Sleep deprivation and hazardous unintended sleep in US army drill sergeants

Sleep Health. 2020 May 24;S2352-7218(20)30120-0. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2020.04.007. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Sleep deprivation is an occupational hazard for members of the armed forces, and has potential consequences not only for the sleep-deprived individuals, but also for the people around them. Perhaps the most consistently sleep-deprived population in the US Army are drill sergeants, who lead intense cycles of initial training for new soldiers. In the first systematic assessment of drill sergeants, the current study examined sleep deprivation and its relationship to falling asleep in two hazardous contexts: while driving, and while co-supervising recruit trainings.

Design: In total 856 drill sergeants across all Army basic training sites completed surveys. Sleep-related items measured sleep quantity, sleep problems, exhaustion, and stress due to lack of sleep.

Results: Drill sergeants reported working long hours (M = 14.74 hours, SD = 2.53), and being at work 6.42 (SD = 0.6) days per week, while obtaining low levels of sleep (75% reported five hours or less per night). Many (27%) met criteria for moderate or severe clinical insomnia. A substantial proportion (42%) reported having fallen asleep at the wheel at least once during their time as a drill sergeant. Further, the likelihood of this occurring was associated with obtaining low amounts of sleep and with meeting criteria for clinical insomnia. Similar rates of occurrence and associations with sleep issues were observed for falling asleep during recruit trainings.

Conclusions: Results highlight the importance of ensuring drill sergeants acquire adequate sleep in order to reduce the risk of accidents involving this population and those in their care.

Keywords: Accidents; Military; Sleep; Sleep deprivation.