A lack of sleep isn’t just something that soldiers deal with while they’re deployed. It’s common for sleep issues to linger when they return home. In fact, many veterans get only five-and-a-half to six hours of shuteye a night—significantly less than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep. Not surprisingly, then, the most common complaint on post-deployment surveys is quality and quantity of sleep.
There are a number of reasons that veterans suffer from sleeping issues, such as trouble adjusting to a new time zone, recovering from irregular work hours, coping with physical or mental health problems, or adapting to life back at home. But the missed hours shouldn’t be taken lightly; they can hurt work performance, negatively impact relationships with family and friends, and even adversely affect health. But previously deployed troops can get back on a healthy sleep schedule as long as they make it a priority.
There are some key steps that they can take. For instance, they can set a strict bedtime and wake-up time (on both weekdays and weekends), keep the bedroom cool, dark, and free of distractions such as cellphones and other tech devices, and avoid foods and drinks (including alcohol) that could keep them up at night. But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. For example, if a soldier is affected by ringing in the ears, he or she may find that it’s difficult to fall asleep in a bedroom that’s too quiet and might want to consider using a fan or white noise app.
If these tactics don’t help someone fall or stay asleep, talk to a professional about whether sleep therapies or medications could help. Doctors can address the underlying issues(s)—whether that’s depression, post traumatic stress disorder, or even a health issue like heart failure or lung disease. It’s also important for previously deployed soldiers to see a doctor if they are getting a good amount of sleep but still wake up feeling exhausted or frequently nod off during the day. This could be a sign of sleep apnea, a serious condition that often affects veterans.
Sleep issues after deployment are normal, but treatable—and both soldiers and their loved ones will benefit from resolving them.