News • 24 Oct 2019

10 ways for veterans to tackle insomnia

With Veterans Health Week 2019 approaching, Open Minds has taken a look at 10 ways for veterans to tackle insomnia: a sleep disorder whereby people have difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. Veterans can be especially at risk of insomnia due to traumatic experiences or stressful events in their military life.

Some groups of people have an increased risk of developing insomnia, for example people who have experienced stressful situations or those who have a mental illness.

Veterans can often fall under both these categories due to experiencing traumatic events and being at higher risk of developing mental illness such as PTSD, depression or anxiety compared to the general population.

At the Open Minds Mental Health Hub at Morayfield, veterans are amongst the people who most often present with insomnia. 

Micah Bernoff, Psychologist with the Open Minds Mental Health Hub at Morayfield said: “Veterans are at higher risk of insomnia for many reasons. These reasons include: the person being used to working in shifts and not sleeping at regular hours, the high stress involved with their field of work, a culture of drinking (alcohol use can impact sleep quality) together at night, and finally the culture of not seeking support because they may not want to appear weak.”

Micah explained that you don’t need to have a mental illness to experience insomnia, but by having insomnia it predisposes you to having anxiety or depression.

“This is because your ability to regulate your emotions following sleep deprivation is impaired.

“Furthermore, Sleep deprivation also impacts your ability to fully utilise your higher order cognitions (your problem solving ability).

“Something you may have been able to shrug off beforehand, you might not be able to shrug off this time round.”

Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation, based in Brisbane, recently launched the Veteran Sleep Therapy Study, funded by the Department of Veteran Affairs, which offers group psychological treatment to improve sleep for veterans with PTSD, Insomnia and nightmares.

Principal Investigator of the Veteran Sleep Therapy Study, Dr Justine Evans, said: “We know the rate of sleep difficulties in veterans with PTSD is high so it is an important area in which to focus research. 

“The impact of persistent disturbed sleep can be devastating. 

“It can prevent people from engaging in physical activity, from finding employment, engaging in family activities, and carrying out routine tasks that people take for granted like shopping and cooking.”

What are symptoms of insomnia?

Symptoms of insomnia can be observed by both the veteran themselves or by a loved one, friend or carer.

Veterans themselves may find that they’re feeling tired during the day but when it’s time to go to sleep, they’re wide awake.

They may find that they get to sleep without any issues but wake up a lot during the night, known as sleep disturbances.

A friend or loved one may observe that the person is having difficulty concentrating, that they regularly talk about having had a bad nights’ sleep, or may be more irritable than usual.

Friends may receive messages from the individual late at night or early in the morning at times when they’d expect the person to be asleep.

“You might notice your loved one sleeping in longer than usual, not go to bed until late at night, or start to change daily routine to accommodate for poor sleep. 

“For example, they might start playing computer games at night, and the result might mean that they start sleeping more in the daytime. They need to get their sleep in somehow and this results in snoozing during the day.” Micah said.

Tackling insomnia

Micah recommends starting with setting the following 10 ways to tackle insomnia, otherwise known as good sleep hygiene:

1.    Going to sleep and waking up at the same times
2.    No more or less than 8 hours sleep at night
3.    No snoozes during the day
4.    No tea, coffee or cigarettes at least 5-6 hours before sleep
5.    No technology an hour before bed, try reading a book or magazine
6.    Only use the bed for sleep or sex – avoid giving your body a learned association that the bed is a place to watch movies
7.    Regular exercise – but ensure you finish your exercise at least 3 hours before sleep to avoid having too much adrenaline in your system
8.    Mindfulness and meditation apps can help, but probably not a first port of call as it does involve using technology.
9.    If you’re struggling to get to sleep after 20 minutes, get up and read a book for 20 minutes then try again
10.  Get at least 45 minutes of morning sunlight – according to the National Sleep Foundation in the US, this can help you sleep better at night.

Also situated within the Health Hub Morayfield, is the Brain Treatment Centre, who provide a new form of therapy to map a person’s brain activity, and realign brain pathways using magnetic stimulation.

The treatment results have shown improved sleep quality in veterans, improved dreaming, and longer duration of sleep.

Teagan Kimeklis, Head Neurotechnician at the Brain Treatment Centre said: “Dreaming is a significant change in sleep as it indicates that the individual is now progressing through the sleep stages, including reaching the deepest stage of sleep.”

Part of the magnetic stimulation treatment involves following a standard set of sleep hygiene recommendations as above.

Ms Kimeklis said: “These guidelines help to restart the circadian rhythm, also known as your sleep/wake cycle, which essentially regulates when you feel tired and awake through the day. 

“Good sleep hygiene combined with MeRTSM have demonstrated significant improvements in the quality and duration of sleep.”

More information

The Health Hub Morayfield

The Health Hub Morayfield introduces a new model of healthcare into Australia. It brings integrated health, education and research services together in one centre to ensure easy access to affordable healthcare and support facilities; improving health outcomes through the delivery of person centred care. The hub is situated at 19 – 31 Dickson Road, Morayfield, QLD, 4506. Find out more about the Hub here.

Open Minds Mental Health Hub

Provides counselling and psychology services to people of all ages. Support may be for people who are experiencing depression, anxiety, trauma, PTSD, grief and loss, gender or sexual identity issues, and more. Find out more or book an appointment here.

Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation

The Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation aims to investigate, translate, educate and integrate new and innovative treatments, interventions and educational programs to enhance the health and wellbeing of veterans and their families. Find out more or take part in a study here.

Brain Treatment Centre

Delivers personalised brain treatment targeted to individual needs, using Magnetic e-Resonance Therapy (MeRT). The benefits of this therapy include: improved sleep, reduced stress, better concentration, improved clarity and memory, pain reduction, and more. Find out more about the treatment here.

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