Dealing with Sleep Issues after the Death of a Loved One
by Joyce Nevola, LMSW – Bereavement Counselor
Some may recall the 1951 movie starring Doris Day and Danny Thomas which chronicles the success and decline of songwriter, Gus Kahn. If the storyline from “I’ll See You in My Dreams” seems a little fuzzy, we can recall the melody of the song title with warm feelings that erupt into sentiments of faithful love. The thoughts of peaceful sleep and fairytale-like dreams, however, can be very foreign to us after the death of a cherished loved one. Our world is turned upside down. We hardly eat or sleep. What dreams we do have can be chaotic and painful. Insomnia becomes our uninvited guest.
On the other hand, during these cold winter months, we may envy the life cycles of the wood frogs, ground squirrels, skunks, hedgehogs, and bears who go into a deep sleep to survive freezing temperatures and the scarcity of food. Wood frogs burrow inside logs, stop breathing, their heart stops, and ice crystals form in their blood. We may want to hide from the world in a cozy and comfortable place where we are cushioned from the aching sadness of loss and become numb to unwelcomed feelings of anger, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, and despair. Although a personal hibernation of prolonged sleep can be soothing at first, its flight from reality can deepen our depression and keep us stuck in our suffering.
Here are some suggestions to aid sleep and promote health and healing while grieving:
- Understand that sleep problems are normal symptoms of grief. Trust that you will eventually sleep again and be renewed and refreshed by it.
- Set your internal clock by going to bed at the same time every day, including weekends.
- Try a relaxation technique like deep breathing or alternately tensing and relaxing your muscles as you lie in bed.
- If you cannot fall asleep after 30 minutes, get up and do something which is calming like reading or listening to music and then return to bed.
- Sleep in a comfortable bed in a dark room. If you are now sleeping alone in bed, try sleeping on the other side leaving your side empty.
- Take time to unwind before going to bed. Take a warm bath, read a light book, try a brief meditation.
- If you are anxious at night, make time to talk about your fears to a trusting friend or consider grief counseling.
- Try bringing to bed with you a soft stuffed animal that may have brought you comfort as a child.
- Exercise daily but not close to bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol before bedtime. While it may help you to fall asleep, it can cause you to wake up during the night.
- Experiment to nd out what will work for you in promoting restorative sleep. What works for some does not work for everyone. Know that the Hospice Grief Center is here for you. Call us for support, understanding and guidance.
(Some of the Sleep Suggestions: Copyright Hope for Bereaved adapted with permission)