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Operational Barriers to Sleep Health

"Mission first" is the creed of every servicemember, regardless of job title or duty description. Repeated and prolonged deployments and increased operational demands during combat create a clear conflict for commanders and other leaders when prioritizing mission needs and training requirements. Many interviewees and working group participants pointed to tension between awareness of the operational benefits of healthy sleep and a desire to achieve healthy sleep, on the one hand, and competing demands that inhibit proper sleep practices, on the other. For example, one Marine Corps operational staff member acknowledged the importance of sleep ("Well-rested [servicemembers] going into the mission . . . have the best judgment and the best reflexes and the best reactions when they come into contact with the enemy") but added that personnel may not be afforded sufficient time to rest because "[they're] trying to plan to perfection in everything that [they] do, from the generals all the way down through the lieutenants and the sergeants and the corporals."

Manpower Limitations

Manpower limitations can compound the operational demands faced by military leaders and servicemembers. Interviewees and working group participants noted that even where sleep policies are in place, leaders may not have sufficient manpower to provide all servicemembers with adequate time to sleep. For example, according to one Marine Corps operational staff member,

It keeps always coming back to manpower. Even if we have this perfect tool in a perfect world where you [conduct] this test on me and say, "You're fatigued," but if you look to your left or to your right but there's nobody else there to [take your place], guess what, I'm going on anyway.

These personnel noted that the threat to manpower has been particularly salient in recent years, given the high OPTEMPO many units face.

Interviewees and working group participants offered suggestions for improving watch bills and shift-work schedules by emphasizing the importance of circadian rhythms, equity in responsibilities, and access to amenities, with particular attention to those with exceptional shift-work duties. One interviewee described how commanders proactively took it upon themselves to address shift work and sleep issues within their units, demonstrating the positive effects of reducing fatigue.

 
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