by Matty Trussell [Guest Blogger] May 26, 2022 4 min read
The study found that soldiers who got more sleep were better able to complete tasks, had better reaction times, and were less likely to make mistakes. The study looked at a group of soldiers who were sleep-deprived and compared them to a group who got more sleep. The soldiers who got more sleep performed better on a variety of tests, including a test that simulated combat. The researchers say that the findings could have implications for the way that the Army trains and prepares its soldiers for combat. They say that soldiers need to be given more time to sleep, and that the Army should consider changing its training schedules to allow for more sleep. The study's findings echo the results of other studies that have found that sleep is important for cognitive performance. But the new study is the first to specifically look at the effects of sleep on soldiers' performance.
In today's Army, sleep is just as important as physical fitness. That's the message from Maj. Allison Brager, an Army sleep expert with the Sleep Research Center at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Brager discussed the importance of sleep during the Army's second annual Holistic Health and Fitness conference. She cited work done by military researchers during the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s, which showed that even a small reduction in sleep can dramatically reduce marksmanship performance and combat effectiveness.
A few years ago, Brager and the sleep research center team conducted a similar study with soldiers from the 1st Armored Division while they were stationed at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. The team found that at seven or more hours of sleep, a soldier is 98% combat effective. But at just six hours of sleep, that number drops to 50%. At five hours of sleep, the soldier's combat effectiveness drops to 28%. And at four hours or less, the soldier is practically a liability, with only 15% combat effectiveness.
Can you believe? Before the study, the Army's official guidance for adequate soldier sleep time was four hours.
The importance of sleep cannot be understated. In today's fast-paced, high-stress environment, soldiers need to be at the top of their game. Adequate sleep is essential to maintaining peak performance.
“We know that sleep is critical for cognitive performance, for motor performance, for our immune system," said a sleep expert. "It's really one of the most important things that we can do for our soldiers."
While the Army has made some progress in recent years in terms of managing sleep deprivation, there is still more work to be done.
During her presentation, Brager talked about the need for soldiers to get enough sleep and the importance of "tactical naps" in order to maintain peak performance.
One way to help improve soldiers' sleep habits is to encourage the use of "tactical naps." These are short, 20-30 minute periods of sleep that can be taken during the day in order to boost energy and performance.
"Naps can be very effective in offsetting the effects of sleep loss," a sleep expert said. "They can help improve mood, they can help improve reaction time, they can help improve vigilance."
Tactical naps are not a new concept, but they are one that the Army is starting to take more seriously as it looks to improve the overall fitness of its soldiers.
"We're starting to see a lot more interest in napping from a performance standpoint," a sleep expert said. "I think the Army is really starting to realize the importance of sleep and the impact it has on readiness."
The Army's official guidance for adequate soldier sleep time was four hours at the time of the Brager's study. Since then, the Army has updated its guidance to six hours of sleep for soldiers in combat operations. While six hours of sleep is the new guidance, Maj. Allison Brager, an Army sleep expert, says that seven to eight hours of sleep is ideal for soldiers. Brager says that the Army is working on policies to make sure soldiers are getting enough sleep, but there are still some hurdles to overcome.
One of the biggest hurdles is the culture of the Army, which values toughness and endurance over everything else. Brager says that many soldiers feel like they have to prove that they can function on little sleep, when in reality, they would be much more effective if they got more rest. Another hurdle is the nature of combat operations, which can be unpredictable and often require soldiers to be on the alert for long periods of time. Brager says that the Army is working on ways to allow soldiers to catch up on sleep during periods of down time, but it's not always possible. The Army is also working on ways to improve sleep environment for soldiers, both in the field and at base camp. This includes things like noise control and light exposure. Despite the challenges, Brager is optimistic that the Army can make progress on the issue of sleep. She says that the new guidance on six hours of sleep is a good start, and she believes that with time, the Army can get closer to the ideal of seven to eight hours of sleep for soldiers.
The new guidance is a good start, but there’s still a long way to go. For one thing, the Army needs to do a better job of enforcing the new guidance. In the past, soldiers who didn’t get enough sleep were often seen as weak or slacking off. That needs to change. The Army also needs to take a closer look at its training schedules. Too often, soldiers are required to be awake and working for long periods of time with little or no break. That’s not conducive to getting enough sleep. The Army needs to find a way to strike a better balance between training and sleep. Getting enough sleep is critical to a soldier’s performance.