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Insomnia After Returning from Deployment

Insomnia can be a response to major life changes. It’s common to have insomnia after coming home from deployment. Insomnia is when you have a hard time falling or staying asleep, or you wake up too early. It can happen for short periods of time and then go away. But for some people insomnia is an ongoing (chronic) problem. Insomnia can cause problems at work and with relationships, mood and concentration, and is associated with many health issues. Chronic insomnia does not go away on its own. However, insomnia can be treated to help you get more sleep and feel rested.

Causes of insomnia after returning from deployment

Some causes for insomnia after deployment include:

  • Environmental change. On deployment, you learned how to maintain wakefulness for extended periods of time. It was also very important to be alert or on-guard at night. It takes the body some time to change this pattern. You may listen for noises at night or feel uncomfortable with silence. Your body has to re-learn how to wind down and relax at night.

  • Alcohol use. It can be tempting to use alcohol to make it easier to fall asleep. However, alcohol actually disrupts later stages of sleep. This causes a person to wake up during the night and feel less rested in the morning.

  • Feeling isolated and low. Relationships with family and friends may be different now that you have returned from deployment. You may feel as though you do not fit in. You may want to avoid this feeling by going to bed later than your partner, sleeping in later in the morning, or spending more time in bed. This can disrupt the sleep cycle and make it hard to sleep as well. Insomnia can also be a symptom and a cause of depression.

  • Chronic pain. Some injuries from deployment may cause chronic pain. Pain that is ongoing can make it harder to fall and stay asleep. Some pain medicines can also cause insomnia.

  • Unwanted memories and nightmares. It is normal to have unwanted thoughts, memories, and nightmares after returning from a combat zone. Nightmares are unpleasant and may make you dread going to sleep. Over time, this dread can lead to insomnia.

Chronic insomnia can also be made worse by behavior, lifestyle, and other factors such as:

  • Spending excessive time in bed awake, trying hard to sleep

  • Sleeping later than usual in the morning

  • Taking naps during the day

  • Using the computer or playing video games at night       

  • Shift work that changes your sleep routine

  • Caffeine, nicotine, energy drinks, or big meals late in the day or evening

Diagnosing and treating insomnia after deployment

Acute (short-term) insomnia often goes away on its own. In some cases, medicine can also be used. Talk with your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of sleep medicines.

Chronic (long-term) insomnia is most effectively treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia.

Getting treatment to feel better

Remember, chronic insomnia does not go away on its own. The VA has many resources for treating Veterans with insomnia. If you are having trouble sleeping, contact your VA healthcare provider.

For more information

If you are a Veteran and you have insomnia, contact your VA healthcare provider about CBT-I or check out some of the below resources.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 9/1/2020
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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