According to the U.S. Department of Defense, suicides among active-duty service members increased by more than 40% between 2015 and 2020. A recent study between the U.S. Army and WHOOP revealed essential connections between sleep consistency and mental health.
At the Elmendorf-Richardson Base in Anchorage, Alaska, suicide rates have doubled. WHOOP studied 862 of U.S Army soldiers stationed at Elmendorf-Richardson and analyzed their WHOOP sleep data and self-reported measures of psychological wellness. The data revealed interesting connections between sleep consistency and psychological well-being.
The study found that soldiers had lower sleep duration and sleep consistency than other WHOOP members based in Alaska and those in age-and-gender matched cohorts – a finding that proves the soldiers based at Elmendorf-Richardson are more prone to suffer from sleep deprivation and lack of sleep consistency. Sleep consistency, meaning going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time daily, is essential in informing sleep quality and mental health.
The study also revealed that greater sleep consistency predicted less homesickness, more positive social networks, and greater workplace resilience – all good signals of psychological well-being. Extensive research indicates that sleep duration is important, but the current findings highlight the fact that the general recommendation to increase time in bed might be incomplete advice on its own. Rather, this suggests that a focus on sleep consistency, in addition to sleep duration, might yield more benefits.
The positive correlation between sleep consistency and psychological well-being means the more consistent your sleep and wake times are, the better your mental health is. This also means that poor sleep consistency contributes to poor mental health. Irregular sleep-wake time is a known predictor of mental health decline and one of the core markers of suicide. Other research shows that along with self-reported insomnia and nightmares, biometrically assessed sleep consistency can be acute warning signs of suicidal ideation.
These findings extend beyond those in the military, and are especially relevant to anyone who finds themselves in an occupation that requires high resiliency. A study that looked at trauma surgeons who are on call for overnight shifts at a hospital tasked with emergency surgeries found that higher rates of in-house calls were associated with poorer sleep consistency, in turn increasing feelings of burnout and emotional exhaustion. Physicians with burnout are twice as likely to make a medical error and 17% more likely to be involved in a malpractice suit. Surgeons who perceive they have made a major medical error or are involved in a malpractice suit have a higher risk of depression and suicidal ideation.
This study underscores how critical sleep consistency is not only for quality sleep – but in contributing to self-reported measures of psychological wellness and performance. Sleep consistency, as a marker of psychological well-being and suicide risk, can help reduce suicide/improve mental health in the military.
Study: Connection Between Sleep and Psychological Well-Being in U.S. Army Soldiers
Kristen Holmes- PhD candidate, University of Queensland, WHOOP
Nadia Fox – PhD Candidate, University of Queensland
Dr. Jemma King – University of Queensland (BPA)
Dr. David Presby – Department of Data Science, WHOOP
Jeongeun Kim – Department of Performance Science, WHOOP