by Dr. Robert Koffman, Medical Director
Even the thought of it is comforting. Chances are, if you are like a third of this population, you experience occasional insomnia. Everyone experiences an occasional night of poor sleep. This is commonly due to life styles, impossible schedules, staying up too late or waking up too early. This doesn’t mean you have insomnia; what it does mean is that you didn’t get enough sleep. To be sure, the key to good health and prompt recovery is utilizing the power of sleep!
One in ten individuals suffers chronic, debilitating insomnia. Here, insomnia is defined as difficulty, falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early. Along with nutrition and exercise, sleep is a fundamental requirement for health, happiness, and now scientists tell us, even longevity. It may even hold the key to weight loss! But how much sleep do we really need and why does the Semper Fi Fund have such great concern about the quantity—and quality—of your nightly rest?
Getting sufficient quality and quantity of restorative sleep each night is essential for maintaining health, promoting wellness, and enjoying life to its fullest. Not only is not getting enough sleep dangerous to an individual’s physical and psychological health but recent findings now positively link sleep deficits to depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, even heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
There are other reasons to get enough sleep. Those of our veterans and family members who suffer with chronic pain should know that correcting insomnia alone can improve their pain. The Semper Fi Fund cares about you, all of you… We feel strongly that helping you sleep better and bringing attention to the importance of this simple, but often neglected requirement will positively impact your quality life.
Researchers tell us that many service members and veterans have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and this condition persists long after that member returns home. As many as 70% of service members continue to experience sleep related problems such as fatigue, insomnia and nightmares after returning home from deployment. Setting this warrior up for ongoing problems, nearly a third of service members don’t even get 5 hours of sleep a night! This can have a profound impact on a service member’s ability to readjust, reintegrate, and rebuild their own life and their family’s future.
Just as alarming, relevant to all of us who work with spouses of active duty and retired service members, a very recent study revealed that sleep problems affect the entire household. This study demonstrated that forty-four percent of spouses of military members reported getting six hours or less a night. This is woefully inadequate and contributes to chronic sleep deprivation. Moreover, nearly another fifth of the spouses in this study’s population received 5 hours or less. These sleep deprived military spouses reported that their sleep problems contributed to irritability and intolerance of their spouse or children, frequent crying, even poor work performance. Fully, one-third of the spouses reported feeling daytime fatigue and impairment three or more times per week; yet another third admitted to daytime fatigue once or twice a week.
So how much is enough? Experts tell us that we need at least seven hours a night. In fact, chronic insomnia results not only in sleep disturbance, but daytime symptoms, too. Daytime symptoms resulting from insomnia, sometimes are called “sleep drunkenness” because of the effects of sleep deprivation on judgement, reaction time, and decision making. Studies show insomnia decreases alertness which negatively affects work performance. Some states have laws against “drowsy driving”, impairments not unlike alcohol. To be sure, sufferers from insomnia experience diminished health and wellness overall quality of life.
Learn these important Sleep Hygiene Facts—Share these important Dos and Don’ts with your clients.
DO maintain a regular Sleep and Wake schedule. This means keeping this schedule even on weekends and days off. Keeping true to this schedule will help your internal clock, or “circadian rhythm” stay wound. Make sleep a priority. Resist the urge to sleep-in which will come at a cost to your routine. As with other good habits—eating and exercise, good sleep habits. And avoid taking naps, particularly long naps. Daytime napping can contribute to nighttime insomnia.
DO go to bed when you are sleepy. If you do not fall asleep within 20 to 30 minutes do not toss and turn. Get up out of bed, near the bed and read a not-so-thrilling book for a while until you feel sleepy. Avoid being stimulated by bright lights. And stay away from computer screens!
DO establish a healthy sleep routine. Prepare the body for sleep with a wind down period using soft music, a relaxing read, creative writing, meditation or some other stress eraser such as breathing exercises. Yoga Nidra is sublime for sleep. Whereas a lukewarm bath or shower can calmly invigorate, an excessively hot bath can make it difficult to fall asleep due to an elevated core temperature. Bedtime rituals are particularly important for children as they establish good sleep habits.
DO set the mood with a bedroom that is dark, quiet, cool, but not cold. Some people find either white noise or soundscapes to mask a bed partners shoring to be helpful. The scent of lavender has been shown to be calming and aid in sleep. If need be, use soft eye masks and well-fitting ear plugs. Oh, and nothing helps set the mood better than an inviting and comfortable mattress.
DO exercise. But be sure to finish your exercise at least three hours before you retire. Studies have shown the more vigorous the exercise, the better the quality of sleep. And don’t forget some gentle stretching before bedtime to compliment your exercise routine.
DON’T use caffeine containing beverages or “energy drinks” for at least 6 hours before bedtime. Some individuals are very susceptible to stimulants; these users should eliminate all stimulants 12 hours before bed. Even if you are used to regular caffeine consumption, caffeine can still affect the quality of your sleep. Warm milk or herbal tea before bed may facilitate sleep
DON’T use your bed for anything other than sleep and sex. Avoid using it for television watching, business, or homework. Try to establish a positive mental association with bedroom and sleeping. Your bedroom should be your sanctuary, not a remote office
DON’T have too heavy of a meal right before bed. You should finish eating at least three hours before bedtime. For those with reflux even that may not be enough. High protein foods, and foods containing the amino acid tyramine, (e.g. bacon, ham, pepperoni, eggplant, raspberries, avocado, nuts, soy sauce, red wine), might delay sleep onset. Tryptophan containing foods (bananas, dates, nut butters, tuna, turkey, yoghurt, milk) and carbohydrates like bread or cereal, on the other hand, may help facilitate sleep. Of course like exercise, a diet rich with fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains will help promote overall health.
DON’T use Nicotine close to bedtime. Like other stimulants it revs up the nervous system.
DON’ T consume alcohol before bed. Whereas many people use alcohol to help them sleep, alcohol profoundly disrupts sleep architecture -- meaning that even though some may readily fall asleep after consuming alcohol, their sleep is non-restorative and only worsens sleep deficit, setting the individual up for more self-medication with alcohol, more sleep disruption, on-and-on.
The Semper Fi Fund / America’s Fund has sleep kits for you to help you get that rest. If you are interested in obtaining a sleep kit, please contact your Case Manager.
Check out this link for several well-reviewed Sleep Apps… And have a Good Night!
And if you suffer from Insomnia, check out this APP for restoring healthy sleep
CBTI Coach (insomnia/sleep management): https://mobile.va.gov/app/cbt-i-coach