Soldiers often face a difficult transition upon returning home from the battlefield. It can be a challenge to reconnect with family members and also to acclimate to a different environment, and a new study found that active duty soldiers also tend to experience significant problems sleeping after leaving combat zones. Researchers from Washington’s Madigan Army Medical Center say the findings should spur a change in how the military addresses sleep problems. 

The study
Researchers relied on findings from a trial conducted in 2010 at the medical center that focused on how active duty soldiers slept. They discovered that more than 85 percent of the participants had a clinically relevant sleep disorder. The most commonly diagnosed issue was obstructive sleep disorder, with 51.2 percent of participants exhibiting the condition. Insomnia was also common, with 24.7 percent of soldiers showing symptoms. Additionally, scientists found that the average in-home sleep duration stood at just 5.74 hours each night.

What does it mean?
While more studies are needed to solidify the findings, the results suggest that sleep deprivation, which is often an assumed part of military service, could have a much larger impact than originally thought. Researchers posit that certain injuries and medical conditions that are common to veterans could also be playing a big role, because more than 58 percent of participants had a service-related medical condition such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), depression or anxiety. 

“Their findings highlight the need for policy and culture change in our military organizations and continued research to understand and ameliorate the injuries these veterans have sustained,” Nita Lewis Shattuck wrote in an editorial accompanying the study. “Better appreciation of the causal factors associated with veterans’ health will lead to better policies for transition to civilian life and ultimately minimize the cost of veterans’ healthcare to society.”

A good night’s sleep can help
Though there are no definite statistics, some experts estimate that as much as 20 percent of post-9/11 veterans have some form of post-traumatic stress disorder or TBI, and getting enough sleep can help some of them manage the symptoms, according to The News Tribune. Lt. Col. Vincent Mysliwiec, who lead the study, told the newspaper that since TBI and PTSD are often accompanied by troubles sleeping, addressing those issues could play a vital role in treatment.