Sleep is vital to a healthy life, both for body and mind. Let’s face it though, you could use a better sleep. If you’re in first responder life (even if you’re not), you’re probably familiar with difficult nights (or days) and tossing and turning. Maybe you find that, even if you do sleep, it’s not restful. While this blog certainly can’t solve all your sleep problems, we can point out some tips and ideas for a better sleep and how it can benefit you.
In the first responder world, sleep is precious. Those working a 24-hour job know that one cannot take sleep for granted. The main sleep troubles stem from the schedule. If your shift is overnight, you’re either sleeping during the day or pulling 24 plus hours awake. If you’re working multiple overnights in a row, you’re likely nocturnal (if only temporarily.) The schedule isn’t the only problem though.
Trauma causes sleep troubles as well. Dealing with anxiety, fear, or disturbing memories causes trouble in waking hours. Trying to sleep with your head full of distress is a nightmare itself. Those with severe PTSD don’t even like closing their eyes during the day (whenever their “day” is) much less to sleep.
A 2006 study found that 70-91% of PTSD patients have trouble falling or staying asleep. This is only the reported numbers, so imagine the unreported instances. Also, they found “that sleep disordered breathing (SDB) and sleep movement disorders are more common in patients with PTSD,” adding to poor sleep.
Sleep’s Effect on the Brain
Poor sleep means poor mental health. We trudge through day after day and sometimes forget sleep’s effect on the brain and how heavily that weighs on our daily function.
“The first symptoms of sleep deprivation tend to be the impairment of cognitive functioning. In the short term, sleep deprivation can affect your stress hormones, disrupting your cognition and destabilizing your moods.”American Sleep Association
If you don’t have a good sleep (day or night), you don’t function well when you’re awake. This affects your job, your marriage, your relationships, and your whole life if not addressed. To solve this, let’s get to the route of the problem.
What’s Keeping You Up?
So what’s keeping you up? There’s a number of possible causes, but let’s review the most common, especially for first responders.
The number one culprit for an unrestful sleep is stress. Thinking or worrying about something, especially if it’s out of your control, will certainly keep you from sleep. Even if you do fall asleep, it may not be restful. Other mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, or more severe conditions such as bipolar disorder or PTSD could make it even harder to sleep. Treating these issues is key to finding a more restful sleep.
Physical ailments can also make sleep harder such as back problems or reflux. Try to find a way to get them under control or manageable to make your sleep better. You will heal better if you sleep better, so take care of yourself in all areas of your life.
Poor routine can also be a major culprit, which means being a first responder and getting a good sleep is an uphill battle. First responders work in a twenty four hour industry, so routine likely won’t be found in the hours. Instead, routine must be made in the things that happen before going to bed.
Making a Better Routine
With your first responder schedule all over the place, making a better routine before going to sleep is essential. (Check out The Power of Routine.) Here’s some things to consider when planning out your “night’s sleep.”
- Eating sugary foods before bed can make one restless, so try to eat healthy and digest your meal a bit before bed if possible. Especially avoid alcohol or caffeine before sleeping. Neither will contribute to healthy rest.
- Blue light is disruptive to melatonin production so try being away from screens for a certain period before bed so your body can be ready for sleep. If you need to check messages, try to plan time to do it before bed so your eyes rest before you lay down. Also, use downtime on your phone to avoid getting unwanted alerts or calls while you’re sleeping. You can program in certain numbers to come through.
- Aggression or overstimulation can dampen sleep routines so try to avoid too much physical or mental activity right before sleep. If you have an argument before bed, try doing something to calm down like meditating or a breathing exercise. Better yet, if you can, make up before going to bed. This will significantly reduce stress.
- Napping too much or too close to your “night’s sleep” is going to make a full rest harder. While naps may be essential in the first responder world, try spacing your sleep so your body is fully tired and ready for a longer sleep. This means planning out your sleep and holding off from some naps. While you may be exhausted (mentally or physically), your “night’s sleep” needs time away from naps to work best.
- Stretch before bed. Seems simple enough but we abuse our bodies on the regular so taking thirty seconds to stretch before laying down (and doing so again when getting up) will help blood flow and elasticity. Small efforts can make big impacts in the long run. Check out these 8 stretches before bed.
- Settle your brain. Try a puzzle (as simple as you need) and do it on paper, not a screen. Sudoku or a word search can help settle your mind a bit before sleep. Plus, the tiny I-did-it satisfaction of completing a task before bed may help with sleep as well.
Sleep Better to Feel Better
We need to sleep better to feel better. For more tips on a healthy sleep, check out the Help Guide’s article Insomnia: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment. We need to recharge our batteries. We’re only human. Our bodies need a healthy sleep to reset and be ready to keep going. Pay attention to how you sleep and you might find you’re feeling better when you’re awake.