Poor sleep

Almost everyone has trouble sleeping occasionally, and not getting enough sleep for a few nights here and there is nothing to worry about. On the other hand, sleep problems that last for weeks or even months at a time can really interfere with your health, work, and social life. If you’re worried about your sleep this section will provide information on how to manage sleep problems.

Sleep problems

Getting enough sleep is essential for both our physical and mental health. It gives our minds and bodies a chance to recharge after the day, 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 things like illness, stress, a new baby, or jetlag. The nature of military service can also contribute to sleep problems. For example, long periods of ‘picket’ duty during the night can have a lasting impact on sleep routines. Then, once you start having trouble sleeping, bad habits and worrying thoughts about sleep can maintain the problem.

The most common sleep problem is insomnia, where you don’t get enough sleep or your sleep is not restful. If you regularly have trouble sleeping, feel tired during the day, and 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 lack of sleep cause problems with attention, concentration, or memory?
  • 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 these questions you may benefit from trying some of the tips for improving your sleeping habits below. 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.

Why you might be having trouble sleeping

Sleep problems could also be related to any of a number of mental health problems. For example, depression can result in too much or too little sleep and people with anxiety disorders will often lie awake worrying. Also, symptoms which are sometimes associated with posttraumatic stress disorder like nightmares or feeling constantly on guard, will disrupt sleep patterns. A lot of veterans suffer from serious pain that makes it difficult to sleep, and in turn, lack of sleep can make the pain worse, creating a vicious cycle of pain and poor sleep. Too much alcohol or other drug use can also interfere with sleep. For more information on these mental health problems and their treatment, click the links in the text above.

What you can about it


Sometimes sleep problems can be improved by changing your sleep habits. The first step is to recognise these habits (keeping a sleep diary can help), and then you can choose the specific strategies that will help you change them. 

Take action: Improve your sleep

There are specific factors that affect sleep quality. Some simple changes can help you to get the best possible 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.


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 and avoid exercise for 3 hours before going to sleep.
Irregular sleep routines Try to go to bed at the same time most nights (it will become a signal for your body that it is time for sleep) and get up at the same time most mornings.
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 (e.g., 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, cola drinks after about 4pm
Drinking in the evening Don’t have any alcohol for several hours before going to bed (alcohol might help you get to sleep but causes a disrupted sleep pattern as you tend to wake up 2-3 hours later).
Smoking a lot

Smoking cigarettes will make you more alert. You may also have 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 become dependent on them. This will result in further disturbances to your sleep.


Getting help

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

  • A GP is always a good place to start when trying to overcome sleep problems, as he or she can help you to understand your particular problem with sleep and refer you to an appropriate specialist for further assessment if necessary.
  • This website 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: