Most people experience trouble sleeping occasionally – it’s part of life. They might wake up feeling cranky or sluggish, or as if they’re not firing on all cylinders. But for some individuals, the picture of poor sleep is much more challenging.

They experience frequent or even nightly sleep disturbances and nightmares that can negatively affect their physical and mental health.

Poor sleep can make symptoms of mental and physical health worsen. Certain mental health conditions can be the cause of an individual’s sleep disturbance. Mental health and sleep are often connected, especially when it comes to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression – conditions familiar to many Veterans.

In fact, sleep disorders can be associated with and even lead to increased thoughts of suicide. Researchers at the VA Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention (COE-SP) are conducting a study to better understand the relationship between sleep disorders and suicidal ideation.

Experts continue to explore the relationship between sleep and health. It’s clear that restful shuteye is an important piece of the wellness puzzle for Veterans and their health care providers. Research shows that seeking treatment for a sleep disorder can ultimately improve a Veteran’s mental and physical health and help prevent thoughts related to suicide.

Benefits of treatment

The COE-SP research team suggests possible reasons for these health benefits:

  • Successful treatment of sleep problems can have a positive effect on symptoms of other issues. Those issues include depression, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It can also motivate Veterans to seek care for these other conditions, if needed.
  • Veterans who choose to seek both primary and specialty care (such as treatment for a sleep disorder) are likely to follow through with recommended treatments that can improve their health overall.
  • When a Veteran visits a sleep clinic multiple times, clinicians may look for or recognize an underlying disorder like depression or PTSD. Sleep specialists can then help the Veteran get treatment for the underlying condition which the Veteran might not have otherwise recognized. That treatment can lead to better sleep.

Take the next step

If you are having trouble sleeping, you may find it easier to talk with your primary care provider before seeing a specialist. No matter which provider you see, be honest and open about your concerns. This can help you both identify the best next steps to improve your health.

In addition, it is possible to alleviate some sleep issues by setting and sticking to regular bedtimes and waking times. Also, by creating a pre-bedtime routine that puts you in a calm, relaxed mindset before dozing off to sleep. Talk with your provider or specialist about getting a routine in place if you are unsure about where to start.

Resources

To find a VA provider near you, use the VA facility locator. In addition, these resources may help you learn ways to improve your sleep:

VA’s treatments for sleep problems are continually updated as the research team learns more about the relationship between sleep disorders and Veterans’ physical and mental well-being.

To learn about VA’s latest mental health treatment offerings and resources, visit www.MentalHealth.va.gov.


Todd Bishop, Ph.D., is an investigator at the VA Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention.

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9 Comments

  1. Sean Conklin April 6, 2021 at 11:55 pm

    Good evening folks. It’s nearly 2300 and I couldn’t sleep if you paid me. I have spoken with my primary care physician and he suggested a sleep study machine at home(due to covid). I tried 3 nights with the dang machine but I can not sleep any more than 2 hours at a time and the machine requires 4. I have spoken with one of his RN’s and let her know my son, daughter, and girlfriend have all witnessed me not breathing but yet she told me to just remain calm. I can not. I’m at witts end. I have not slept more than 2.5 hours/24 hours in months. The VA’s next step to fix me is another sleep study 3 months down the road. Ummmm… sleep deprivation is used to break people and it has already broken me. I have lost my job, my girlfriend, and I’m about to lose my kids if my attitude doesn’t change. I need help and I seem to be getting none. PLEASE! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD send me some help!!!!

  2. Todd Bishop April 2, 2021 at 10:58 am

    Franz, it sounds like you have been through the ringer with some of this stuff and not many folks would be sleeping well with those stressors and injuries. I can’t speak to your specific case with VA or your injuries, but I can definitely tell that you are beyond frustrated. I would say this, that it is ok to seek second and third opinions on your medical care. If a relationship with a provider isn’t working, you can certainly request a new provider if there is one in your area. These are meant to be collaborative relationships where you work on your health together, though it might not always feel that way. The Choice Act also opens up community care to Veterans, so if you feel the relationship with your local VA is beyond repair you can still work with providers in the community. It probably sounds hollow coming from a provider you don’t know and will probably never meet, but Franz, we do value your service to this country and want to provide you with the best medical care that we can. I hope you are able to reconnect with your VA and rebuild/reboot some of those relationships.

  3. Charles Davidson April 1, 2021 at 6:24 am

    I myself suffer from lack of rem sleep and my girlfriend says I stop breathing multiple times a night and then I wake up and go back to sleep but never a solid nights sleep. So what do I do? PS she says my snoring is extremely loud.

    • Jerry Robbins April 1, 2021 at 10:01 am

      Sounds like sleep apnea and can be cause other medical problems.
      You need to talk with your Dr and describe what you just wrote here on this site to them be it a nurse or Dr write them or talk with them and go from there. Good luck with this.

      • Todd Bishop April 2, 2021 at 10:36 am

        Exactly right Jerry. This definitely sounds like you should talk to your doctor about pursuing an evaluation for obstructive sleep apnea. The best thing about this, Charles, is that the testing can now often be done in the comfort of your own home. Also, if you are diagnosed that there are extremely effective treatments for apnea. Effective treatment of apnea can be a game changer for a lot of folks when it comes to their energy levels and overall health!

  4. Franz Miller March 31, 2021 at 9:26 pm

    I have several problems contributing to my difficulty sleeping; (1) I was told by Ft. Miley VAMC & my PCP that they wouldn’t do back surgery for fractured vertebrae & crushed discs because I smoke tobacco, so I have to live with constant pain and physical limitation thanks to them. (2) I have been diagnosed with PTSD, first at 90%, then reduced to 50% by some stupid computer test which they refused to re-administer since they got what they wanted, a reduced number without any actual reduction. They’ve also refused to look at it as Service Connected so they didn’t have to pay me disability. (3) I have a fractured right shoulder & torn tendon, which they have done nothing about, which causes me pain day and night, and physically limits me extremely. I haven’t seen my PCP doctor for 3 years, because the VA keeps cancelling my appointments. So pardon me if I consider the VAMC as a bad joke designed to mess with veterans by nonveterans.

    • J wix April 4, 2021 at 3:52 pm

      I absolutely agree with your opinion. I’m a 72 y/o Vietnam combat vet and I have severe sleep problems. The primary doc just refers me to a psychiatrist and the psychiatrist jumps pumps pills. I’m still not sleeping. My mental an d physical state have gone right downhill. My blood sugar is up, my weight doesn’t go down and I have virtually zero
      Energy to do anything. I’m pretty upset and depressed about this and I wonder when it will end. I have a lot of constant pain that is not being addressed.

  5. Howard Weiss March 31, 2021 at 12:36 pm

    As a 73 year old Veteran who occasionally suffers from insomnia, with the attendant restlessness and negative thoughts, I found the previous article on the subject helpful.
    Most people think of insomnia as a minor issue that goes away on its own, but you point out the relationship between a good nights sleep and being functional the next day.
    Thanks and I’ll share my thoughts with my PCP on my next clinic appointment.

    • Todd Bishop April 2, 2021 at 10:42 am

      Sleep is one of those things that is so entwined with our functioning and health…but is often easily neglected by the demands of day to day life! It is easy for it to temporarily get knocked out of whack by one life event or another…but sometimes our sleep gets stuck there and just like other health behaviors a tune up can be helpful. One of the best things we can do for our sleep is get on that regular schedule of bed and rise times. Our brains and bodies react very well to that routine. I wish you the best of health and thank you for your service.

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