Restful sleep is a fundamental aspect of our well-being, vital for maintaining mental, emotional, and physical health. However, veterans, military personnel and first responders often face unique challenges that can disrupt their sleep patterns. Both the physical and psychological demands of their service can contribute to insomnia and other sleep-related issues. Trauma-informed approaches to sleep with a focus on routine and comfort can help improve the quality of their sleep and enhance their overall well-being.
Understanding Sleep Challenges Faced by Veterans, Military Personnel & First Responders:The military and first responder professions require mental acuity, physical stamina, and split-second decision-making skills, all of which can be severely impacted by sleep deprivation. Insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep) is an all-too-common struggle for. Irregular schedules and shift work can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle. Physical injuries or disabilities sustained during service may cause discomfort and pain, making it difficult to fall asleep. A lack of restorative sleep can lead to a higher prevalence of chronic health issues such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions can lead to sleep-related disturbances. Hyperarousal and nightmares can make it challenging to achieve restful sleep. Adjustment to civilian life can cause stress and anxiety, impacting sleep quality.
Trauma-Informed Sleep Approaches:
Sleep disturbances may be linked to traumatic experiences during active duty. Establishing a safe and routine sleep environment is crucial for managing trauma-related anxiety. Make sure you have your favorite comfort items (comforters, scented oils, books, etc) to set the bed for a good night of sleep. Designing a calm and comforting bedroom environment with minimal technology and soft furnishings can promote relaxation. Dimmed lighting can be soothing and help your body and brain become ready for sleep. Wool pillows and comforters provide a cozy and comforting feel that mimics a gentle hug, promoting better sleep.
Wool Out All the Stops - The Benefits of Wool Pillows and Blankets for Sleep:
Wool is a natural insulator, helping to keep the body at a comfortable and optimal temperature during sleep. Wool allows the body to breathe, reducing excess sweat and enhancing sleep quality. Wool pillows conform to the shape of the head, neck, and shoulders, offering optimal comfort and support. Wool comforters provide a gentle and comforting weight that can alleviate anxiety and promote deeper sleep. These can be used in a therapeutic technique known as deep pressure touch stimulation. This approach uses deep pressure to calm the nervous system and encourage serotonin production, improving mood and mental health. Serotonin is naturally converted into melatonin and leads to better sleep. Weighted blankets can also help to decrease cortisol levels in a natural way to improve anxiety and depression symptoms. Wool blankets are also easily maintained, further aiding relaxation and comfort. Wool is resistant to allergens such as dust mites and molds, making it an excellent choice for those with allergies. Choosing American made wool products also supports sustainable practices as wool is a renewable resource.
Establishing Routine and Comfort
By taking simple, yet active steps to combat insomnia, military personnel can reclaim restful sleep. Aim for consistency in your sleep-wake cycle, even if deployment or training exercises pose challenges. A consistent wake-up time can reinforce the sleep cycle, establishing a naturally balanced routine. Creating a regular bedtime routine can help signal the body to wind down and prepare for sleep. Utilizing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or soothing music can calm the mind before sleep. Investing in a quality mattress or mattress topper, pillows, and blackout curtains can go a long way in promoting better sleep. Limit exposure to stimulating screens before bedtime. Avoid eating heavy meals at least two hours before going to bed to allow your body time to process your food and avoid indigestion.
Mental Health and Sleep Issues
Combat-related stressors can haunt the minds of military personnel and veterans long after returning from deployment. It’s important to use stress management techniques such as journaling, meditation, or seeking counseling to alleviate combat-induced thoughts and anxieties. Practicing mindfulness and staying present in the moment can help alleviate racing thoughts and improve sleep quality. Check out the Mindfulness App created by the Department of Veterans Affairs for guided mindfulness exercises and track your progress towards becoming a Mindfulness Master.
Sleep issues are common among veterans and military personnel due to the physical and psychological toll of their service. Insomnia's impact on military personnel affects not only their individual performance but also the collective harmony and mission readiness of the entire armed forces. As part of fostering a culture of self-care and resiliency, military leaders must recognize the importance of promoting restful sleep within their ranks, offering resources and education on the subject. By understanding these challenges and using trauma-informed approaches, military members can create an environment that supports better sleep. Incorporating wool pillows and blankets, such as this American made bedding set from the Frankenmuth Woolen Mill, can significantly improve sleep quality and overall well-being. With better sleep, veterans and military personnel can enhance their physical recovery, mental resilience, and overall quality of life.
Resources: Owen, J., Kuhn, E., Jaworski, B., McGee-Vincent, P., Juhasz, K., Hoffman, J., & Rosen, C. (2018). VA mobile apps for PTSD and related problems: Public health resources for veterans and those who care for them. mHealth. doi:10.21037/mhealth.2018.05.07