Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Insomnia Profoundly Impacts Veterans’ Mental Health and Daily Life, Reveals New Study

Insomnia Profoundly Impacts Veterans’ Mental Health and Daily Life, Reveals New Study

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A recent study published in the Journal of Sleep Research has shed light on the significant costs and consequences of insomnia for veterans suffering from serious mental illness (SMI). Conducted by Elizabeth A. Klingaman and her colleagues, the study employs a phenomenological approach to understand the personal and functional impacts of insomnia on this vulnerable population.

Insomnia is a prevalent issue among veterans, particularly those with SMI, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder. This study reveals that insomnia not only exacerbates the symptoms of these mental illnesses but also leads to substantial trade-offs in veterans’ daily lives. These trade-offs often include reduced social engagement, diminished occupational productivity, and overall impaired quality of life.

The research highlights that veterans with SMI and insomnia frequently face a cycle of poor sleep and worsening mental health symptoms. For instance, poor sleep quality can lead to increased daytime fatigue, which in turn affects their ability to participate in meaningful activities and maintain relationships. This cycle can further entrench feelings of isolation and helplessness, common in individuals with severe mental health conditions.

The study involved semi-structured interviews with 20 veterans who provided in-depth insights into their struggles with insomnia. One of the key findings is that insomnia has a multiplicative effect on veterans’ mental health and daily functioning. For many participants, the effort to achieve a good night’s sleep destabilised their functional recovery from mental illness. This destabilisation was evident in their compromised ability to engage in everyday tasks and social interactions, which are crucial for mental health recovery.

The veterans interviewed also described how insomnia forced them to make difficult compromises. These included abandoning activities they enjoyed or found meaningful, which further contributed to their mental health decline. For example, some veterans reported having to leave jobs or stop pursuing education due to their inability to manage their insomnia and mental health symptoms simultaneously.

Interestingly, the study found that veterans often resort to unconventional coping strategies to manage their insomnia. These strategies, while providing temporary relief, can sometimes contradict standard sleep hygiene practices. For instance, some veterans found that eating before bed, having a pet in the bed, or keeping the lights on helped reduce their psychotic symptoms and, in turn, improved their sleep quality. These practices, although beneficial in the short term, may not be sustainable or recommended as long-term solutions by sleep experts.

These coping mechanisms highlight the unique challenges faced by veterans with SMI, who often require tailored approaches to insomnia treatment. Standard sleep hygiene practices, such as maintaining a dark and quiet bedroom or avoiding food before bed, may not be effective for this group, necessitating more personalised interventions.

The study underscores the need for mental health practitioners to consider the complex interplay between insomnia and SMI in veterans. Effective treatment should not only aim to improve sleep quality but also address the broader psychosocial impacts of insomnia. Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) has shown promise in this regard, helping individuals reframe negative thoughts about sleep and adopt healthier sleep behaviours.

The researchers call for a more holistic approach to treating insomnia in veterans with SMI. This includes supporting veterans in reclaiming activities and roles that they may have abandoned due to their sleep and mental health issues. By focusing on recovery-oriented care, practitioners can help veterans rebuild their identities and improve their overall quality of life.

The study’s findings highlight the importance of integrating sleep treatment with broader mental health and psychosocial support for veterans. As insomnia significantly impacts veterans’ mental health and daily functioning, addressing it comprehensively can lead to better outcomes in their recovery journey.

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