep leadership” and soldier morale.

“Consultation with leaders related to sleep could include recommendations regarding how frequently shifts are changed, or housing same-shift members in the same section of the dorms or barracks,” Dobmeyer said.

Learn more about the factors that affect service members’ sleep from DCoE.

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