Shout out to Sara Bailey at TheWidow.net for this follow-up guest post on the sleep issues the bereaved often face. I know first hand how critical sleep health is to the grief recovery process. It’s been almost three years since D died and I still struggle with the occasional bouts of insomnia. If you’re not sleeping, check out Sara’s tips below.
DISCLAIMER: this isn’t medical advice, just some experience from the front line of widowhood.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
Correcting Sleep Deprivation After Losing a Loved One
When you’ve lost someone close to you, such as a spouse or partner, the grief can be overwhelming. Grief has many symptoms that can manifest behaviorally, emotionally, and physically. Behavioral symptoms include restlessness, hyperactivity, nightmares, and either comfort eating or loss of appetite. Emotionally, grieving people may feel anxiety, guilt, irritability, detachment, loneliness, or depression. Physical symptoms can include aches and pains, stomach problems, oversensitivity to light or sound, panic attacks, diminished immunity, skin sensitivities, shakes, irregular heartbeat, and exhaustion.
A major symptom of grief that can impact a person behaviorally, emotionally, and physically is sleep deprivation. When you don’t get enough sleep, it doesn’t just make you tired. It also makes it harder for you to process your grief and heal. For your mental, physical, and emotional well-being, it’s important to do what you can to correct sleep deprivation.
Get Your Affairs in Order
After your loved one dies, there are a lot of things you will need to take care of — getting copies of the death certificate, determining what your burial insurance will cover, and contacting friends and relatives, to name but a few. Although it will feel unpleasant and almost counterintuitive to getting good, restful sleep, the sooner you get everything in order, the better. Removing a few stressors from the table will give your mind a little room to relax, which is important when you’re trying to navigate the tricky and turbulent waters of grief and loss.
Remove Bedroom Clutter
Your bedroom should be a sanctuary for rest. The more clutter you have in the room, the harder it is for your body and mind to relax. Take a day to clean out your closet and get rid of anything that isn’t conducive to sleep. Don’t just clean out your own stuff — you need to clean out your partner’s things as well. If you’re not ready to get rid of the items completely, you can keep them in an offsite storage facility where they’ll be safe but out of sight. This frees up both physical and emotional space in your bedroom so you can get to sleep. You can keep your partner’s items in there for a while and you can decide what to get rid of permanently at a later date.
Start an Exercise Routine
Americans are generally too sedentary for our own good, which is a shame since exercise can help us manage so many of our most common ailments. Included in these is — you guessed it — sleep deprivation. When you exercise regularly, not only do you take care of yourself, but you give your body the chance to burn off excess energy that keeps you awake at night. Exercise can also be very helpful for grieving people because it releases helpful neurotransmitters that counteract feelings of anxiety and depression. The surge of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA may not be enough to completely alleviate your grief, but it certainly helps. There are plenty of exercise regimens to choose from. You can join a local gym, jog outside, or even take up yoga. If you’ve never tried it, engaging in a yoga and meditation practice can help soothe an overactive mind and help you get more restful sleep at night. Most yoga studios only charge around $12 per class, so it’s not an expensive investment. If you don’t feel up to attending a class, there are numerous online videos worth checking out.
Avoid Stimulating Activities Before Bed
A healthy bedtime routine that ends with you going to sleep at roughly the same time every night teaches your body to wind down effectively. If you’re participating in stimulating activities right before bed, you’re counteracting all that training. While getting some exercise is great during the day for burning off excess energy, if you work out too close to bedtime, the exercise high can lead to insomnia. The screens in your house — think your television, computer, and tablets — emit blue light that tricks the brain into thinking it’s still daytime. Avoid watching TV or surfing the internet before bed to prevent this from happening.
If you have a hard time falling asleep, limit your caffeine intake to before noon or cut it out completely. Likewise, avoid alcohol and eating right before bed. While a nightcap and a full stomach may help you feel drowsy at first, digesting takes a lot out of your body and diminishes the quality of sleep. Finally, try and leave the anxiety from your day out of the bedroom. Try meditating or taking a warm bath to soothe stress and make it easier to fall asleep. Consider investing in a device designed to help you fall asleep, like this anxiety-relieving sleep lamp for only $70. It helps you focus on your breathing so you can sleep more soundly.
A major loss like that of a spouse or partner affects a person in many ways. Sleep deprivation is a common symptom of grief, yet without enough of it, you have a more difficult time coping with the death. Correct sleep imbalances by curating your bedroom environment and creating a routine that sends a signal to your body that it’s time to rest.