Is Lack of Sleep Hurting Your Mental Health?

Military life can be very stressful, with unpredictable schedules and constant changes. There are numerous reasons for a military spouse to struggle with getting enough sleep each night.

If you and your spouse are in different time zones because of deployment, training or geo-bachelor status, then you may be cutting into your sleep time just to have a quick phone call each day. When you are juggling the responsibilities of work, along with school, taking care of the house, children and pets, then you may be staying up late just to get everything done. And if you’re stressing about an upcoming PCS move or deployment, it will be difficult to let your mind rest and get a good night’s sleep.

You probably know that sleep is important for your body, and you tell yourself that eventually you’ll have to make the effort to get on a better schedule. You know that when you don’t sleep, you feel sluggish and irritable for the next few days. But did you know that sleep affects your body in multiple ways? It doesn’t just provide energy and positive emotions. Sleep is important to your mental health too.

Studies have shown that there are strong links between sleep quality and mental health. Too many sleepless nights can manifest as increased depression, anxiety or panic attacks. An inconsistent sleep schedule, frequently waking up at night, or constantly getting too few hours of sleep at night can all have a negative influence on your mental health.

The opposite is true, too. People who have a regular sleep schedule and consistently get at least six hours of sleep per night appear to have fewer mental health complaints and are better equipped to handle the stress and emotional challenges of military life. The more responsibilities you find heaped on your shoulders, the more important it is for you to get quality sleep each night.

Now that you see the important connection between sleep and mental health, let’s discuss some ways to improve your bedtime routine and get better sleep, even when handling challenging military situations.

  • If you can’t sleep because you’re worrying. Let’s be honest, there are tons of reasons to worry during military life. Maybe you are facing a stressful PCS move and are fretting about all the details. If your service member is deployed, you may find yourself responsible for everything that goes wrong at home or with the children, while still trying to handle your own work projects. At night, those worries can run through your mind and keep you up with endless questions. If you can’t reduce the stressful responsibilities on your shoulders, you can try to eliminate some of the endless questions on your mind. The best way to settle a stressed brain is to write down your thoughts before bed. This could be in a journal, a planner or just a notebook full of blank pages. Once your worries and ideas are written down, you can close the book and leave them there. This will give you a sense of control and organization so you can rest easier at night.
  • If you stay up because of a time zone difference. Many military loved ones find themselves struggling with this challenge when their service member is away in another time zone. Their military schedule may be demanding, leaving them limited possibilities when they are able to make a call. Of course, you want to hear from them, but if you are regularly taking calls at 3 a.m., your physical and mental health will suffer. In this situation, it’s important to discuss options with your service member and set healthy boundaries. Is it possible for them to wake up a little earlier or to check in with you during a lunch break? If the middle of the night for you is the only time they can call, perhaps they can limit those calls to twice a week, or schedule longer calls on the weekends when you are able to sleep in. You can also use messaging apps to leave messages for each other when the other person is sleeping.
  • If you struggle to sleep without your loved one. Once you are used to sleeping with someone beside you, the bed feels cold and empty without them. No matter how busy and distracted they stay during the day, many people find the loneliness hits them hardest at night when their service member is away. A weighted blanket can help your muscles relax by imitating the feel of a comfortable hug. It’s important to develop a relaxing bedtime routine so you can learn to sleep without your service member. While it’s tempting to watch TV or endlessly scroll through your phone, try to limit screen time before bed. The blue light tricks your brain into staying awake longer. You can also try a calming ritual like a warm bath, a cup of tea or quiet meditation time before bed. A consistent bedtime routine will help your mind and body relax so you can get quality sleep at night.

When the stress of military life is weighing you down and keeping you up at night, try these ideas to get better sleep and strengthen your mental health.

Lizann Lightfoot
Written By Lizann Lightfoot
Marine Corps Spouse

Lizann is the Seasoned Spouse – a Marine Corps wife, mom of four and published author. She loves writing, exploring new duty stations and chocolate!

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