Healthy Living

This Is The Number One Health Problem Soldiers Face

Deployed soldiers are sleeping as little as three hours a night.
In this photograph taken on October 26, 2014, US Marines rest on benches as they prepare to withdraw from the Camp Bastion-Leatherneck complex at Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
In this photograph taken on October 26, 2014, US Marines rest on benches as they prepare to withdraw from the Camp Bastion-Leatherneck complex at Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

What's the most wide-spread health issue plaguing members of the military? While post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and depression are critical issues that drum up worthy media attention, the answer is much more ordinary: sleep problems.

Sleep disorders are "the absolute number one military disorder when people come back from deployments," Lt. Col. Kate E. Van Arman, medical director at Fort Drum's Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, told attendees at a defense centers health conference on Wednesday. "Among TBI soldiers, it is the number two problem after headaches."

Van Arman went on to explain that two-thirds of military members sleep fewer than six hours per night, and one-third get fewer than five hours of rest, the Army News Service reported.

Deployed soldiers face even worse circumstances, logging just three hours of sleep on average -- far less than the seven to nine hours of sleep the National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get nightly.

And even when deployed soldiers do manage to catch some Zs, Van Arman pointed out, they aren't likely to be high-quality. Battlefields are a sensory overload zone, resulting in poor sleep that can affect soldiers' circadian rhythms.

Sleep disorders can include insomnia, night terrors and teeth grinding, and sleep deprivation can have serious health consequences like increased risk for stroke, obesity and diabetes, as well as memory loss. And according to a 2013 study from the U.K., just one week of sleep deprivation can actually change a person's genes and impact inflammatory, immune and stress responses.

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