Dealing with Sleep Issues following a Loss
Of all the unfair side effects of losing a loved one, disrupted sleep is one of the cruelest. At a time when you need all the emotional and physical rest your body can get, you may find yourself suffering from insomnia, bouts of restlessness, excessive tiredness, or a combination of all three. One of the top pieces of advice for those suffering bereavement is to “get plenty of sleep,” but how do you do that when you cannot fall asleep in the first place?
Sleep disruption is a fairly common problem after you lose a loved one, particularly if you previously shared a bed with that person. Here are some ways you can help get a better night’s sleep after a loss.
- Get Regular Exercise: The last thing you might feel like doing is pulling on your shoes for a long run or hitting the gym for a spin class, but exercise is an excellent way to relax your body and mind in a healthy and natural way. Consider something gentle like yoga or a long walk someplace the deceased loved, or work your way up to a more vigorous regimen. Not only will you sleep more naturally, but the exercise may also help you cope with grief during your waking hours.
- Avoid Coffee and Alcohol: Try not to self-medicate with alcohol, coffee, and other stimulants and depressants. Although these might help you to stay awake and/or fall asleep in the short run, they are not a good long-term solution for healthy sleep habits. Instead, choose to drink lots of water and focus on being healthy.
- Turn off the TV: An hour before bedtime, turn off all your electronic devices. No television, no computers, and no phones. Next, you can read a book, journal your grief, meditate, take a warm bath, drink a cup of herbal tea, or do something else that helps relax you. By allowing your body to wind down naturally, you will be better able to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Sleep Someplace New: If you were used to sharing your bed and bedroom with your loved one, it may be time to switch things up. Move the bed to the other side of the room. Consider switching rooms. Treat yourself to new bedding and pillows. Buy yourself a new bed. These ideas might seem like you are trying to erase their memory, but the reality is that you have to find a new normal without them—including how you sleep. You can always move things back the way they were later. You might also try sleep aids such as earplugs or an eye mask.
It is also important to look into the why of your sleep deprivation. Is it only grief wearing your body down, or are you additionally suffering from clinical anxiety or PTSD as a result of your loss? Are you simply unable to turn your brain off long enough at night to fall asleep, or are you waking up in the middle of the night due to nightmares? Disrupted sleep is normal, but severe trauma is not. If your condition is more prolonged than an occasional restless night, you may need to seek more professional help.