Losing a loved one can take a large toll on your emotional well-being. It’s very common to experience many challenges going through daily life activities while you’re in a period of bereavement.
While some of the challenges you face may be expected and something you can prepare for, there are others which may not be so clear. Sleep is one of these unexpected areas in which people have troubles during periods of grief.
In particular scenarios, losing sleep while you’re grieving may not be so unexpected at all. For instance, when you lose a loved one whom you shared the bed with, you may not be surprised that your sleeping habits have changed since the environment where you sleep has such a close tie to the core of your grief. But even if the person you lost wasn’t your bed partner, getting to sleep each night can be a large feat.
We’ll explore more on why this happens and what you can do during this time to keep up with your regular sleeping habits.
Why grief affects your sleep
While going through a period of bereavement, you may find that all you want to do is sleep. When experiencing heavy emotions of grief, depression, and anxiety, your body may just want to shut down. Going to sleep is seen as a coping mechanism. When you’re asleep, you don’t have to think about your loss.
On the contrary, sleep might be a ghost of the past and you could be haunted with insomnia. The stressors on your mind make it impossible to relax and catch some ZZZs. And the worst part is, this is a vicious cycle that feeds into itself. The less sleep you get, the more severe your symptoms of grief will be, which in turn continues to lead to issues of sleep deprivation. Eventually, enough is enough and you need to be able to heal.
How to get better sleep while grieving
Even people who aren’t grieving have trouble sleeping. In fact, over two-thirds of Americans have troubles sleeping at least once a week. For those going through grief, the numbers are only more severe.
While everyone’s preferences will differ, there are a few strategies that tend to help you find your sleep.
- Limit your naps
If you nap several times throughout the day, your body’s sleep cycle will be dramatically altered, and it will be difficult to sleep for eight hours through the night. Experts suggest avoiding naps within the last four hours before your bedtime and keeping your naps between a brief 10- to 20-minute range.
- Prepare your bedroom
Optimizing your bedroom for a better night’s sleep is important for everyone, but especially so if it has a strong tie to the person whose loss you are grieving. Hard as it may be to let go of some things, it can also help you heal. Start by doing research to look for a new bed. Transitioning to a smaller size may help it not feel so empty. You may also want to redecorate your room with a new paint color and add a few light-hearted decor pieces to help bring in a new, positive energy.
- Develop a wind down routine (meditation, breathing exercises)
Taking the last hour or two before bed to calm your mind and body help make it easier to clear the stress from your head that keeps you up at night. Take a warm bath and try a relaxing activity like reading a book to ease you. Mindfulness activities such as yoga, meditation, and breathing exercise are also beneficial to practice before bedtime.
- Stay consistent
Keeping up a routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time makes it easier for your body to adjust to falling asleep. Hard as it may be to get out of bed sometimes, it’s important to encourage yourself to keep moving. If waking up is difficult, consider leaving the curtains open so you can wake up alongside natural sunlight.
- Stay active through the day
Exercise and utilizing your body’s energy is important to being able to get a good night’s sleep. While going through a period of bereavement, exercise may be the last thing on your mind, but it’s important to remember to prioritize yourself and your wellbeing. Do your best to stay active every day, even if it’s only light activities such as walking or yoga.
If you do everything you can and still have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, know you are not alone. You may find comfort in locating a support group or speaking with a medical professional to help you move through your period of bereavement and be on the way to better sleep.
–by Laurie L., contributor
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