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Sleep insufficiency is common and can result from a variety of things, including work demands (especially active duty), social and family responsibilities, medical conditions, and sleep disorders. As the problem progresses, you may experience reduced performance, increased risk for accidents, and negative effects on your mental and physical health.
This section talks about the when lack of sleep becomes a problem and gives some advice on how to get a better night's sleep.


What is Poor Sleep?

Almost everyone has trouble sleeping occasionally, but not getting enough sleep for a few nights here and there is nothing to worry about. On the other hand, sleep problems that last for weeks or even months at a time can really interfere with your health, work, and social life.

Most adults need about 7 to 9 hours sleep per night, although the ideal amount differs from person to person. Sleep problems can be caused by any number of things, and the nature of military service can also contribute to them. For example, long periods of ‘picket’ duty during the night can have a lasting impact on sleep routines. Then, once you start having trouble sleeping, bad habits and worrying thoughts about sleep can fuel the problem.

Sleep has two dimensions:

  • Duration (quantity)
  • Depth (quality)

When you don’t get enough (quantity) deep (quality) sleep, daytime alertness and function suffer. This means that even if you have a long sleep that is of poor quality, you will not necessarily wake refreshed and able to function properly.

What to look for

The most common sleep problem is insomnia, where you don’t get enough sleep or your sleep is not restful. If you regularly have trouble sleeping, feel tired during the day, and find that you have trouble concentrating or getting along with other people, it’s possible you’re suffering from insomnia. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have trouble falling or staying asleep? Do you find that you don’t feel refreshed in the morning?
  • During the day, does your lack of sleep cause problems with attention, concentration, or memory? Are you constantly tired or grumpy? Does your lack of sleep make it hard for you to do your work, get along with other people, or take care of things at home?
  • Have you had trouble sleeping on more nights than not, for several months or more?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may benefit from trying some of the following tips for improving your sleeping habits. If you have been suffering from sleep problems for a very long time, or your sleep problems cause you a lot of distress, it might be worth talking to your doctor or other health professional. It is important to remember, sleep deprivation can be dangerous for you, your family or your work colleagues and personnel.

Why am I having trouble sleeping?

Sleep problems could also be related to any of a number of mental or physical health problems. For example, depression can result in too much or too little sleep, and people with anxiety disorders will often lie awake worrying. Also, symptoms that are sometimes associated with post traumatic stress disorder, like nightmares or feeling constantly on guard, will disrupt sleep patterns.

Or it could be that you are suffering from serious pain that makes it difficult to sleep, and in turn, lack of sleep can make the pain worse, creating a vicious cycle of pain and poor sleep. Too much alcohol or other drug use can also interfere with sleep.

For more information on these mental health problems and their treatment, click the links in the text above.

What can I do about it?

Sleep problems can sometimes be improved by improving sleep habits. The first step is to recognise these habits (keeping a sleep diary can help), and then to choose a strategy that will help you change them.

The table below lists a number of common habits that are known to disrupt a good nights sleep, along with the alternative behaviour that can help restore healthy sleep patterns.

Bad sleep habits

Good sleep habits

Too much activity or stimulation before bed

Spend 30 minutes doing something non-stressful before going to bed, and avoid exercise for 3 hours before going to sleep.

Irregular sleep routines

Try to go to bed at the same time most nights (it will become a signal for your body that it is time for sleep), and get up at the same time most mornings.

Napping during the day

Avoid naps. If you have to nap, keep it short (less than 20 minutes), and don’t nap after mid-afternoon.

Other activities in bed (e.g. watching TV or being on electronic devices)

Use your bed only for sleep and sex, and reading material that is not too stimulating.

Lying awake for hours and worrying

If you don’t fall asleep in about 20 minutes, get up and go to another room until you’re sleepy, then try again. Reading a book can help distract you from the worry.

Consuming caffeine late in the evening

Avoid coffee, tea, cocoa, cola drinks after about 4pm.

Drinking alcohol in the evening

Don’t have any alcohol for several hours before going to bed (alcohol might help you get to sleep but causes a disrupted sleep pattern as you tend to wake up 2-3 hours later).

Smoking a lot

Smoking (nicotine) will make you more alert. You may also have breathing-related sleep disturbances, caused by long-term smoking (such as sleep apnoea). Avoid smoking as much as possible and consider giving up.

Frequent use of sleeping pills

Avoid frequent use, as you can become dependent on them, which will end up disturbing your sleep further.

Read more about common sleep issues and how to manage them in:

View PDF
Sleep Management Guide
903 KB

Get help

If you’ve tried the strategies above and you are still having problems with sleep, you might benefit from getting additional support.

  • A doctor is always a good place to start when trying to overcome sleep problems, as he or she can help you to understand your particular problem with sleep, and refer you to an appropriate specialist for further assessment if necessary.
  • More information on sleep problems and how to manage them is available from
    View pdf
    Everyday Resilience - NZDF Resilience Toolkit
    764 KB