A new research report sponsored by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury confirms what many in the military have long suspected: Service members don’t get nearly enough sleep.

About a third of military members get by on five hours of sleep a night or less, and another third only manage six hours a night. Only 8% of civilians get by on five hours of sleep or less, as measured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, conducted by Rand Corp, reported that almost half of service members said they sleep poorly, compared to about a third of the general population. And sleep problems occur at the same rate throughout the military, regardless of whether people are deployed.

More than 18% of those surveyed reported using sleep aids such as sleeping pills, which have side effects that present a safety risk in an operational setting.

The study confirms that lack of sleep can have serious consequences for brain function and psychological health, according to US Public Health Service Lt Evette Pinder, a psychological health epidemiologist at Deployment Health Clinical Center.

Resilience, emotional regulation, and interpersonal relationships are impaired by sleep deficiency. The survey analysis supports a link between sleep quantity and quality, and physical health problems, such as obesity, and reports that sleep problems are a risk factor for depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.

According to the survey, a third of service members feel fatigued at least three to four times a week, and 17% reported that lack of sleep impairs their ability to function.

Finding easy solutions for sleep-deprived service members can be complicated. Common barriers keeping our warriors from getting adequate sleep include:

  • Attitudes. Sleep is viewed as a luxury in the military, and those who insist on getting to bed may be viewed as slackers.
  • Manpower. Service members say they often work fatigued because there’s no one to replace them.
  • Shift work. Many warfighters report taking coffee or energy drinks to keep them awake at night and medications to help them sleep during the day. These practices hurt sleep quality.
  • Information. Service members and care providers aren’t informed about how to solve sleep problems.
  • Providers. Not enough military care providers are trained to treat sleep issues.

The report recommends the Defense Department take steps to prevent sleep problems, increase identification and diagnosis of sleep problems, clinically manage sleep disorders and promote sleep health, and improve sleep in training and operational contexts.