Why Veterans Can't Sleep

You're at a higher risk of sleep problems than those who did not serve. Here's what you can you do.

Medically reviewed in June 2022

After one poor night's sleep, your focus and mood take a hit. But when sleep troubles become chronic, they can affect your weight, your immune system, your mental health—and so much more.

While the US military has begun to recognize the problems connected to poor sleep, it remains an issue for both active duty Servicemembers and Veterans. For Veterans in particular, certain disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia are being diagnosed much more than in decades past—and in fiscal year 2016, almost 250,000 of you received disability compensation for sleep apnea syndromes alone.

What's more, sleep problems often go hand-in-hand with other issues common to Veterans, from post-traumatic stress (PTS) to chronic pain.

Why Veterans can't sleep
The roots of Veterans' sleep problems are numerous, and you may be dealing with more than one issue. You may be accustomed to a lack of sleep or irregular sleep patterns—habits developed during service that can be difficult to break once you begin life as a civilian. You could be managing medical conditions or physical impairments, from tinnitus to backaches, that make resting a challenge.

Or, you might be coping with mental health issues like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress; for many Veterans, these can carry over from your time serving or develop anew once you arrive home. Post-traumatic stress, for example, frequently causes anxiety, triggers nightmares and keeps you on alert throughout the night, which may make it tough to nod off or stay asleep. Physical conditions linked to it, like chronic pain, can keep you from dozing, as well.

Treatments for sleep problems
Fortunately, you don't have to deal with poor sleep by yourself. There are multiple treatments and strategies that can help you get back to bed, like:

  • Therapy, including psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i), which focuses on creating a sleep schedule, changing habits affecting sleep and learning to quiet your mind
  • Lifestyle changes, from a healthier diet to more physical activity to smoking cessation
  • Good sleep hygiene—or behaviors that make getting to sleep and staying asleep easier—including using your bedroom only for dozing, turning electronics off well before bedtime and creating a nighttime routine designed for relaxation
  • Medication

The US Army has also recognized sleep (along with physical activity and good nutrition) as part of its Performance Triad for achieving the best possible physical and mental health. They offer a range of proven tips at their website. For more help with sleep, reach out to your doctor, a therapist or the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which has resources to help address common sleep problems.

Keep checking in with Sharecare, as well. In the next few months, our goal is to help Veterans get a good night's rest. You'll find out why adequate slumber is so important to your mental and physical health and receive expert advice and concrete resources for addressing apnea and insomnia. Tune into this space for more.

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