Sleep advice for serving and retired armed forces and emergency services

Saturday, 28 September 2019  |  Best Beds Direct

Sleep advice for serving and retired armed forces and emergency services

With ex-service employees amongst our team, we know all too well the issues faced by people who have worked irregular shifts, had high-pressured jobs, and have experienced work-related health problems which reduces the quality of their sleep. That’s why, at Best Beds Direct, we’re proud to offer a 10% discount to any serving and retired armed forces and emergency services personnel.

It’s a well-known fact that soldiers deal with a lack of sleep whilst deployed, and this often continues after returning home or retiring from service. Many veterans only manage to get five-six hours of sleep per night – a lot less than the recommended eight hours of sleep per day. This can be caused by a number of things, such as having to adjust to new time zones, adapting to ‘normal’ life back at home, recovering from shift patterns, and dealing with mental or physical health issues. As a result, the quality and quantity of sleep is the most common complaint on post-deployment surveys.

Emergency services personnel, such as firefighters, nurses, and the police, also work long hours, irregular shifts, and often deal first-hand with people in often life-threatening, time-pressured situations. Higher-activity jobs can be stressful, and heightened levels of stress has been linked to difficulties in falling asleep (and staying asleep).

Workers with rotating shifts commonly report disturbed sleep, resulting in excessive sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and an increased reliance on sugary snacks and caffeine to stay awake during long working hours. This is due to the circadian rhythm (your body’s internal timekeeper) becoming misaligned with the outside world – it makes you drowsy at night, and wide awake during the day… not helpful, if this is when you’re meant to be catching up on sleep following a night shift!

The sleep symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are also profound, and can worsen PTSD too. These symptoms include severe insomnia, terrifying recurrent dreams or nightmares, sweating, rapid heartbeat, and inability to fall back asleep once woken.  

The list of potential consequences of missed sleep is lengthy and worrying. It includes:

  •    Frequent sleep disturbance, resulting in insufficient or unrefreshing sleep  
  •    Excessive sleepiness, when you should be awake
  •    Lack of energy, poor concentration and poor work performance
  •    Absenteeism, accidents or errors
  •    Injuries and fatalities – personnel working night shifts and rotating shifts are almost twice as likely to be injured on the job than those working a typical ‘9-5’
  •    Poor health and an increased risk of a variety of chronic illnesses – irregular and poor quality sleep can weaken insulin resistance and increase the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal problems, ulcers and obesity
  •    Mood changes and mental health issues – shift patterns can cause people to fall out of sync with regular social interactions and result in them feeling irritable, anxious, depressed, or lonely
  •    Damaged relationships with relatives and friends (e.g. due to missing out on important events, due to their work schedules)

Luckily, the internet is rife with tips for shift workers and veterans struggling to get enough sleep – we’ve collated these for you below:

  •    Wear dark glasses to block out sunlight on your way home (e.g. when driving), to prevent natural light from repressing your melatonin production
  •    Try to relax before bed, for example by doing some gentle yoga or meditating, and having a warm bath or shower (rather than playing electronic games or watching TV)
  •    Avoid eating a heavy meal, or exercising, up to two hours before bedtime
  •    Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which could keep you awake at night, up to six hours before bedtime
  •    Set a strict bedtime and wake-up time, on weekdays and weekends (always trying to sleep for the same amount of time, regardless of what time you go to bed)
  •    Ask for the support of people you share your home with (e.g. asking them to keep as quiet as possible during your sleeping hours, and letting them know when you plan on waking up)
  •    Keep your bedroom cool (between 16 and 18 degrees Celsius), dark (blocking out unwanted sunlight), and free of distractions, and use eye masks or ear plugs (although soldiers or veterans affected by ringing in the ears may benefit from using a fan, or an app to play white noise or soothing background sounds such as raindrops, to help them fall to sleep)
  •    If your bed is uncomfortable, replace it – old and/or poor quality mattresses can result in, and/or contribute towards, common health complaints such as musculoskeletal pain
  •    Talk to a professional about possible sleep therapies or medications to help address any underlying issues, such as depression, PTSD, or sleep apnea

If you’re a serving or retired armed forces or emergency services worker, and would like help with finding a new bed or mattress, please don’t hesitate to contact our team for support – we would be happy to answer any questions you may have, and can apply a 10% discount to your order.