A new program called RESTORE is in the works to help special operators manage sleep better. Using a mix of commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) products, researchers will study effects on college student volunteers. Mix in some technology in the form of computer algorithms, and the stage is set for better overall sleep habits.


RESTORE the Ability to Sleep

RESTORE stands for Restorative and Efficient Sleep Technologies for Optimizing Resiliency and Effectiveness. USSOCOM awarded Aptima, Inc. a $1.29 million contract to develop the program, which aims at better understanding and optimizing sleep in the special operations community.

Long have people known that sleep deprivation is bad for you. As far back as 4,000BC, civilizations were already looking at medicinal herbs for sleep. The study of sleep, how it affects everyday life, and how to control it are all big business nowadays. Melatonin as a sleep aid was patented in 1995, but doctors were using depressants and barbiturates for years before that. 

hours of sleep in military
Getting optimal sleep is key to optimal Soldier performance and a ready and resilient Total Force. Just one sleepless night (less than four hours) can impair performance as much as a 0.10 percent blood-alcohol level. (Photo illustration by Graham Snodgrass/U.S. Army Public Health Center)

The problem with using drugs for sleep is the side-effects. How long will the drug stay in your system? Does it come with drowsiness after waking? And the big one: is it habit-forming? No branch of the military wants its members to be addicts. Many in uniform don’t want to take drugs, either. Hopefully, RESTORE can gather enough information to develop better ways to get to sleep, stay asleep, and have more restful sleep.


Phase One and Two

The program is broken into two phases. The first, already underway, is testing available sleep-monitoring devices, sleep studies, and self-reported sleep habits. Aptima is using college students during phase one, gathering data in at least three separate studies. Once phase one is complete, researchers will move on to special operators. 

Researchers plan to ask operators a series of questions to determine sleep habits, remedies, and patterns. The research team wants to know personal habits like caffeine and alcohol use, dietary and exercise habits, and how well individual operators rest. Also, researchers will measure how special operators perform, determined by more questions about their abilities in the field. Researchers want to know how sleep habits affect real-time operations as well as cognitive abilities after the fact.

Aptima and USSOCOM are trying to build a holistic approach to sleep. Information gleaned from the study will be used to build a “whole-person” approach to better sleep. Just as not everyone responds to medication the same way, not everyone responds to sleep therapy the same. The holistic approach to sleep problems is a way to determine what methods are successful, and how to implement them individually. 

airmen sleep in plane
Airmen from the 820th Base Defense Group wait in the rear of an HC-130J Combat King II prior to conducting static-line jumps, March 30, 2018, in the skies over Moody Air Force Base, GA. The 820th BDG and the 71st RQS work together frequently so the defenders and the aircrew can maintain their qualifications. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Callaghan/USAF)


The VA and Sleep

Sleep is a big deal to the military. And to the VA. In FY 2019, Veterans Health Administration (VHA) rolls showed that over one million veterans suffer from sleep apnea and more than half of them use some sort of device to aid in sleep. In FY 2018, VHA spent an estimated $234 million on sleep apnea devices and supplies for veterans. While a veritable drop in the bucket compared to overall government spending, it’s still not chump change.  


The Dire Consequences of Sleep Loss

Another, lesser-known, impact on veterans with sleep problems is the correlation with suicide. A study by the Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention, the VA Medical Center, and the University of Rochester Medical Center showed a correlation between reported sleep problems and suicide attempts and suicidal ideation. While not definitively pointing to sleep (or lack thereof) as a cause of suicide, sleep problems affected more who attempted suicide than not.

Another study, funded by the Army Research Office, found that people who get their sleep during daylight hours may be more at risk for neurological disorders. The study, using mice, showed that certain lymph systems are only active during the typical resting period, and those rest periods are tied to circadian rhythms of day and night cycles. In other words, humans are pre-programmed to be awake during daylight hours, and if they can’t be, their bodies may not be able to offset the difference.

Power naps are great, and many Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines have the ability to sleep anytime they can, but that may not be enough — at least not enough to ensure they have long, happy lives. Aptima and USSOCOM are trying to build a “sleep toolbox” so special operators can train, work, and live better lives.