I Can’t Sleep Alone. Coping after the Loss of a Loved One

“Its been a month and a few days since my husband passed. I still can’t sleep in our room and have been sleeping with my daughter. Its not like I’m afraid of a ghost but I’m afraid of the memories will flood in and I will be depressed. I have been coping OK just because I’ve been keeping myself busy working. I’m also afraid how I will react when I get into the bed and its empty on his side. Maybe I should have went to our room right after the service instead of waiting. Now its getting harder to go back. I want to go back but when its time to sleep there, I just can’t do it.”  – Anonymous.

There are many life situations that can prevent us from falling asleep. Stress at work. Stress at home. Starting a new job in the morning. Life events can prevent us from sleep. Some are bad and some are good, while some are heart wrenching.

I cannot even begin to imagine what a person goes through who has lost a partner, or a child. I could not imagine being married for so long and then one day my wife isn’t there. She is the first person I see when I wake up and the last person I see when I close my eyes.

Sleeplessness is perhaps one of the most frustrating symptoms when coping with grief. When you are sleepy and can’t sleep it just adds insult to injury. While insomnia is considered a common grief reaction, sleeplessness should not be ignored, but tended to mindfully.

If you are dealing with grief and sleep loss, there are many possible causes. If you have lost a spouse, your empty bed be a reminder of your loss. In addition to losing your loved one, there are many secondary reasons that contribute to the additional stress, such as the loss of income, that can also keep you up at night.

It’s common for people to experience a change in their sleeping pattern in the days, weeks and months following the loss of a loved one. Grievers may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

  • Take care of yourself. Grief can be hard on your health. Try to eat right, make exercise a part of your daily routine, take your medicine, and get enough sleep.
  • Bad habits, such as drinking too much alcohol or smoking, can put your health at risk. Keep up with your usual visits to your healthcare provider.
  • Talk to caring friends. Let family and friends know when you want to talk about your husband or wife. It may help to be with people who let you say what you’re feeling.
  • Join a grief support group. Sometimes it helps to talk to people who are also grieving. Check with hospitals, religious communities, and local agencies to find out about support groups.
  • Try not to make any major changes right away. It’s a good idea to wait for a while before making big decisions like moving or changing jobs.
  • See your doctor. If you’re having trouble taking care of your everyday activities, like getting dressed or fixing meals, talk to your healthcare provider.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Sometimes short-term talk therapy with a counselor can help.
  • Remember your children are grieving, too. You may find that your relationship with your children has changed. It will take time for the whole family to adjust to life without your spouse.
  • Mourning takes time. It’s common to have roller-coaster emotions for a while.

Tips For Getting Sleep While You Grieve:

  1. Start to Get Some Exercise– Exercise has a great capacity with helping with sleep issues. A brisk walk or a hike in the woods will expose you to sunlight. It will lift your spirit, and will help with the sleep wake cycle as your body absorbs vitamin D from the sun.
  2. Avoid the Caffeine and Alcohol After 3 PM– The National Sleep Foundation states that even though alcohol can act as a sleep aid shortly after consumed, it disrupts the second half of sleep once your body begins to metabolize the alcohol. Caffeine, of course, is the nemesis of sleep.
  3. Try a Massage or Acupuncture– Massage therapy can help your body, mind, and spirit relax and bring you back into balance this in turn helps you sleep better. Some people can feel the Relaxation Response kick in while receiving a massage or acupuncture. they even report feeling like falling asleep on the table or mat.
  4. Keep a Grief Journal– Journaling is a great place to just write your thought and feelings. It allows you to do an emotional decluttering and put it on paper. You can journal anytime during the day, but especially at night before going to bed.
  5. Create a Sleep Sanctuary– Sleep experts agree that the bedroom should only be used for sleeping and sex. If possible, set your thermostat between 65° to 68°. De-cluttering your room and including relaxing artwork, scents, and comfortable bedding can go a long way to make your room sleep approved.
  6. Relaxation Before Bed– Whether it is a hot bath, a cup of cocoa, or listening to your favorite nature CD these little things help. Whatever it is that helps you relax, try it.
  7.  Talk to Them– If you believe in an afterlife or not. Talk with the person you lost. Say the things that are in your heart and don’t try to hold it in. As a registered nurse working in oncology I encouraging the families I cared for to talk with the ones they lost. It unburdened the heart and spirit. Holding in how you feel will not help you but releasing those feelings will.

I cannot say that I understand your loss. I have not been there yet. But I know one day I will be. This article is here to assist you to get a little rest and respite for what you are experiencing. In 10 years working as a RN in oncology I have seen how grief takes its toll on the mind, body, and spirit. I have seen the loved ones go through the grief process and come out at the other end of the tunnel. So for now, as you go through this process I hope you find this helpful. Sleep tight.

 

 


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