Why sleep is important

17 March 2023

It’s World Sleep Day, so let’s discuss the mental health benefits of getting a good night’s sleep and why it’s so important to our health.

There’s a reason there’s a term for waking up on the ‘wrong side of the bed’ as most people will feel the impacts of a bad night’s sleep the next day. This could include brain fog, increased irritability, and difficulties processing emotions.

Sleep plays a key role in affecting our health, and research has uncovered that brain activity during sleep has profound effects on emotional and mental health.

Sufficient sleep, especially REM sleep, facilitates the brain’s processing of emotional information. During sleep, the brain works to evaluate and process thoughts and memories, and it appears that a lack of sleep is especially harmful to the consolidation of positive emotional content.

What does this mean for our mental and emotional health? A lack of sleep can influence mood and emotional reactivity and is tied to mental health disorders and their severity, including the risk of suicidal ideas or behaviours.

The relationship between veterans and sleep

Veterans are exposed to chronic stress during military service due to training, deployment and returning to civilian life, and this all can impact sleep.

Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint for veterans, along with recurrent nightmares (most common in veterans living with PTSD) and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which is a serious sleep disorder that causes breathing to stop during sleep.

For veterans with PTSD, a critical part of the brain (the locus coeruleus) does not switch off during a critical phase of sleep (REM) resulting in increased secretion of a hormone called norepinephrine during this time. This inhibits the ability of the brain to effectively process events that have occurred. As a result, we see a higher rate of persistent nightmares which block good quality sleep.

Improving poor sleep quality can aid a veteran’s recovery journey from the impacts of service.

How to improve sleep quality

Seek professional support: Speaking with a psychologist can help improve your sleep quality by identifying underlying stressors such as PTSD and anxiety that may be interfering with sleep. 

A psychologist can work with you to help process these stressors and learn new habit. 

This may include keeping a sleep diary to gain information around sleep behaviours and identify patterns of unhelpful behaviours that may be barriers to good sleep and provide strategies to help manage these.

Develop sleep hygiene: Making your bedroom a comfortable, quiet, dark, relaxing and appropriate temperature at bedtime can all assist in improving your sleep quality. It’s important to use the bedroom for sleeping. Other activities such as working on the laptop and watching TV should be done in another room. 

If keeping electronics outside of the bedroom is difficult, try turning the phone on to dark mode and use apps that allow white noise, green noise and meditations.

Diet and exercise: Avoiding large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and engaging in more physical activity during the day, you will set you up for a good night’s sleep.

Support at Mates4Mates

Later this year, Mates4Mates will be running a Sleep Program online for veterans and family members. Keep an eye out on the Mates4Mates website for further details and information on how to participate.

Mates4Mates offers a wide range of mental health and physical rehabilitation services to support veterans and their families impacted by service who are having difficulty with their sleep schedules.

If you’re a veteran or family member and would like to find out more about seeing a psychologist or exercise physiologist at Mates4Mates, reach out to us on 1300 4 MATES for a confidential chat.

To book an appointment, you will need a Medicare or DVA referral from your GP. You do not need to be registered with Mates4Mates.

Written by Tamsin Wallace, Mates4Mates Psychologist

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