Sleep, Behavioral Health Still Challenge Soldiers

Sleep, Behavioral Health Still Challenge Soldiers

Soldier participating in Army sleep study
Photo by: US Army/Arlen Caplan

The latest edition of the Army’s annual Health of the Force report found that soldiers’ health has remained stable, but the service also dealt with a decrease in sleep and an increase in behavioral health diagnoses. 

Now in its eighth year, the 2022 Health of the Force report analyzed data for over 20 health, wellness and environmental indicators across 41 installations throughout 2021. 

Soldiers’ sleep, activity and nutrition levels, which the report identified as “critical for maximizing Soldier performance,” remained stable in 2021. Though fewer soldiers completed a sleep, activity and nutrition assessment in 2021, the report found that “the proportion of Soldiers meeting [sleep, activity and nutrition] targets is comparable between 2020 and 2021.” 

Just over one-third of soldiers slept seven or more hours during work or duty days, the report found. Soldiers also experienced more sleep disorders, which increased 5 percentage points, from 9% in 2020 to 14% in 2021. “High-quality sleep is critical to Soldier readiness and mission success,” the report found. “Quality sleep can help increase productivity and decrease the risk of accidents, errors and injuries.” 

The number of soldiers diagnosed with one or more behavioral health conditions increased by 1 percentage point since 2020, though the report notes that this increase “may be the result of delays in seeking [behavioral health] care during the pandemic.” 

“In 2021, 16% of Soldiers had a diagnosis of one or more BH disorders,” the report found. “Early identification and treatment of [behavioral health] concerns among Soldiers is a top priority for the Army.” 

The rate of COVID-19 cases per 1,000 soldiers in 2021 was nearly 1.75 times higher than in 2020 due to the delta and omicron variants, according to the report. “During the global pandemic, the Army has balanced public health and safety with maintaining an operationally ready force, continuing training where quarantining and social distancing was often difficult,” the report found. 

Injuries also were a challenge for the Army, with 52% of soldiers being diagnosed with a new injury in 2021. Most of those injuries, about 70%, were overuse injuries, according to the report, and they can account for 8 million days of limited duty a year.

Age is a risk factor, with 69% of soldiers aged 45 and older receiving medical care for injuries, compared with 49% of soldiers younger than 25. Additionally, women suffered more injuries than men, with 61% of female soldiers diagnosed with an injury compared with 51% of male soldiers in 2021.

The report also evaluated health across installations and compared the health of each installation to the Army average. Most installations had a health score that was about the same as the Army average in 2021. 

U.S. Army Garrison West Point in New York, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia, the Presidio of Monterey in California, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington had health scores that exceeded the Army average. 

Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia; Fort Polk, now Fort Johnson, Louisiana; and Fort Knox, Kentucky; had health scores below the Army average. 

Army leaders can use findings from the Health of the Force report to positively impact their soldiers’ wellness. “Army Senior Leaders rely on robust data to characterize the health of their soldiers,” according to the report. “The Health of the Force data may be used to inform community health improvement and prevention strategies … [and] address specific health and readiness issues through resources and calls to action.”

Read the report here.