Lack of Sleep Like Working While Intoxicated, Surgeon General Says
The Army’s top health professional says soldier sleep problems are nothing to snooze at.
Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the service’s surgeon general, said sleep, nutrition and inactivity account for 70 percent of the demand on the military healthcare system. Horoho was speaking Wednesday on a panel at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
“We need to have leaders look at sleep the same way we look at water, discipline and personal protective equipment,” Horoho said. “We’re looking sleep, activity and nutrition as the performance triad for the health of our force.”
Horoho said soldiers have to be weaned onto better sleeping habits.
Disrupted sleep increases weight gain and decreases cognitive functioning, which in turn hurt a soldier’s overall health.
“If you are operating for less than five hours of sleep for five days in a row, you are actually functioning as if you were legally intoxicated,” Horoho said. “Think about that. We have soldiers making critical decisions every day.”
Sergeant of the Army Raymond F. Chandler, who sat on the panel with Horoho, pointedly answered a question about whether soldiers who complain of insomnia and are non-deployable should be dismissed as unsatisfactory.
“No,” Chandler said. “They are doing what it is we expect them to do, which is say, ‘I have a problem,’ and they’re looking for help. We have plenty of mechanisms in place to tell if it’s a sleep disorder or something else.”
The Army’s problem with sleep have touched Chandler personally, he said, as his sleep was disrupted on deployments.
Many soldiers consume energy drinks, and those who do so regularly are likely to suffer sleep problems, Chandler said. The right approach is trust Army medical professionals to decide on a diagnoses and communicate with commanders.
“We’ve got great professionals who know exactly what needs to be done, and we want to encourage our soldiers,” he said. “We don’t want an environment where people are all ‘unsatisfactory’ because they’ve got a challenge in life.”