Pentagon Report on Sleep Deprivation and Military Readiness

March 3, 2021 9:02 AM

The following is the March 2021 Pentagon report, Study on Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Readiness of Members of the Armed Forces.

From the report

Twenty-first century combat operations demanded an institutional shift in how military leaders manage Service member health as a critical component of readiness and performance. Throughout the wars of the past two decades, the DoD has shown an increasing commitment to Service member mental and physical readiness. This commitment is evident in the collaborative partnership between commanders and medical professionals striving to maximize wellness behaviors among Service members in training, operational, and combat environments. Throughout the DoD, an emphasis on physical activity, nutrition, resilience, sleep, and fatigue management has worked to mitigate the potentially deleterious effects of maintaining an always-ready force.

Sleep may be the most important biological factor that determines Service member health and combat readiness. U.S. military personnel across settings tend to self-report significantly higher rates of sleep deprivation than the general national population. The majority of Service members report they receive less sleep than needed to perform their military duties well. Rates of sleep deprivation typically are higher in training and deployed settings than in garrison Between 27 and 38 percent of Service members indicate that the length of the duty day and the overall pace of 24-hour-per-day military operations result in sleep deprivation due to restricted opportunity for sleep.

Although it can be argued that intermittent, short-term sleep deprivation due to operational and training demands is an unavoidable cost that must be paid to ensure an always-ready force, it is likely that prolonged and chronic sleep deprivation has the opposite effect on the readiness of the U.S. Armed Forces. Impairment from sleep deprivation can be equivalent to the effects of alcohol intoxication9 and significantly increases the risk of physical injury. A growing body of research, reviewed in this study, indicates that sleep deprivation has significant effects on the physical, cognitive, and emotional functioning needed for readiness, occupational, and operational mission fulfillment in the military. Risk of accident in training, operational, and combat environments significantly increases if Service members are sleep deprived.12 To counteract the effects of sleep deprivation, Service members consume large amounts of caffeine. There is some evidence that moderate doses of caffeine can maintain alertness, attention, and vigilance during short-term sleep deprivation. However, caffeine countermeasures cannot replace the need for sleep, and overuse of this stimulant drug in military settings can disrupt sleep patterns and increase levels of sleep deprivation.14,15 If sleep problems are not addressed, medical and psychological health conditions can be exacerbated, resulting in persistent symptoms. As sleep disruption is a core symptom of depression, PTSD, and TBI, individuals with these conditions show a greater risk for sleep-related problems following combat deployment.

Military commanders can help prevent and mitigate the effects of sleep deprivation among their Service members. Risk mitigation begins with a leader’s commitment to duty schedules that allow for eight hours of sleep with adequate recovery time when mission requirements result in reduced or disrupted sleep. Leaders can take specific steps to monitor caffeine intake and decrease environmental disruption in sleep areas. Several well-established techniques exist for managing anticipated travel-related sleep disruptions, such as tactical naps and sleep banking. Leaders can also encourage the use of behavioral interventions to improve sleep quantity and quality, such as the use of mobile applications to help track sleep. If viewed as a key component of readiness, military cultural attitudes regarding sleep deprivation can be shifted to ensure that Service member performance is optimized, and even enhanced, rather than compromised.

Download the document here.

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