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.
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.