Staff Sergeant Willena Payne had a problem.
She couldn’t sleep.
About a year ago, Payne, A Company, Warrior Transition Battalion, began living in the barracks again for the first time since her basic training more than 13 years ago.
That was when her problem began.
“Sleep is one of my weaknesses,” Payne said. “When I thought about it at the core, I realized I really didn’t know a lot about sleep on an educational level.”
After being assigned to Fort Campbell’s Warrior Transition Battalion, Payne took a three-week sleep management course offered by the WTB’s occupational therapy.
The sleep program is one of many services offered by the Warrior Transition Battalion. November, National Warrior Care Month, is designated to inform members of the military and their Families and communities about the programs and initiatives provided through the Warrior Care System.
Wade Binion, Battalion Occupational therapy supervisor for Fort Campbell’s WTB, said the sleep program is part of occupational therapy because it is considered life skills training.
“When the Soldiers come to the WTB they are here for a medical reason, but we try to take a holistic approach to their treatment, Binion said. “We look at everything that is going on with them and do everything that we can to help them through the WTB process.”
The mission of occupational therapy is to help a Soldier regain function. Sleep is a major component of a human’s functionality, Binion said.
“Everybody has a bad day if they haven’t slept well the night before,” he said. “You wake up, you’re tired and you’re cranky. You might be a little short with your spouse or Family. So add that to a Soldiers life, especially when they can’t sleep 3-4 nights a week … it can become a real problem.”
On her worst days, Payne said she experienced mood swings, irritability and impatience. She decided to take action after her relationship with her daughter began to struggle.
“I used to have bottomless patience with my daughter,” Payne said. “All of a sudden I didn’t have that. At some point I had to stop saying it was her fault and I had to look inward and realize it must be me. My daughter hasn’t changed, she’s just gotten older. It was my problem. I needed to make a change.”
During the course, the instructor, Laurie Jones, gives the Soldiers the tools and information to make changes to improve their sleep habits. During the first week the group focuses on the basics of sleeping. They also learn diaphragmatic breathing techniques, which reintroduces more oxygen into the body, slows down the heart rate and helps people get into a more relaxed state before bedtime.
During the second session Jones describes an ideal nighttime routine to the class and helps them to design their own effective routine. She said it is important for Soldiers to stay active during the day so they are mentally and physically exhausted by bedtime.
“If they are watching television for five hours solid after coming home from work we try to shorten that amount of time,” she said. “We try to troubleshoot where things are going wrong near bedtime. Over-stimulation from electronics is an ongoing problem for Soldiers.”
It is important to establish a bedtime even as an adult, Jones said.
“Clock watching is also a major problem for Soldiers,” she said. “They wake up in the middle of the night, look at the clock and start doing the math to see how many hours they have until they have to wake up. If they clock watch, that stimulates the brain and keeps the Soldier awake. If they turn the clock around and don’t look at it, then when they wake up, they can realize they are safe and fall back asleep more quickly.”
In the final session, the class focuses on reclaiming the bedroom by making it a sanctuary for sleep. Soldiers should associate their bedrooms with memories of sleep and feeling comfortable and relaxed, Jones said.
Sometimes environmental factors such as the temperature of the room, the fans, the vents and the lighting are out of the Soldier’s control, especially if they are living in the barracks, but Jones said Soldiers should focus on the elements they can control.
Soldiers should strive for at least 6-7 hours of sleep per night.
“Sometimes the Soldiers who come to me are only getting 2-4 hours of sleep per night,” she said. “They hardly function when they are going on so little sleep. They are making up for it by taking 1-2 hour long power naps during the day.”
Many WTB Soldiers who struggle to get deep, quality sleep have a lot of things on their mind. They have racing thoughts before sleeping. Jones said many Soldiers have financial concerns. Geographical bachelors at the WTB worry about their Family.
“There’s a lot of fears of the unknown,” Jones said. “Many Soldiers who come through the WTB are stressed out about transitioning from Soldier life to civilian life.”
Since its inception about four years ago, about 50 WTB Soldiers have completed the sleep program. Payne said she would recommend this course to any Soldier in a heartbeat.
“This is a great use of your time. This isn’t a brain dump. You have homework. You have to engage with this material. You’re going to learn something,” she said. “It’s a beautiful program. You’re missing out if you aren’t here.”