When I was discharged, it took some time to adjust back to civilian life. My days were no longer regimented, and as much as I thought I’d acclimate overnight, it didn’t happen. I was stressed about money, relationships, and maybe going back to school. It was all too much.
I was distracted and irritable, and worse, I couldn’t sleep well. I was snapping at my friends and family, and I couldn’t hold a job. Simply put, it was rough. It took some time, but I realized that I was depressed, and that was the reason I was having so much trouble—and not the other way around. At the advice of my former CO, I finally started seeing a therapist, and one of the first things we focused on was my insomnia. To improve my mental health, my therapist also recommended medication and some lifestyle changes like eating healthier and exercising more often.
As I began to work through my personal issues, I started sleeping. And if you have ever suffered from sleep deprivation, you know how great it feels to wake up refreshed and with a new perspective. I credit emotion-focused therapy (EFT) and my therapist for my emotional healing, but I also had to put a ton of work into helping myself sleep.
I’m pleased to offer a few things I learned that I hope can help other veterans like myself tackle this aspect of the journey from active duty back into civilian life.
Guided Meditation Works
Guided meditation, which is also called guided imagery, is a type of therapy that helped me learn how to relax. Basically, you listen to a therapist’s voice as they walk you through a soothing scenario. I had a buddy tell me that guided imagery helped him overcome PTSD; for me, it helped (and still does) relieve anxiety when I was alone at night with my thoughts. There are a bunch of different guided imagery services available online, and I chose to download Healthful Sleep by Belleruth Naparstek.
In addition to guided meditation, I’ve found that using a white noise app makes a significant difference in my ability to fall asleep. I went so far as to add a soundbar to my bedroom so that I can easily drown out sounds that might keep me awake.
My Bed Wasn’t as Great as I Thought
I spent years going back and forth from a bunk to a regular bed, and so I thought that I could sleep on anything. About a week after discharge, I rented an apartment and went and bought the cheapest mattress I could find. Unfortunately, what I did not know then was that every person has a different sleep style, and not all beds work for everyone. I decided then that I needed to do some research.
When I narrowed my brand choices down, I tested both Nectar and Purple. I opted for the always popular queen size because the king was too big for one person and a twin isn’t realistic for an adult. The Nectar is a memory foam mattress that’s received solid reviews, but it ultimately did not work for me. I felt hot the first night. When the Purple arrived, I felt right at home. It was soft but supportive, and I did not sweat at all.
Besides finding a new mattress, I also found that organizing and decluttering my bedroom made me feel less stressed. Also, adding some indoor plants and a few pictures of nature made me feel more relaxed before bedtime.
Everything You Eat Stays with You, Even at Night
I like to eat. And I like to eat at night. I found that while deployed, it was always better to eat late; that way, if I woke up in the middle of the night for an unexpected drill — or worse — hunger was one less distraction. But now, I know that eating right before going to bed is a distraction. Livestrong has a great article explaining why, and it basically boils down to digestion. When you feel heavy in your midsection and have to listen to little grunts and groans coming from your belly, you’re not going to sleep as well.
These are the three main things that helped me achieve better sleep. However, I also started exercising more and eating right all the time. What worked for me may not work for you, but there’s no harm in trying guided imagery, changing out your bed, or watching what you eat. To my fellow vets, I wish you good luck and a good night's sleep.
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