Soldiers lost a lot of sleep in Iraq, Afghanistan

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An infrared light illuminates U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Bobby M. Scharton, a platoon sergeant with 17th Fires Brigade, 7th Infantry Division, during a sleep study at Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Nov. 22, 2013. Physicians use data from the studies to diagnose severe sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia. (U.S. Army)
An infrared light illuminates U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Bobby M. Scharton, a platoon sergeant with 17th Fires Brigade, 7th Infantry Division, during a sleep study at Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Nov. 22, 2013. Physicians use data from the studies to diagnose severe sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia. (U.S. Army)

Soldiers lost a lot of sleep in Iraq, Afghanistan

by: Sig Christenson | .
San Antonio Express-News | .
published: November 06, 2014

SAN ANTONIO (MCT) — A new medical study has determined that the Army had the highest rate of chronic insomnia among the armed services over a long decade of war.

The study showed a sharp increase among men and women as the U.S. fought in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2005 to 2013 and found those veterans were more likely to have high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.

“Insomnia is a common complaint in active-duty service members,” the authors of the study wrote in a report issued by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center. “Of those returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, 41 percent reported problems sleeping.”

The problem is well known among troops who've served in the war zone since 9/11. But the study found chronic insomnia, diagnosed when symptoms occur at least three times a week for three months or more, rose sharply from 2004 through 2012.

The rate began to fall last year.

Researchers pored over more than a decade's worth of medical data to reach their findings, published late last week in the Medical Surveillance Monthly Report.

Both men and women slept poorly in many cases. The Army — which bore the heaviest burden of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, sending soldiers to the war zone on multiple occasions — had the highest rate of chronic insomnia.

Soldiers were 2½ times more likely to suffer from chronic insomnia than their counterparts in any other service branch. The sharpest increase came for soldiers in infantry, artillery and armor/motor transport.

Strikingly, women were 57 percent more likely than men to suffer from chronic insomnia. The report did not explain why, but it noted that insomnia impacts work performance, the ability to function in social settings and a person's quality of life.

It also said that recent studies have probed the idea that insomnia may play a role in the onset of common chronic diseases that include diabetes, hypertension, obesity and coronary artery disease.

The Army's office of the surgeon general has launched a campaign to raise awareness about the need for better sleep, exercise and nutrition called the Performance Triad. An officer involved in that program, Lt. Col. Ingrid Lim, cautioned Tuesday that war can impact health but that other factors could be in play as well.

“War, among other stressful environments and situations, can have an impact on one's overall health,” said Lim, a clinical psychologist.

“We also understand that multiple factors can be at work regarding someone's sleep and sleep habits such as being separated from one's family or financial stressors,” she continued. “War can be a factor, but it could only be one factor and not necessarily have a direct correlate to insomnia.”

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