Guest Author - Shirley McGillivray
After a loss in our lives, often one of the first things to suffer is our sleep. While the reason for a lack of sleep can often be environmental such a noise, the most common reason for insomnia is stress.
Depression, in varying degrees, almost always follows a death and one of the main symptoms of depression can be a lack of sleep. Anxiety can also play a large role, especially if you are feeling alone and worried about the future, your family, money or a combination of all three.
When we are grieving, especially in the early days, time really has no meaning. We are often not doing what was usual for us that helped divide up the day, frequently we are no longer interested in food so meal times pass without notice and it can be difficult to motivate ourselves to get up in the mornings.
This lack of normality changes our sleep patterns, which in turn leads to exhaustion, both mental and physical, and can interfere with your normal behavior and even your judgement. It also impedes our ability to grieve.
The Reason for Sleep
Many of us have heard about the circadian cycle which is how we sleep. These cycles repeat once a day and include patterns of activity and rest, hunger and eating, sleeping and being awake. If these cycles are broken for whatever reason, it affects our feeling of well-being. By sleeping for 7 – 8 hours each night we reset these cycles so that we are able to get through what the next day brings.
What Can We Do?
- One of the most important things we can do is look after our health. We especially need to make sure we eat well. If you are not up to cooking for yourself, perhaps ask for some help with meals until you feel you can manage.
- Try relaxing - how you do this depends on what you feel comfortable doing but if nothing works, perhaps it is time to look at something you wouldn’t normally try. Some suggestions could include taking a bubble bath, listening to audio tapes or soothing music or even going for a walk.
- Some people find yoga relaxing whereas other might find doing some strenuous exercise works better for them.
- Try writing a journal. It doesn’t have to be anything formal but it is often a good way to get your thought and emotions out of your head for a while. You could write about how you feel, about memories or what you wished you could say if your loved one was with you. If you like to draw you could add in pictures or pieces of memorabilia that have meaning to you. Some people prefer to write their feelings and then throw the paper away or destroy it in a symbolic way that is meaningful to them. There are no hard and fast rules, but it is a good idea to end on a positive note, perhaps recalling a time or a memory that makes you smile.
- Find someone you can talk to. This doesn’t always have to be deep and meaningful or even about your loved one, but sometimes just having some company can help. If you do have someone you can share memories or talk about that special person, then do so. Often other people turn the conversation away as they worry that it might distress you, but being able to talk about someone who was so important in your life is often therapeutic.
- Allow yourself to cry. Society often makes us feel that we should always be in control of our emotions. Tears can be cathartic and helps you express the emotion building up inside of you. Often afterwards we are both mentally and physically exhausted and so sleep comes more easily
More Ideas for Getting some Sleep
- Keep your bedroom dark and on the cooler side. Warm rooms are not conducive to good sleep.
- Avoid going to bed after midnight – many people find they wake up again if they miss that first window for sleep
- Avoid having a late afternoon nap and make sure to keep awake while watching TV in the evening. Any nap should be less than an hour otherwise it can interfere with the circadian cycles.
- Turn off anything electronic at least an hour before bed. Even a small light from a phone can cause sleep disturbance.
- Avoid caffeine for several hours prior to bedtime
- If you can't fall asleep or you awaken and can't return to sleep within 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing but don’t do anything that will make it harder to sleep such as cleaning or playing computer games.
If you are still not sleeping despite everything, you may need to talk to your doctor who may suggest counseling or as a last resort medication. Don’t feel that if you get to this stage you have failed. Everyone grieves in their own way and time and if either of these options help you then use them.