When soldiers are deployed in active war zones, they often face circumstances that make it difficult to get adequate amounts of sleep. Despite having a strong culture of sleep hygiene and codified policies aimed at healthy sleeping practices, many service members struggle with sleep problems. Ultimately, this has far-reaching consequences for both individual and unit performance as well as health outcomes.
Some of these factors include a high operational tempo and round-the-clock operations that are commonly seen during deployments. In addition, the ability of service members to engage in teleconferences with units operating >8 time zones away, while still performing their day-to-day duties, can significantly impact sleep amounts and quality.
The nature of military work and the way it is organized can also impact sleep. For example, Navy sailors on submarines who have to spend days and weeks at a time in dark control rooms may have melatonin levels that are lower than those of those who spend more time outdoors. Additionally, junior members of submarine crews are required to "hot rack," or sleep in another person's bunk while on watch, a practice that can affect both their melatonin and their mood.
In a combat context, most infantry units were structured in a buddy system where two soldiers dug a foxhole together, three- to six feet underground and, when possible, covered it with some sort of cover to offer protection from artillery airbursts. Our interview respondents reported that such experiences made them feel unsafe when they returned to non-combat settings in the US, resulting in paradoxical feelings of hyper-vigilance and fear of attack even in objectively safe environments.