Veterans describe sleep problems such as being unable to get a full night’s rest, having nightmares, and waking up shouting or sweating. Trouble sleeping affected other aspects of their lives too. Reaching out for support helped them find treatment options that improved their sleep and overall health.
What can it mean if I have trouble sleeping?
You lie awake at night and can’t sleep. You’re restless and feel tired during the day. Nightmares wake you up. You’re unable to go back to sleep. Are sleep problems making it hard for you to get through the day?
Sometimes sleep problems are a result of a traumatic experience or stressful event in your military or civilian life. Other times, negative thoughts or worry might make it hard to fall asleep or cause you to wake up easily during the night. You might dread having nightmares or find your thoughts focused on problems in your life. Chronic pain, stomach problems, alcohol or drug use, or other physical ailments also might disturb your sleep.
Good sleep is important for overall good health. The amount of sleep each person needs varies, but seven to nine hours of sleep is ideal for most adults. To feel well rested, your body also needs to go through a series of sleep stages. When those sleep stages are interrupted, you may feel especially tired or have trouble concentrating the next day.
“I used to fall asleep so easily during my deployment, even with all the loud noises and 24/7 commotion, but now that I’m back and in a quiet, comfortable bedroom, I just can’t seem to fall asleep at night.”
Some Veterans don’t realize their trouble sleeping is affecting their day-to-day functioning or that their sleep problems are treatable. Symptoms of sleep deprivation and other sleep problems include:
Having a hard time falling or staying asleep
Having a hard time staying awake during the day
Feeling tired even after getting lots of sleep
Allowing your sleep problems to go unchecked may lead to accidents or make it harder to deal with stress, solve problems, or recover from sickness or injury. Sleep problems can impact your life at home and at work, as well as your relationships. In addition to feeling tired, trouble sleeping can be associated with:
If I’m having trouble sleeping, what can I do about it?
“I used to have a drink every night to get to sleep. One day my friend dug out a week’s worth of empty liquor bottles from the trash and put them on the table for me to see. It was right then I decided to stop self-medicating to get to sleep and address the issue once and for all.”
There are several things you can do right away to improve your sleep. Try to remember to:
Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool
Make your bedroom a place just for sleeping and not a place for other activities like watching television, reading, working on the computer, or listening to the radio
Create a relaxing bedtime routine
Stick to a sleep schedule, making sure you wake up close to the same time every day
Get outside and exercise daily (but not close to bedtime)
Take medications that might delay or disrupt your sleep earlier in the day
Avoid caffeine and nicotine
Avoid alcohol before bed or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
Avoid large meals and beverages late at night
Your close friends and family may notice the effects that sleep problems are having on your quality of life. Turn to them when you are ready to look for solutions to your sleep problems. It can be helpful to share what you’re experiencing, and they may be able to provide support as you look for ways to improve your sleep.
Take the next step – Make the connection.
Every day, Veterans connect with useful resources and effective treatments for getting better sleep. If sleep problems are affecting your health and well-being or are getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:
Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does.
A mental health professional, such as a therapist
Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
A spiritual or religious advisor
Explore these resources for more information about sleep problems in Veterans.
Learn more about the possible associations between sleeping problems and other issues such as nightmares, preparing for deployment, stress, depression, and posttraumatic stress.
Take an online workshop with interactive exercises to evaluate your own sleeping and hear from other Veterans and Service members dealing with similar issues.
If you are a combat Veteran or experienced any sexual trauma during your military service, bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist—many of whom are Veterans themselves—for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Having trouble sleeping for more than a few days could be a sign of health conditions that need attention. This website will allow you to search for VA programs located near you. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s treatment programs.