Sleep…what’s that?!

An all to familiar statement often uttered by many Vets. Nights often hold no peace and no rest but instead become overwhelmed with restlessness and frustration. Either be waking up from nightmares, unable settle due to physical pain (my favorite one), or the damn brain will not shut up due to the countless thoughts racing by like it was the Kentucky Derby on drugs! When suffering with not only mental health problems but physical ones as well, night time becomes something to loath. The body needs sleep to repair and recover both physically and mentally.

So…what does one do to combat these troublesome problems and try to get some sleep? Well there are numerous options available but I will be honest, there is no one push button solution. My recommendation will always be to seek professional help via your primary care provider and/or mental health professional. I can hear it now, some people might blurt out “that is a cheap no nonsense cop-out answer to give!” Well let me explain. To better understand why good quality sleep is sometimes unattainable for some, it requires more intensive investigation to all what is going on with the body, mind, and environment a person lives in. To be able to find a therapy option that can work, a patient must be open and honest. It is never easy opening up to a stranger, but when it comes to talking with a medical provider, the more information given, the better the outcome.

The human body and mind are complex to say the least, there is no single treatment option that will work for everyone. Reality is that a patient must undergo a trail and error period to find what works in solving the sleep issue. From medications, therapy groups, mental exercise, and physical exercise, these are just a list of a few options available. To better understand one’s sleep, or lack third of, pattern is to create a sleep log. There are numerous formats out there but in general it should include at least the following: time you go to bed (actually lay down), activities before bed, how long it took to fall asleep, how many times you woke up and what reason, and so on. The more details a person has about their sleep habits, a medical provider can better understand the sleep patterns to determine if it’s an internal and/or external cause for sleep disturbance then formulate the best treatment options.

Don’t give up hope! There are solutions that can help. What is important is that a person never gives up but continues to push through. I have undergone many different types of therapies to help with sleep which some have worked and others had no effect. Below are some types of treatments offered to those suffering with insomnia recommend by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):

The first-line treatment for insomnia is good sleeping habits and taking care of any underlying conditions that may be causing the problems with sleeping. But when these are not enough, other treatment options can be considered.

  • Good sleeping habits. A first-line treatment for treatment of insomnia, these can include maintaining a regular sleep schedule, avoiding stimulating activities like exercise before bed, and having a comfortable sleep environment.
  • Relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness can help people become aware of their body and decrease anxiety about going to sleep.
  • Medication. Many psychiatric drugs are used to promote sleep in people with insomnia. One should be careful regarding the risk of becoming “over-sedated” by using other drugs and alcohol when taking some of these medications. Doctors don’t generally recommend staying on medication for more than a few weeks but there are a few medications that have been approved for long term use.
  • Herbal remedies. Melatonin and valerian root are two herbal remedies that are available at many pharmacies and other locations. The effectiveness of these treatments has not been proven for most people, and neither treatment has been approved by the FDA.
  • Sleep restriction. This is a form of therapy that increases “sleep efficiency” by decreasing the amount of time that a person spends in bed awake. This involves very strict rules regarding the amount of time that a person can lay in bed for at night which gradually increases over time.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy can help you control or eliminate negative thoughts and worries that keep you awake.
  • Light therapy. Also known as phototherapy, this can be specifically helpful in people with a condition called “delayed sleep phase syndrome.”
  • Exercise is associated with improved sleep quality. Talk with your health care provider about the kind of exercise that will work for you.

Hopefully the information provided will help yourself or someone you love find the path to recovery in obtaining sleep. Feel free to comment below on what you find helpful in getting a good nights sleep. Take care! Now I will attempt to sleep.

Resource:

NAMI (2021). Sleep Disorders. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Common-with-Mental-Illness/Sleep-Disorders

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