When the alarm sounds, do you wake up refreshed, or is your first thought, “I can’t wait to go back to sleep?” May is National Sleep Awareness Month, and a great time to focus on catching those Zs. Many Veterans don’t get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Are you consistently getting less than recommended? Those lost hours add up to a sleep debt, and although napping may seem like a quick fix, it lacks the benefits of a full night of rest.

Scientists may not know why humans need sleep, but they do know why it’s important. Sleep, like nutrition and physical activity, is vital to our health. First and foremost, sleep helps our brain work optimally. Research has proven that an adequate night’s sleep helps us learn and retain information, make sound decisions, and think creatively. Lack of sleep has been linked to depression and emotional instability. It can also slow our reaction time and decrease our professional productivity.

Sleep doesn’t just affect our mental status – it can play a role in our physical health as well. Ongoing sleep debt can increase the risk for obesity. Sleep is involved in regulating the hormones our bodies make that help us feel hungry and full. When we are lacking sleep, we may have increased hunger due to this imbalance. It can also influence how our body reacts to insulin, increasing the risk for diabetes.

Having trouble hitting the hay at a decent hour? Try these simple tips:

  1. Control the Caffeine – Certain foods can work against us in the quest for sleep. Caffeine, present in coffee, tea, and some carbonated beverages, can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. The less we sleep, the more caffeine we typically drink. It can stay in our systems for upwards of 8 hours, so be mindful when sipping that afternoon cup.
  2. Eat for Sleep – Nutrition plays a big role in our body’s sleep cycle. Tyramine, a chemical in foods like bacon, cheese, nuts, and red wine, can keep us up by stimulating the release of a brain stimulant, noradrenaline. Although wine and other alcohols are often used to assist in falling asleep, they can actually prevent us from entering deep sleep, making us feel less rested during the day. Try to avoid these substances several hours before bed.
  3. Calm with Chamomile –Chamomile, an ancient medicinal herb, has been used for years as a natural sedative and sleep-inducer. Available at most grocery stores, chamomile tea has been shown to treat insomnia. Try a cup of hot chamomile tea before bed to relax after the day and ease into slumber.
  4. Ditch the Stress – Stress and anxiety are common culprits for inadequate sleep. Manage stress by meditating for serenity, doing a puzzle to distract the mind, or engaging in exercise a few hours before bed. Click here to learn more about the benefits of physical activity.
  5. Set a SMART goal – Check out these tips from the MOVE handbook to learn how to make a SMART goal for any behavior change – including your sleep behaviors!

This National Sleep Awareness Month, make sleep a priority. Interested in learning more about general nutrition, weight maintenance/VA’s MOVE weight management program, or a specific condition you’d like to manage better? A registered dietitian can help. Ask your primary care provider or Patient Aligned Care Team for a referral today.


Image of Carlee Gibson is a current dietetic intern at the Memphis VA Medical Center. Originally from Iowa, Carlee is a lover of health, fitness, nature, and culinary arts.Carlee Gibson is a dietetic intern at the Memphis VA Medical Center. Originally from Iowa, Carlee is a lover of health, fitness, nature and culinary arts.

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Published on May. 11, 2016

Estimated reading time is 3 min.

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2 Comments

  1. Patrick jahnke May 13, 2016 at 12:13 am

    What happens when thier no on in va system don’t even care ask for the number s Madison va docs have not ask me my numbers NP are deaf and dumb who I got know I asking for a MD. So get ur heads out of ur BUTT’S. Madison wi va talking out of thier BUTT’S news. But can’t tell the hold truth , even refuse ccc veteran for specialist clinics so get ur story right, va hospital refused. To help vets , travel pay take 3 weeks seen us our travel pay it bs.

  2. Herbert J. McCarthy May 11, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    Mrs. Gibson, thank you for this sound advice. The virtue of camomille is often forgotten for this purpose. My wife’s family came from Eastern Europe and they swear by it: drink it a good 30 minutes before sleep. I thank my fellow americans of Eastern European descent for this gift to our sleep!

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