Poor sleep

Not getting enough sleep for a few nights here and there is nothing to worry about. But sleep problems that last for weeks or even months can really interfere with your health, work and social life. Try these tips for better sleep.

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Sleep problems

Getting enough sleep is essential for your physical and mental health. It gives your mind and body a chance to recharge and get ready for the next day.

Most adults need about 7 to 9 hours' sleep per night, although the ideal amount differs from person to person.

Sleep problems can be caused by any number of issues, including illness, stress, a new baby or jetlag. The nature of military service can also contribute to sleep problems; long periods of night shifts can have a lasting impact on sleep routines.

If you have trouble sleeping, it is important to find a solution. Once you start having trouble sleeping, bad habits and worrying thoughts about sleep can prolong the problem and make it worse.

Do you have insomnia?

Insomnia is the most common sleep problem. Insomnia is when you don’t get enough sleep or your sleep is not restful.

If you regularly have trouble sleeping, feel tired during the day, or find that you have trouble concentrating or getting along with other people, it’s possible you’re suffering from insomnia. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have trouble falling or staying asleep?
  • Do you get up in the morning feeling as if you have had little or no sleep?
  • During the day, does your attention wander? Do you find it hard to concentrate?
  • Are you constantly tired or grumpy? Does your lack of sleep make it hard for you to do your work, get along with other people or take care of things at home?
  • Have you had trouble sleeping on more nights than not, for several months or more?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you'll probably benefit from better sleep habits.

If you have been suffering from sleep problems for a very long time, or your sleep problems cause you a lot of distress, it might be worth talking to your GP or other health professional.

Free and confidential support is also available to veterans and their families 24/7 through Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling, on 1800 011 046.

Why you might have trouble sleeping

Sleep problems can be related to any number of treatable issues. So the sooner they are addressed, the sooner you can get more restful sleep.

Depression can result in too much or too little sleep, while people with anxiety disorders often lie awake worrying for hours.

Symptoms which are sometimes associated with posttraumatic stress (also known as PTSD) like nightmares or feeling constantly on guard can also disrupt sleep patterns.

Many veterans suffer from serious pain that can make it difficult to sleep. Lack of sleep can also make pain worse, creating a vicious cycle of pain and poor sleep.

Too much alcohol or other drug use is also known to interfere with sleep.

Self-help or professional care can help with these issues and improve your sleep, as well as your overall quality of life.

What you can do about it

Self-help

Sometimes sleep problems can be improved by changing your sleep habits.

The first step is to recognise your bad sleep habits so you can find specific strategies to deal with them.

Keeping a sleep diary is a great start to solving your sleep problems. A sleep diary can help you identify habits or activities that are getting in the way of restful sleep.

TAKE ACTION

Improve your sleep

Use the Healthy Sleeping tool and answer questions about your typical sleeping behaviours. The tool offers tailored advice and tips to improve your sleep and optimise your mental and physical functioning.

This tool is also available on the High Res app.

Good and bad sleep habits

Bad sleep habits

Good sleep habits

Too active or too much stimulation before bed Spend 30 minutes doing something non-stressful before going to bed. Avoid exercise for 3 hours before going to sleep.
Irregular sleep routines

Try to go to bed at the same time most nights and get up at the same time most mornings. A routine will tell your body that it is time for sleep.

Napping during the day Avoid naps. If you have to nap, keep it short (less than 20 minutes), and don’t nap after mid-afternoon.
Other activities in bed (such as watching TV) Use your bed only for sleep and sex, and reading material that is not too stimulating.
Lying awake for hours and worrying If you don’t fall asleep in about 20 minutes, get up and go to another room until you’re sleepy, then try again.
Consuming caffeine late in the evening Avoid coffee, tea, cocoa and cola drinks after about 4 PM.
Drinking in the evening

Don’t have any alcohol for several hours before going to bed.

Alcohol might help you get to sleep but can cause disrupted sleep patterns as you tend to wake up 2-3 hours later.

Smoking a lot

Smoking cigarettes will make you more alert. You may also develop breathing-related sleep disturbances caused by long-term smoking (such as sleep apnoea). Avoid smoking as much as possible and consider giving up.

Frequent use of sleeping pills

Avoid frequent use of sleeping pills as you can easily become dependent on them. Dependence will result in further disturbances to your sleep.

Get help

If you’ve tried the strategies above but are still having problems with sleep, you might benefit from professional support.

  • A GP is always a good place to start when trying to overcome sleep problems. Your GP can help you understand your particular problem with sleep and refer you to an appropriate specialist for further assessment if necessary.
  • AT-Ease.gov.au has information on a range of professional care that is available to current and former serving members.

Online resources

More information on sleep problems and how to manage them is available from:

Free and confidential counselling for veterans is available 24/7 through Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling. Call 1800 011 046 or visit openarms.gov.au to learn more.