Sleep Well, Live Well: 5 Paths to Better Sleep

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Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the greatest challenges for both spouses and parents of deployed service members.

“At night in bed is when it hits me most that he’s not here safe in bed with me,” says Kay, whose husband deployed to Iraq.

When his wife was serving overseas as a nurse, Peter said his many responsibilities on the home front made it hard for him to fall asleep. “There are still a million things to do, so many things on my mind at the end of the day, he says.

Joan and Tom had a hard time sleeping when their son Nate deployed. Both worried for Nate’s safety, says Joan, but she and Tom tried nighttime routines of holding each other while talking quietly about their day.

At times, everyone struggles with getting to sleep and staying asleep, but sleep is necessary to keep us happy and healthy – for ourselves and our families.

Karen Pavlicin, author of Surviving Deployment, offers the following five ideas to overcome this common deployment challenge:

Create a sleep environment
If everything around us says “wake up and do this” our bodies will stay awake. If our environment says “relax, it’s time to sleep” our bodies will shut down for the day. Make it easy to relax.

  • Turn off the television and other electronics at bedtime. A dark room tells your brain it is time to rest.
  • Don’t check email at bedtime. You’ll either be tempted to stay up and respond or you’ll be thinking about your response in the back of your mind.
  • Clear your bedroom of clutter and make it a place for sleep.
  • Allow yourself quiet time and space to stretch and relax.
  • Make sure your bed and pillow are comfortable and don’t cause body or neck aches.
  • Adjust room temperature and blankets to keep you comfortable.

Follow a routine
Think about a child’s nighttime routine: bath, pajamas, snack, teeth brushed, read book, go to sleep. A child likes to do the same things in the same order each night. As adults, our nighttime rituals should also signal to our mind and body that it’s time for sleep.

  • Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. Go to bed when you’re tired, even if it is not yet your bedtime.
  • Take a warm, relaxing bath or follow other nighttime rituals that relax your body and mind.
  • Check all your door locks – feel safe.

Deal with your fears
Half the battle with fear is the unknown. If we give ourselves information, we fear less or at least are better able to manage our fear. Don’t bury it, face it.

  • Make a list of the things you are most afraid of. Then write down what you think would happen if your fear were realized. What if your loved one were injured in combat? What if you were in a car accident? What if your home burned down? Many times, our greatest fear is how an event will change our lives. How would these things change your life?
  • Plan for the worst, expect the best. Remember, your fears are not likely to become reality. There are some things you can do to help reduce the chances or prevent a fear from happening: Do you have snow tires? Fire escape plan? Check your smoke detector batteries? There are other things you can do to help make the best of an undesirable situation if your fear is realized. Do you have a will? Chosen guardians for your children? Sometimes, you just need to know how you would find out. Do you know how you would be notified in case of your loved one’s injury or death? Have emergency contacts updated at school and work? Answer your questions to put your mind at ease.

Allow your mind to rest
Even when your body is exhausted, if your mind is still at work, you’ll have trouble settling in for the night.

  • Make lunches, set out clothes – feel ready for the next day.
  • Keep a pad of paper and pen next to your bed. Write down anything that’s on your mind or that you need to remember in the morning. That tells your mind that you’ll deal with it tomorrow and tonight it doesn’t have to work so hard to remember.

Exercise and eat well
We need a balance of exercise, healthy food, and sleep to keep running. When you do well at any one of these, it helps encourage the others.

  • Exercising regularly gives you energy during the day and restfulness at night. Exercise for 30 minutes a day as many days a week as you can. You can choose from a variety of activities, but make it worth the time. Work your muscles and heart! Sweat!
  • Drink a glass of water every hour.
  • Choose healthy meals and snacks. Eat breakfast. Don’t eat late at night or your body will want to work at digestion instead of sleep.

Deployments are hard on everyone in the family. Lack of sleep can lead to irritability, increased sickness, impaired judgment, and lack of energy to tackle the additional challenges you face during this stressful time. Try these ideas and pass along others that work for you. And to all a good night!

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