The Secretary of Defense over in the US has just issued an immediate action directive to drive mission readiness by promoting good-quality sleep, in response to research showing that service members experiencing sleep issues are almost three times more likely to report suicide ideation and other potentially harmful behaviours.
The immediate action directive ensures that duty schedules will allow for between seven and eight hours of sleep in every 24-hour period. Furthermore, commanders will also be expected to minimise the frequency of shift changes so as to prevent sleep disruption where possible.
Major Connie Thomas explained that lack of sleep can result in “inappropriate emotional responses, most often negatively biased, to events and interactions”.
She went on to say that because of sleep loss-related cognitive impairment, people may not realise just how impaired they actually are and will believe that they need far less sleep than they actually do.
“That is because the chronically sleep-restricted brain is not good at self-assessing its need for sleep or the impact of sleep loss on functioning. It is also difficult for leaders to implement certain sleep promoting strategies in different environments, including in the field and deployed setting.”
Furthermore, soldiers may not choose to prioritise sleep over other aspects of their lives, such as social or leisure pursuits, or they may have family or personal responsibilities that make it hard to get good sleep.
There is a growing body of research investigating the relationship between sleep and suicide. And although sleep disturbances are often considered to be critical risk factors for thoughts and behaviours, it is currently unclear as to just how far these disturbances confer risk for suicide.
New meta-analysis looking at 42 studies from between 1982 and 2019 has suggested that sleep disturbances are statistically significant but weak risk factors for suicide ideation. The strongest associations were found for insomnia and nightmares.
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