Soldiers Still Missing Sleep, Avoiding Healthy Foods

Soldiers Still Missing Sleep, Avoiding Healthy Foods

Sleeping tent
Photo by: U.S. Army Reserve/Maj. Brandon R. Mace

A June report on Army health finds just 37% of soldiers are getting seven or more hours of sleep, 25% of soldiers are using tobacco products, and less than half of soldiers are eating enough fruits and vegetables. 

Still, the 2020 Health of the Force report is upbeat. The sixth annual report on the health and wellness of the force finds generally improving fitness. Based largely on 2019 data, it does not evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on the Army. However, it predicts there may be some positive long-term health effects from improved air quality in buildings and some negative effects from deferred treatment of underlying health conditions. 

In 2019, injuries were the leading reason soldiers were on limited duty status. Fifty-five percent of soldiers experienced a new injury in 2019, with 72% being musculoskeletal injuries from cumulative overuse, the report says. Behavioral health was the second leading cause of limited duty. “Although fewer Soldiers received a profile for behavioral health conditions than for injuries, the average number of limited duty days for a behavioral health profile was higher than the corresponding average for an injury profile,” it says.  

Pregnancy, vision, and skin or dermatology issues were the other leading reasons for missing duty. 

In a sign of how sleep is connected to health, the report finds that among Army Special Operations Command soldiers, those who slept less than eight hours a night were 1.2 to 2.4 times more likely to experience musculoskeletal injuries. “Poor sleep quality has also been linked to a lower likelihood of meeting aerobic and resistance training recommendations,” while soldiers who get seven or more hours of sleep “are more likely to have lower body fat and higher aerobic endurance.” 

Sleeping on weekends or days off is no problem for soldiers, with 42% getting eight or more hours of rest, but 10% get four hours or less of duty-day sleep, 20% get five hours and 33% get six hours. Sleep times are similar for men and women.  

The full report is available here.