Prevalence and Consequences of Sleep Problems in Military Wives

Published in: Sleep Health, 2016

Posted on RAND.org on May 09, 2016

by Stephanie Brooks Holliday, Ann C. Haas, Regina A. Shih, Wendy M. Troxel

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Research Questions

  1. What is the prevalence of sleep problems among female spouses of military service members?
  2. Are sleep problems associated with deployment?
  3. Are sleep problems associated with physical and mental health among spouses of military service members?

STUDY OBJECTIVES: Despite the prevalence of sleep problems among service members, few prior studies have examined the rate of sleep problems among military spouses, who also face the stresses of deployment and military life. This is the first study of spouses of US service members to examine the prevalence of sleep disturbances, effect of service member deployment, and associated physical and psychosocial outcomes. DESIGN: Cross-sectional analysis of RAND Deployment Life Study data. SETTING: Self-report measures administered via telephone and web-based surveys in Fall 2012. PARTICIPANTS: Female military spouses (n = 1805) aged 19 to 65 years (M = 33.5 [8.3]), married to service members across branches and components (73% previously, 10% currently, and 16% never deployed). MEASUREMENTS: Spouses self-reported sleep duration, sleep quality, daytime fatigue, and daytime impairment. Outcomes included self-rated health, marital satisfaction, and depressive symptoms. RESULTS: Eighteen percent of spouses reported extreme short sleep duration, which is higher than rates reported in the general population. Spouses indicated worse sleep when the service member was currently or previously deployed, although deployment status was not associated with sleep duration or daytime impairment. Greater sleep disturbances were significantly associated with all three outcomes, with the strongest association observed with greater depressive symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: This is the first report to document high rates of short sleep duration and poor sleep quality among spouses of service members. Furthermore, sleep problems were independent correlates of poor mental and physical health. Findings highlight the importance of addressing sleep issues in military families as well as in service members.

Key Findings

  • More participants in this study reported short sleep duration (less than 7 hours per night) and extreme short sleep duration (less than 5 hours per night) than has been observed in the general population.
  • Spouses of currently deployed service members rated their sleep to be of poorer quality than spouses of service members previously or never deployed.
  • High rates of sleep disturbances and daytime fatigue were reported among all spouses, regardless of deployment status, suggesting other aspects of military life contribute to sleep problems.
  • Sleep problems were most strongly associated with depression, highlighting the importance of screening for sleep problems among military spouses.

Recommendation

Results of this study suggest that sleep should be included as a domain of mental and physical health programs of the U.S. Department of Defense to promote resilience among military spouses and families.

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