May 15, 2021 - Technology

The military wants to conquer jetlag

Soldiers sleeping in the Capitol building.

Enjoy those naps while you can, soldier. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding scientific projects to control service members' sleep/wake cycles in the service of fighting jetlag.

Why it matters: Jetlag is an annoyance for the average traveler (or was back when people, you know, went places), but for a U.S. military that operates across the globe, it can be a critical challenge to operational readiness.

What's happening: DARPA — the research agency that brought you such hits as "the internet" and "cyborg beetle spies" — this week announced the launch of the ADvanced Acclimation and Protection Tool for Environmental Readiness research program.

  • That's ADAPTER for short, because it's not the military unless you can acronymize it.

How it works: The primary focus of ADAPTER is to develop implants and devices that can regulate, on demand, bodily rhythms disrupted by jetlag or shift-work schedules.

  • Researchers at Northwestern University will try to engineer a wirelessly controlled bioelectronic implant — nicknamed the "living pharmacy" — that releases peptide-based therapies to, in the words of the DARPA release, "harmonize the warfighter’s central and peripheral circadian clock."
  • Stanford University researchers will work on an implantable device that can release melatonin — a naturally produced chemical that induces sleepiness — on demand for up to 30 days.

By the numbers: A recent study found that sleep disorders are a serious problem in the military, with insomnia diagnoses rising 45-fold between 2005 and 2019.

  • An update to the Army's Holistic Health and Fitness manual last year emphasized the importance of sleep and advised soldiers to "take the longest nap possible as frequently as time is available."

My thought bubble: I asked my younger brother Sean, an Army veteran, about his most memorable sleep experience in the military.

The bottom line: I'm ready to take a nap just thinking about that.

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