Getting a Healthy Sleep: Tips and Advice for Military Caregivers


Sleep restores the body from a day of work and play. Sleep is essential to your health and wellbeing. Yet for caregivers, sleep disturbances are prevalent, resulting in decreased function, physical pain, fatigue and serious medical problems. [i] Sleep loss in caregivers can be directly related to the stress of caregiving. [i] This is because caregivers are likely to put the needs of others ahead of their own and sometimes, neglect to care for themselves altogether. [ii]

Sleep problems and related issues are more common in female caregivers. [iii] Did you know that 40% of female caregivers who care for a veteran or service member suffer from insufficient sleep? iii Luckily, there are ways to prevent sleep deprivation.

Sometimes the conventional ways of falling asleep when you are having a difficult time don’t help at all. However, mind-body practices, supplements and herbs are known to be aids in getting a healthier sleep. [iv]

Mind-Body Therapies for Sleep

The connection between your mind and body is essential to your state of wellbeing. The following mind-body therapies are recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as helpful sleep-inducing therapies.

  • Progressive relaxation
  • Music therapy
  • Yoga
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Acupuncture

Getting a good sleep is not only determined by what you do to rest your body and mind. What you put into your body or what you fail to consume, also affects your sleep patterns.

Herbs and Supplements

Your body needs certain nutrients to function properly. Sleeping on the daily basis means that your body is functioning well. Often, low levels of melatonin in the body cause the inability to sleep or interrupted sleep. Melatonin supplements or other supplements that produce melatonin can be an effective sleep aid.iv However, it is important to know that dietary supplements aren’t for everyone. Some bodies reject supplements. Others experience side effects, like nausea. [v]

There are more natural ways to sleep. Herbs come from plants and are less likely to cause side effects, with a few exceptions. These herbs have been tested by scientists and are known to treat insomnia:

  • Chamomile
  • Kava
  • Valerian

Herbs are not only ingested. For some people, aromatherapy may be more helpful in aiding sleep than drinking herb infused teas or eating them with food.

Why Can’t You Sleep

Are you unable to sleep because your wounded warrior is unable to sleep? The best way to deal with this challenge is to understand the cause.

Sometimes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or severe combat-related injuries like Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) cause service members and veterans to lose sleep or have interrupted sleep. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs finds that these sleepless nights are likely due to the following reasons [vi]:

  • They are expecting an attack
  • They are thinking negative thoughts
  • They are abusing substances
  • They are having nightmares or disturbing dreams
  • They have underlying medical issues (pain, PTSD, etc.)

If you notice that the service member or veteran that you care for is not sleeping, it is important to take action and seek help. You can try changing the place where you sleep or keeping an exact bedtime.

Maybe it is YOU that is experiencing PTSD. This is not uncommon. However, just like the tips for your wounded warrior, try adding self-care to your routine, a change of setting or staying on schedule. If the sleepless nights for you or your wounded warrior continue, see a medical professional. [vi]

Why Sleep Is So Important

Sleeping resets your body. There are specific areas of the body that are especially affected when you do not get enough rest. They are:

  1. The Nervous System

    Sleeping helps your memory, mood and ability to learn. With eight full hours of sleep, this system is completely restored.

  2. The Cardiovascular System

    Like every other part of your body, the heart needs rest. During sleep, your heart rate  and blood pressure lowers. Though your heart rate may rise during REM sleep because of dreaming, this exercise has been found to be excellent for cardiovascualr health.

  3. The Endocrine System

    Your hormones are balanced through good REM sleep, as it prompts the release of growth hormones for youth and allows for the mass repairs of cells and tissues. Also, as you sleep, your body produces more cytokines, which are cellular hormones that contribute to your immune system. REM sleep restores the Endocrine System, preventing stunted growth in children, illnesses and even miscarriges for women.

As a caregiver, you need sleep in order to have the strength and focus to perform your daily duties. Practice self-care and improve your quality of sleep to ensure that you are able to live a happy and healthy life. Your happiness and healthy lifestyle will sure be passed along to your wounded warrior.

This article is a part of Samueli Institute’s Caregiver series. Read more articles. Also be sure to download “The Caregiver’s Companion: Self for Health in Mind, Body and Spirit,” a guidebook written especially for military caregivers in October.

[i] McCurry S, Song Y, Martin J, (2015). Sleep in Caregivers: What we Know and What we Need to Learn. Curr Opin Psychiatry, 28(6):497-503. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000205.
[ii] TanielanT, Ramchand R, Fisher M, Sims C, Harris R, and Harrell M, (2013). Military Caregivers: Cornerstones for Our Wounded, Ill, and Injured Veterans. RAND Corporation.
[iii] Institute for Veteran and Military Families, Syracuse University (2013). Womens Health Issues; 23(4), 225-232.
[iv] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2014). Sleep Disorders and Complementary Health Approaches: What You Need To Know. National Institutes of Health, NCCIH.
[v] Bruso J, (2015). Why Might You Feel Nauseous After Taking Vitamins?
[vi] Department of Veterans Affairs. Sleep and PTSD. PTSD: National Center for PTSD.