Everyone copes with grief in their own ways, and everyone displays different symptoms and signs of this feeling. But, there are some common symptoms that many people experience, especially when they are suffering from complicated grief. These symptoms can be both mental and physical, and you may experience one or more of these symptoms while grieving.
Some symptoms of grief include:
- Recurrent emotional pain
- Anger or sadness over the loved one’s death
- Emotional numbness
- Joint pain
- Loneliness or isolation
- Impaired immune system
- Trouble concentrating
Keep in mind that this is by no means a comprehensive list of all of the symptoms individuals who are grieving may face, but it offers an idea of some of the symptoms you may experience.
The Stages of Sleep
Before you can really understand how grief may affect your sleep, you need to understand how exactly the sleep cycle works. So, here are the three stages of sleep.
- Light sleep – helps regulate metabolism, process memories, and perform physical maintenance on your body. This stage accounts for approximately 50% of your sleep each night.
- Deep sleep – helps repair your body through cellular rebuilding and repair. This stage of sleep typically occurs in the earlier half of your night.
- REM sleep – helps with memory and emotion regulation and is when dreaming occurs. Many issues that cause sleep loss cut into your REM stage because this stage typically only occurs in the later half of your night.
How Grief May Affect Your Sleep
Now, you may wonder, what does grief have to do with sleep? Well, as noted above in the symptoms of grief, grief can affect both the mental and physical aspects of an individual. Unfortunately, some of the ways that grief is known for affecting us can dramatically interrupt our ability to sleep peacefully at night.
When we constantly worry about things, combat intrusive thoughts and images, and are exposed to reminders of our loss, we are much less likely to experience restful sleep. Unfortunately, without restful sleep, it is much harder to recover from emotionally (and physically) taxing experiences like the ones that many grief symptoms can subject us to.
If this seems like a never-ending cycle, well, it is. The relationship between grief and insomnia is commonly noted to be bi-directional. This basically means that grief can lead to poor sleep, and poor sleep can lead to more difficulty dealing with the grieving process.
How Insomnia Affects Your Health
You’ve likely heard about how important sleep is for your health time and time again from doctors, parents, and really anyone who hears that you spent most of your school years pulling overnighters and drinking coffee or energy drinks non-stop.
As much as we all hate to admit it, those people are absolutely right (the ones horrified at your lack of sleep habits, not the constant coffee drinkers). When we sleep, our bodies carry out a number of necessary functions, such as emotional processing and physical repairing of the damage that our bodies take during the day. Insomnia cuts into the amount of time that you can sleep, which cuts into your body’s available time to carry out these essential functions.
If left unaddressed, insomnia can lead to immune system compromisation, depression, increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, as well as increased inflammation in the body.
Tips for Getting Restful Sleep
Luckily, our bodies want to get sleep. This means, with some extra attention on our ends, we can typically break this seemingly never-ending cycle of grief and poor sleep. So, here we will explore some tips you can use to get more restful sleep.
Make a Routine
Routines are excellent. Our brains love patterns. Set a bedtime routine. And yes, it can (and should) include a bedtime — they’re not only for kids, you know! Maybe spend some time before bed writing in your journal, doing some relaxing reading or painting, or just unplugging and allowing yourself to reflect on your day. Maybe include a night-time skincare routine in there too! We can all use a bit of pampering, and what better way to wind down after a long day than with s mini spa treatment?
Ditch the Screens
The blue light emitted from our phones, tablets, computers, and other electronic devices can actually mess up our body’s natural sleep rhythm. These lights mimic daylight — which messes with the melatonin production in our bodies and makes us feel less tired. So, try turning off your screens an hour before bed.
This is a great way to kickstart your nighttime routine, by the way, since it forces you to find something relaxing and enjoyable to do for a whole hour before you actually get to sleep!
We know the last thing on your mind while you are grieving is exercise. But your doctors are right, exercise is not only an incredibly effective way to tire yourself out, but the endorphins released while you do it can also help to relieve the stress and negative feelings you may be experiencing as well.
So, dust off those running shoes or that set of dumbells you have sitting in the corner of your office. If you are really not a fan of more intensive exercise, try just getting out for a walk around the block or doing some yoga.
Avoid Eating too Much Before Bed
Eating large meals right before bed can lead to uncomfortable and interrupted sleep. Similarly, drinking alcohol or caffeine before bed can make it harder to sleep (or stay asleep), so avoiding these before bed is generally the best way to ensure you are setting yourself up for a good night of sleep.
Give Your Bedroom a Makeover
Maybe your bedroom is always a little too bright for sleeping, or maybe your electronics are charging next to your bed. Try to make your bedroom optimized for sleeping. If you can, remove some of your electronics, so you aren’t tempted to scroll through social media when you wake up at night. Upgrade your curtains to block out more light if you notice you aren’t getting enough sleep due to the sun or lights outside.
Talk to a Therapist
If you’ve already tried the tips we included above and you are still having trouble sleeping, it may be time to consult a therapist. A therapist can help you overcome your grief as well as work on more personalized ways to treat your insomnia. Your therapist can help you find ways to better regulate your emotions and deal with the source of your grief so that you can move on from it. Similarly, they can help you learn new techniques for combatting insomnia and help you craft the right strategy for your needs so that you can have the restful sleep your body needs.