Staff Perspective: The Best and Worst Things in Life Happen at Night

Staff Perspective: The Best and Worst Things in Life Happen at Night

Bill Brim, Psy.D.

My great-grandfather once told me that “The best and worst things in life happen at night.”  I am sure that I had no idea what he was talking about at the time, but I clearly recall spending nights at my great-grandparents’ home in Jackson, Tennessee as a young boy and watching my great-grandfather pace the house at night and asking him why he always seemed to be awake.  My great-grandfather William Alfred Key enlisted in the U.S. Army underage to fight in the final months of World War I and in 1940 was commissioned as an engineering officer in the beginning of World War II.  He was later the State Commander of the Tennessee Veterans of Foreign Wars.  Papa was my first hero and I am pretty sure he never slept. 

Captain Key’s logbook from Europe during WWII describes being a “button butt” and falling asleep from exhaustion the moment his butt hit the ground, and being trained to withstand long hours without sleep in order to be on alert.  Today, I recognize that his experiences in the military likely affected his ability to sleep throughout his life and that he probably suffered from insomnia and some amount of post-traumatic stress.  Not much has changed in that regard over the last 100 years, sleep problems remain one of the most common complaints of military members and Veterans.  However, great strides have been made in the last several decades in our understanding of the physiology of sleep and a significant amount of research effort has dramatically improved our ability to prevent, assess, and treat sleep disorders.

During the month of April, the CDP will celebrate the efforts to improve the sleep lives of Service members and Veterans by holding a “sleep team website takeover.” will look a little different this month as we use infographics to highlight data about various sleep concerns and disorders in the military. In the coming weeks, look for blogs on the dissemination of sleep disorder treatments in the military, the role of medical providers in behavioral sleep treatments, and sleep among special duty military personnel.  There will be Research Update blogs on insomnia and motor vehicle accidents, sleep problems in military women, and sleep and PTSD.  Be sure and check out our video blog on our new virtual reality sleep training museum, the Snoozeum, and plan your visit.  We hope that you will return to several times this month to sign up for our upcoming sleep training workshops and check out our sleep resources for providers.  Finally, be sure and join us on Wednesday, 25 April from 1200-1330 ET for our sleep-focused webinar “CDP Presents: Sleep Disorder Care in the Military,” where we will discuss the role of various sleep providers and ways to improve the availability and efficacy of sleep treatments across the spectrum of care.  We will be joined by Dr. Michael Perlis, COL (Dr.) Vince Mysliweic, Dr. Daniel Taylor, and others in this informative panel discussion. 

Despite all of our efforts, sleep and war will never be compatible and a disproportionate number of Service members will always have to suffer with sleep problems.  It is our duty as healthcare providers to better understand the mechanisms of sleep, to work together across disciplines to provide a range of resources and interventions for sleep disorders, to inform military policy regarding sleep requirements and to educate military leadership about the mission impact of insufficient sleep.  William “Papa” Key died on my 11th birthday, 12 December 1977.  He remains one of my biggest personal heroes and there are millions out there just like him who deserve our best efforts to understand sleep in the military. 

The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.

Bill Brim, Psy. D., is the deputy director of the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP). Prior to joining the CDP, Dr. Brim served on active duty as a psychologist in the United States Air Force from 1997 to 2007.