Coping with Insomnia
Insomnia is a common struggle for veterans. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to manage sleep that don’t require taking prescription medications. Check out these tips and resources from Dr. Lauren Fontenot of Palmetto Perspectives, located at 3453 Pelham Road, Suite 107, in Greenville, SC.
Stressful Nights: Coping with Insomnia
“I am no longer an early bird or a night owl. I am some form of a permanently exhausted pigeon.” I laughed as I read this, thinking that most people – including many veterans – can relate to this sentiment. Approximately 30% of the US population complains of regular sleep disruption, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking too early. When these disruptions become chronic, it’s called insomnia.
Insomnia is strongly tied to our mental and physical functioning – whether it be feeling foggy and being unable to concentrate during the day, having low energy, or feeling angry or sad. Since so much of our daily ability is reliant on good sleep, a lack of sleep can become stressful.
Whole books have been written on improving sleep. Internet searches yield thousands of results: medicines, behavioral changes, gimmicks. Recent research has called into question the long-term effectiveness of sleep medications as they can cause dependence and only work as long as you take the medication.
Before turning to medication for your sleep, try these strategies to see how they may improve your sleep:
Make your bedroom favorable for sleep. Keep light, noise, and the temperature low.
Create a quiet, relaxing bedtime routine. When we’re little we need a routine to get ready for bed; we forget that when we’re adults we need this too. Relax your body. An easy way is “triangle breathing”: inhale for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, exhale 3 seconds.
Go to bed ONLY when you’re sleepy. If you try to force sleep, you will only be more frustrated. If you aren’t sleepy, do something boring or relaxing until you’re tired
Build up a “sleep appetite.” Wake up at the same time every day. Resist the urge to sleep in, even if you have had a bad night of sleep. Avoid daytime napping. If you nap during the day, you won’t be ready to sleep at night. Get regular exercise. Tiring out your body will increase your body’s hunger for sleep.
Another approach to reducing sleep disruptions is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). CBT-I is a short-term treatment in which behavior changes like those mentioned above are coupled with individualized strategies to retrain your circadian clock. Research has shown that most Veterans who complete CBT-I successfully report improved sleep. CBT-I can be provided by trained mental health professionals at the VA and within your local community.
Visit TreatmentWorksForVets.org for more information. Contact Virginia R. Barnes, Family Services Advocate at Upstate Warrior Solution for affiliated providers.