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.
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.
“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 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.
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Already enrolled in VA and interested in mental health support? Schedule a mental health appointment.
- If you’re already enrolled and using VA health care, the fastest way to schedule VA appointments is to call the VA facility where you want to receive care.
- With VA Appointments tools, you can schedule some VA health care appointments online, view details about upcoming appointments, and organize your health care calendar.
- If you’re not using VA medical services, contact your nearest VA medical center or Vet Center to talk about your needs.
What about other options at VA? VA offers a variety of tools and resources.
- The Veteran Training online self-help portal for overcoming everyday challenges includes modules on managing anger, developing parenting and problem-solving skills, and more.
- Mental health apps for Veterans cover a variety of topics, ranging from PTSD to anger management to quitting smoking.
- VA TeleMental Health connects you with a VA mental health provider through a computer or mobile device in your home or at your nearest VA health facility. You can learn more about this option from your local VA medical center.
- Community-based Vet Centers provide confidential counseling, community engagement and referral services to eligible individuals and their families. You don’t need to be enrolled in VA healthcare or have a service connection to receive services. Find a Vet Center near you or call 1-877-927-8387, 24/7 to talk with a fellow Veteran about your experiences.
What about support beyond VA?
There’s a whole community of support ready to help with whatever you’re going through. Use this tool to find resources near you.
Explore these resources for more information about Veterans experiencing sleep problems.
Learn more about addressing specific concerns that may be related to trouble sleeping, such as nightmares, preparing for deployment, stress, depression, and posttraumatic stress.