Grief can affect all aspects of our lives, especially in the areas that we may take for granted — such as our typical eating and sleeping habits. Truthfully, when we lose someone we love, we may find it difficult to continue on with our lives as if nothing has changed. This can lead to an increase in problematic behaviors that can negatively impact our health over time. When it comes to our sleeping habits, you may experience restless nights, trouble falling asleep in the first place, and spending a significant amount of time awake in bed rather than sleeping.
A Two-Way Street
The relationship between grief and sleep is typically thought of as a two-way street. What do we mean by this? Well, when we are grieving, it can take us longer to fall asleep and decrease the overall quality of our sleep at night. This, in turn, limits our ability to recover from the emotional and physical symptoms that come with grief and can actually elongate the amount of time we spend grieving.
Think about it like this. When your body is sick, like when you have a cold, typically the best way to recover is to get rest, right? Now, if that cold has you waking up all the time at night and unable to get the rest you need, it is likely to last much longer than if you were able to give your body the additional rest it needs to recover. If you try to do too many things while sick, you may end up even sicker.
Grief is just like this; it puts incredible stressors on our minds and bodies and takes time and energy to overcome. When we have more time to rest and recover, we are giving ourselves that time to heal. But, if we are getting less time to rest, we can dramatically elongate the time it takes to recover.
Tips to Get Restful Sleep as You Recover from Grief
While there is no tried and tested cure-all for improving sleep immediately, there are some things that you can do to help signal to your body that it is time for the rest it needs. Many of us may not even realize that the things we do before going to bed can be extremely impactful in how restful our night of sleep will be. But, with some new habits and a little bit of thought, you can really improve your sleep each night.
So, without further ado, here are some things that you can do to help get the restful sleep you need to heal from your loss.
Recognize That Grief Does Affect Our Sleep Habits
The first thing to realize is that you will likely not be able to dramatically alter your sleep (or lack of sleep) in a single night if you are having trouble sleeping because of a recent loss. As mentioned above, sleep and grief form a bi-directional relationship. This means that the first step in improving your sleep is to realize that there is only so much you can do at one time.
Do not put pressure on yourself to “fix” everything immediately. Processing emotions and loss takes time. It takes energy. And it takes work. Once you understand this, you can begin working to improve your sleep without placing too much pressure on your mind, which is already working through a lot.
Move Your Body
We know the last thing you probably want to do when you are grieving is to go for a run or pick up that set of hand weights you have in the garage. As much as we all get tired of hearing it, exercise is incredibly good for us. Not only does it release endorphins in the brain, which can make us feel better, but it also tires us out.
Even if you can’t commit to a half-an-hour workout session or a mile run, simply getting your body moving throughout the day can do wonders for signaling to your brain that you need to rest. When we work out, we feel more tired at night when we go to bed because our body wants to use that rest time to repair damaged muscles, recover from the exercise, and come back stronger the next day.
Take Time to Relax Before Bed
Most of us get home after a long day of work, grab something to eat, turn on the TV, and then go to bed without even thinking about it. Unfortunately, this routine could be hurting your overall sleep quality as it does not actually help us relax and unwind from the day before getting to sleep.
While not everyone finds the same activities relaxing, there is something incredibly impactful about taking some time (even 30 minutes) before bed to do something you find actually relaxing.
Some examples of activities that you may want to try include:
- Relaxing creative hobbies — like painting, drawing, scrapbooking, putting in some pieces of a puzzle, or knitting
- Mindfulness exercises, meditation, or prayer
- Writing in a grief journal or a gratefulness journal, or even taking some time to talk about what happened in your day (either in a journal or to a loved one)
- Brewing yourself a nice cup of an herbal (or otherwise decaffeinated) tea to sip before getting ready for bed.
Talk About It
If you’ve tried the tips mentioned above, or other ways for improving your sleep independently of trying to heal from grief, it may be time to begin looking for ways to address the underlying issue at hand. As we said before, recovering from grief takes time, and the road is different for each individual. But, one of the most helpful ways to overcome the impacts of grief for many people is to talk about what is going on.
Whether you talk to a loved one, attend a support group for others who have also recently lost a loved one, or talk with a professional therapist, spending the time to really understand your feelings and what is going on can be an incredibly valuable tool for you. So, if you are thinking that your next step is talking about what you are going through, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow to get in touch with one of our therapists.