Not sleeping 7-8 hours a night will ruin your life
There’s even a stigma in the veteran community about discussing the elephant in the room. The thing about PTSD is that it affects everyone differently. And no, I’m not talking about being in a car accident on your way to work so you adjust your travel plans for the rest of your life. I’m talking about PTSD from combat.
What is combat PTSD?
There’s a ton of literature out there on the different types of PTSD in war, but the one I need to elaborate on is trauma caused by direct combat. I guess, before I get into that let’s get some things straight. Since I’m from the Army, I’ll be using Army terms. There are people deployed in non-combat MOS’s and combat MOSs. There are even forward support units that accompany combat units on the front lines that see a ton of action even though they are too valuable to directly partake in every firefight (combat medics, communication specialists etc). But most of deployed persons from all branches hardly ever leave the wire. When they do, it’s normally for logistics. Now I am generalizing, but I have to for this article.
Combat PTSD for infantry units is much different. It’s a day in day out occurrence. While a non combat MOS may get hit by an IED or receive fire or have their FOB mortared and it may be traumatic, it’s not anything you’re subjected to on a daily basis. Infantry units, at least us (504th 82nd ABN), were expected to hate. To meet violence with violence when the situation called for it. Our experience, and the trauma that follows, is fueled by anger. And it persists when we come home. Needless to say, being able to “calm the fuck down” is a challenge.
Here’s What Works to Dillute Combat PTSD and Anger
When I came home from Afghanistan, it was difficult to sleep. I would be awakened by guys we lost, see them in my dreams, and relive an IED blast over and over that took out our medic, disabled our turret gunner and left me completely unharmed. Aside from being mostly deaf in my left ear now, I was unscathed after running over two double-stacked, anti-tank mines.
Not only was I pissed at everything (command, leadership, teammates, life, finances, the list goes on) I couldn’t sleep for more than 30 minutes at a time. I would barely rest and wake up every half hour for about 4 hours a night. My performance suffered in garrison, on PT tests, in my personal relationships with friends and with family.
Over the past decade I’ve learned that sleep is by far the most important shit to get right for living a fulfilling life. Here are a few suggestions I implore you put into action now.
1. Alcohol Dependency
Cut back the drinking. Alcohol is a depressant even though I love drinking a few beers at night. I used to slam a 6pack or more of high gravity beer or scotch every night before bed. If it was in the house, I would drink it. It wasn’t until a shitty breakup last year that I gave it up for month and a half. I became a happier person, lost weight and slept better for it. I was a miserable bastard and everyone saw it. To make things easier for you leave the alcohol for the weekend. Don’t drink it during the week if you know you abuse it.
“Save the booze for the weekend and keep it out of your work week; your life depends on it”
2. Don’t Eat Shit Food
Nutrition in key. What you put into your body directly affects how you looks, feel, and think. The first step is cutting out sugar in it’s many forms. Stop drinking soda, and sugary energy drinks. I don’t care what billboard advertisements or endorsements from your favorite athletes are getting paid to promote – cut the shit out. Stop guzzling fructose laden crap into your gullet. The same goes with food – avoid an overload of starches, breads, processed junk day in and day out. Every now and then, it’s fine. Pick a day to cheat and eat your heart out. We’re talking about striving for the 80/20 rule. But I recommend to push yourself closer to 90/10. 90% of the time, don’t ingest sugar heavy foods or drinks. Your body and mind will thank you.
“Strive to reach 90/10 on eating or drinking sugar free foods”
3. Exercise Your Ass Off
As you may have gotten out of the military, you probably have slacked off PT for years. Don’t become that sack of potatoes glued to the couch watching military documentaries and playing Call of Duty to relive the good ole days. Get your ass in gear. Exercise not only improves every aspect of your life, from getting laid to being awesome, you’ll start becoming the badass you used to be running in sand for 5 miles at Ft Bragg in full BDUs and boots. Regular physical activity also improves sleep as much as 65%.
What should you do? I’ve found Crossfit gyms (or boxes) to be far more of a challenge than the typical iron gym. Nothing wrong with cranking out weights and never talking to that girl in booty shorts at your corporate $15/month gym, but Crossfit introduces you to new people, varies up the workouts each day and mixes in Olympic lifting, running and sprinting, and daily WODs or “Workout Of The Day”. The workout typically lasts between 12-20 minutes and will probably remind you of being smoked in basic. Except this time, you’re doing it to yourself. There’s a hell of a lot more self accountability in Crossfit even when working out in a “class”. You’re instructed on a new movement before the workout, usually working up to a 1 rep max, then the workout begins. I won’t go into too much more detail here, but try it out. Crossfit boxes, I’ve found, are usually full of military veterans so it acts as a great support group too. The first class is normally free.
“Daily Vigorous Exercise Will Improve Your Sleep Up To 65%”
4. Avoid Late Night TV & Computer Screens
In order to gear down for a decent night’s sleep, you have to shut down the electrical activity in your brain. This means turning off electronic devices pointed at your eyes that emit blue light. Light from a tablet, laptop or your phone prevents your body from releasing natural melatonin helping you get to bed.
That “glow” from electronics is also at work against quality shuteye. The small amounts of light from these devices pass through the retina into a part of the hypothalamus (the area of the brain that controls several sleep activities) and delay the release of the sleep-inducing hormone,melatonin.
Blue light also resets the brain thinking it’s daytime. That’s why so many night owls are typically video gamers or work in the computer field, doing work late into the night. You have to gather some self discipline and be an adult about your health.
“Stop Scrolling The Endless Facebook Feed On Your Phone, Avoid Electronic Devices An Hour Before Bed”
5. Supplementation For A Better Night’s Sleep
This isn’t a cure all for getting to sleep, but supplements can help. I don’t mean grab Ambien from the VA or your buddy Phillip that somehow has an endless supply – abuse of prescriptions can lead to a dark path. So do your best efforts to stay away from prescription drugs and look for all natural sleep aids. There are plenty of options available online and in your local CVS or Walmart. It will take some time to find something that works for you. But look for all natural ingredients first and foremost. Melatonin, Valerian root, and L-tryptophan to start are 3 key ingredients that contribute to getting to sleep. Some sleep aids can taste like dog shit or not work at all. I’ve found Getting Sleepy works great.
I take half a tablet at night before bed and it keeps my ass perfectly asleep. It’s a chewable instead of a pill so those of you that have difficulty swallowing pills or are just sick and tired of it will find it’s easy to digest. You can order it here and help contribute to the site if you like posts like this.
“Sometimes sleep aids can help. Go all natural – cut out the prescriptions”
How To Put All Of This Together
I’ve outlined a lot. Somethings will cost money like a gym membership at Crossfit and others just take discipline. It’s hard to come to terms with even discussing PTSD with anyone outside of the military. There’s a ton of people that just won’t “get it”. But with anything, your mileage may vary. First things first though, you have to take control of what you’re losing control of. Take ownership of your diet and activity level to begin with. Once you start getting those under your belt, the rest is just work. Look at it like a mission; your objective is to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Work on it, practice it, get others involved and share your experience here if you like. Just contact us to share your story.