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Why Military Families Face Unique Sleep Challenges And How To Combat Them

Being an active duty military service member of the United States Military can be very difficult. Active Duty members face many challenges, including being away from home for long periods, being part of dangerous situations, and the physical and stressful demands that come with being part of the military. However, service members do not face these challenges alone. They share them with their family. 

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Being a military family, we, unfortunately, have experienced numerous challenges that have affected our health in many ways. One of the most affected parts of our lives has been our sleep. From deployments to duty days, it can be challenging to sleep when you are worried about your significant other. According to a RAND Corporation study, 44 percent of spouses reported sleeping 7 hours or less per night, that is 2 hours less than the recommended sleep amount. The National Sleep Foundation also found that more than 40 percent of active duty military members reported sleeping five hours or fewer a night. 

With lack of sleep comes consequences. The RAND Corporation study also found that 54 percent of spouses reported daytime fatigue due to lack of sleep, 85 percent of active duty military members have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, and 39 percent of the Navy and 42 percent of the Marine Corps say that they frequently don’t get enough sleep to function well at work.

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According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, active duty military personnel have a high prevalence of sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, insomnia, and short sleep duration. Results also show that these sleep disorders lead to medical issues, such as depression, anxiety, and more.

With that being said, although there have been many research studies on the prevalence of sleep problems among service members, very few studies have been done that examine the impacts of sleep problems among military spouses, who also face the stresses of deployment and military life. 

RAND Corporation became one of the first studies to examine the prevalence of sleep disturbances, effect of service member deployment, and associated physical and psychosocial outcomes of spouses of US Service members. RAND Corporation found that spouses of active duty military also encountered many of the same sleep disorders due to spouse deployment and other aspects of the military lifestyle. 

For servicemembers and their loved ones, not getting enough sleep, can also negatively affect weight, mood, and conditions like PTSD.

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1. Stay away from Caffeine

I know, I know. You probably think I’m crazy. Everyone knows how many military families love coffee! I think we pretty much live on it and I know my husband can’t function without it! However, coffee contains caffeine, and because caffeine is a stimulant, it will definitely wake you up. It takes our body approximately 6 hours for one half of the caffeine to eliminate it. So stay away from the caffeine at least 4-6 hours before going to sleep.

2. Set up your Bedroom Temperature

Every night before I go to sleep, I lower my bedroom temperature. I begin cooling the room temperature a few hours before going to sleep. This really helps a lot. Try a setting between 65-69 degrees Fahrenheit. When your body temperature decreases, necessary hormones such as testosterone, dopamine, and serotonin are released, and this directly correlates with REM sleep, which is essential for restorative sleep.

3. Get Comfy!

Consider spoiling yourself with new bedding. Make sure you have comfortable bedding, mattress, and pillows, and if you don’t here is your reason to shop! Consider also purchasing a mattress cover and sheets that cool. One of the most frequent complaints of restless sleepers is being too hot. It is important to choose sheets that don’t trap heat that our body expends at night. When sheets trap body heat at night, it increases our internal temperature, making us feel uncomfortable, thus keeping us up at night.

4. Take a Drug-Free Sleep Aid

Melatonin is a vital sleep hormone in your body that tells your brain when it is time to decompress. Melatonin supplements are a common sleep aid that is often used to treat sleep conditions such as insomnia. It helps improve sleep quality and fall asleep faster. I have tried numerous drug-free sleep aids from large pills, to liquids, to gummies. When I found InstaSleep Mint Melts at the Great Lakes Commissary in Illinois, I knew I found something special. In addition to their cute packaging, the quick melt-in-mouth tabs help me fall asleep faster (even my husband agrees). Insta Sleep contains a unique combination of 5-HTP, which promotes calm and deep sleep, GABA, which aids in the promotion of relaxation and Melatonin which regulates your sleep cycle and signal you to fall asleep. It is also drug-free, gluten-free, and non-habit forming, a perfect combination for our lifestyle. Not only did we both fall asleep faster, but we stayed asleep, and woke up no grogginess at all.

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5. Avoid taking Irregular Naps

Napping can be beneficial to adults’ health. However, it can also be detrimental and can negatively affect your health and sleep quality. Taking naps during the daytime can confuse your internal clock and create sleep issues during the night. But it is also important to note that the effects of napping do depend on the individual. So although one person may be able to enhance their health and sleep quality with napping others will experience poor sleep quality or disrupted sleep at night. I take regular daytime naps and sleep well at night; however, if my husband takes a daytime nap, he wakes up even more tired.

6. Develop a Relaxation Routine

Practicing relaxation techniques before bed can have a positive effect on the quality of your sleep. Many different methods can wind you down and prepare your body for bed. Try listening to relaxing music, take a relaxing bath or shower, read a book, meditate, and practice some deep breathing exercises. You should also try switching off electronic devices and dimming lights. Not only do electronic devices stimulate your brain, but they can also be addicting, leaving you with less time to relax and sleep.

The bottom line is that sleep plays a crucial role in your health. Being a military family, we face many challenges that can negatively impact our quality of sleep. It is critical to understand the role that sleep problems play in servicemembers’ and their families and how to promote healthy sleep. How do you improve the quality of your sleep?

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