Sleep loss is common in the military, which can negatively affect health and readiness; however, it is largely unknown how sleep varies over a military career. This study sought to examine the relationships between military-related factors and the new onset and reoccurrence of short sleep duration and insomnia symptoms.
Millennium Cohort Study data were used to track U.S. military service members over time to examine longitudinal changes in sleep. Outcomes were self-reported average sleep duration (categorized as ≤5 hours, 6 hours, or 7-9 hours [recommended]) and/or insomnia symptoms (having trouble falling or staying asleep). Associations between military-related factors and the new onset and reoccurrence of these sleep characteristics were determined, after controlling for multiple health and behavioral factors.
Military-related factors consistently associated with an increased risk for new onset and/or reoccurrence of short sleep duration and insomnia symptoms included active duty component, Army or Marine Corps service, combat deployment, and longer than average deployment lengths. Military officers and noncombat deployers had decreased risk for either sleep characteristic. Time-in-service and separation from the military were complex factors; they lowered risk for ≤5 hours sleep but increased risk for insomnia symptoms.
Various military-related factors contribute to risk of short sleep duration and/or insomnia symptoms over time, although some factors affect these sleep characteristics differently. Also, even when these sleep characteristics remit, some military personnel have an increased risk of reoccurrence. Efforts to improve sleep prioritization and implement interventions targeting at-risk military populations, behaviors, and other significant factors are warranted.

Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Sleep Research Society (SRS) 2021.