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Yo, Does Anybody in the Military Sleep Any More??

20 Sep

Last week, I was lucky enough to spend some quality time with the clinical staff of the Marine Corps' Wounded Warrior Regiment's national call center, based outside of Quantico - and a dynamite staff at that.  Led by the very able, experienced and charismatic Laurie Giertz (physician's assistant and Marine wife, too, so she's a very credible two-fer), this crew of social workers, nurses and administrators handle everything from suicide/homicide crisis calls, to families needing emergency money for rent and food, to depressed kids, job troubles, beat up spouses and a huge amount of substance abuse. They handle complex, tricky situations with compassion and finesse, and they go home every night trying not to be loaded up on everyone else's pain. They're a marvel!!  

I was there to learn everything I could about how our audios are being used (they ship our stuff and other portable interventions to active duty and veteran Marines all over the U.S., finding them especially useful for those who won’t see a therapist, or those who don’t live near one, or those who found a therapist but he/she proved to be clueless and now they won’t go back). 

One of the things Laurie emphasized was that practically everyone they talk to, first and foremost, needs sleep.  And if they don’t get enough sleep for any extended amount of time, they can’t do anything else.  So the sleep issue is always what she and her team try to address first.  Many are overmedicated or mismedicated, too, and that has to get corrected. 

So that’s where our sleep imagery has come in handy for them. She and her team love the fact that guided imagery is a self-contained intervention that can be shipped anywhere, and can be self-administered by the Marine or family member.  That is a big deal to this call center, located so far away from most of the people who call in, who need something tangible to get into their hands.

OK, so that was one indicator that sleep issues loomed large for our service people and those who try to look after them. (Not that this was any big whup of a surprise - our top selling title for the general population has been Healthful Sleep for a few years now, having knocked Weight Loss out of the top slot some time back; and likewise, sleep is a top challenge for our military, too.)  

But then, the next day, the point was really brought home at a wonderful event hosted by the DoD’s Senior Professional Women’s Assn to honor an amazing, super-effective, courageous, caring, humor-filled, accomplished, creative, Energizer-Bunny of a retired Colonel, Jill Chambers, with its annual Excellence in Leadership Award.  Jill has done a huge amount for our service people, in all kinds of capacities, but  most recently in her capacity as Special Assistant on Returning Warrior Issues to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, where she put together the basis for the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program in the Spring of 2009.  You can find her full bio at her new website, www.thisablevet.com.  

But I digress. I’ll get back to the Astounding Col. Chambers and her work with her uber-talented, inspiring, gifted, prolific partner, Michael Peterson, and their new projects, at a later date when they're fully launched.  

So, back to the sleep issue: in accepting her award, Jill says something says something to the effect that people who hadn’t seen her in a while were surprised by how much better, younger, and more relaxed she looked now.  That, she says, is because now she’s actually getting sleep. There were knowing laughs that rippled through her audience of old friends, overworked colleagues, Pentagon staffers, recovering warriors from Walter Reed, and a sizeable bunch of military and NGO muckety-mucks.

Then, in her characteristically generous, open-hearted and exuberant way, she points to me, sitting unsuspectingly in the third row, and says, “That’s ‘cause of her guided imagery. This then becomes a running gag throughout the rest of her remarks, the punch line being, “and that’s because I’m getting sleep!!”.

Well, here’s the thing.  At the reception afterward, I must have been approached by a dozen people - all talking about their sleep deprivation or that of the people they served - either because of an intense work situation, traumatic stress, TBI-related sleep disorders, repeating nightmares, worries over a deployed family member, or who knows what.  Maybe there’s something in the air around the DC Metropolitan area that ruins sleep for everybody.  All I know is, guided imagery - this simple, user-friendly, super-cheap, portable, effective, self-administered tool - got a huge plug from a beloved and credible leader, and I got a chance to introduce it to decision makers who could actually do something with it to help our service people and their families.  But, hey that’s Jill for ya - a natural promoter and networker,  who's always helping other people get their dreams launched.  

We’re of course going to follow up with every organization that queried us,  and we’ll see if we can’t make a better dent on this insomnia epidemic with some guided imagery.  Clearly, these organizations and agencies need more of any effective, self-administered tool,  whether it’s simple relaxation,  yoga, mindfulness meditation, qigong, breathwork, hypnosis - as long as it’s good at teaching self-regulation of mood, it’s needed.  Stay tuned!! 

All best and sweet dreams,