What can it mean if I have trouble sleeping?
You lie awake at night and can’t fall or stay asleep. You’re restless and feel tired during the day. Nightmares wake you up, and you’re unable to go back to sleep. Are sleeping problems making it hard for you to get through the day?
Sometimes trouble sleeping is a result of a traumatic experience or stressful event in your military or civilian life. At other times, negative thoughts or worry make it hard to fall asleep or cause you to wake up easily during the night. Trouble falling asleep may be due to anxiety about having nightmares, or from thoughts focused on life challenges. Chronic pain, stomach problems, alcohol or drug use, or other physical ailments also might disturb your sleep. Over time, inadequate sleep can lead to chronic sleep deprivation, which will significantly affect your health, performance, and safety.
“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.”
Good sleep is important for overall good health. While the amount of sleep each person needs varies, seven to nine hours of sleep is ideal for most adults. To feel well-rested, your body also must 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.
Some Veterans don’t realize that their insomnia is affecting their day-to-day functioning or that their sleeping 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 sleeping 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 affect your life at home and at work, as well as your relationships. In addition to feeling tired, trouble sleeping can be associated with:
- Slower reaction times or bad judgment
- Irritability and moodiness
- Decreased motivation
- Memory and concentration problems
- Difficulty making decisions
If I’m having trouble sleeping, what can I do about it?
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 — not a place for other activities, such as watching television, reading, working on the computer, or listening to the radio.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine.
- Avoid watching TV or using the computer too close to bedtime. These activities rev up your brain, and the light exposure from the screens can throw off your sleep cycle.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule, where you go to bed and wake up close to the same time every day.
- Get outside and exercise daily (but not close to bedtime).
- Avoid taking any medications late in the day that might delay or disrupt your sleep .
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine.
- Avoid alcohol close to bedtime (and excessive alcohol consumption in general).
- Avoid large meals and beverages late at night.
Your close friends and family may notice that trouble sleeping is affecting your quality of life. You can 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 who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with useful resources and effective treatments for getting better sleep. If trouble sleeping is affecting your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:
- Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage insomnia even without direct experience with Veterans.
- 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 adviser
Explore these resources for more information about Veterans experiencing sleep problems.
This website has wellness resources for Veterans and Service members, including information and self-help tools for trouble sleeping and other issues they commonly experience.
If you are a combat Veteran, you can 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. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Trouble sleeping may be related to other health conditions that need attention. VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.