Let’s get one thing out of the way. The loss of a loved one changes your life forever. Despite what many well-intentioned folks might advise, there is no “getting over it” or “moving on.” So let’s put that to bed right now when talking about sleep deprivation and grief.
Part of the problem, and really all the bad advice is that grief isn’t very well understood. According to speaker Kelley Lynn, what very few people talk about is that the gnawing feelings of grief are rooted in fear.
Fear that you’re lost forever. Fear that that person will be forgotten and that their life will slip out of everyone’s mind as if they never happened. Sound familiar?
Try sleeping with that!
When you lose someone, you have to relearn your entire life. You have to relearn new ways of taking care of yourself, and sleeping is one of those things. This guide will hopefully help you unpack your own experience with bereavement and learn new ways to approach your health and well-being, which starts with getting to sleep at night.
Every single person experiences grief differently and a lot depends on your relationship with the person lost. There’s no one right way to grieve, but understanding the unique circumstances of your loss may help you find a path the healing that makes the most sense for you.
Some experts believe the grief felt by those who have dealt with the loss of a loved one by suicide is often more severe than other forms of grief. In some ways, grief after a suicide has been compared to the symptoms and effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
There may be specific setbacks that people dealing with this form of grief may have to face. One big issue could be the stigma placed on the topic of suicide, which may make it more difficult to reach out and seek help. This may also be compounded by local, cultural, or religious beliefs dealing with suicide.
Losing a parent can be a terrible thing to go through at any age. But not surprisingly, research has found that younger children are more at risk for depression and other side effects from grief after one of their parents has passed away.
As noted above, children frequently experience grief in a severe manner. One study noted that bereaved children showed a lack of interest in their former common activities and they generally experienced less positive emotion than the control group of children. However, it was noted that children with major depressive symptoms showed some signs that bereaved children did not — feelings of worthlessness and guilt.
In general, parents seem to have a difficult time identifying when their children are suffering from grief or depression. While the parents of bereaved children tended to notice fewer symptoms than the children reported themselves, bereaved parents were able to recognize more symptoms than parents of depressed children.
Some people may not be aware, but grieving does not just present itself with mental and emotional symptoms. While nightmares, loss of interest, and other emotional effects are often seen with this condition, there are many physical symptoms that are likely to occur.
Many people experience aches and pains or a general feeling of being tired and having decreased energy, which could be a consequence of sleeping less, in general. Dry mouth, difficulty breathing, and pain or tightness in the chest may also occur. Eating habits may change and some discover a sensitivity to noises.
All of these symptoms are not only partially caused by sleep deprivation, they also make getting to sleep even harder. It’s a vicious cycle that leads to the most common effect of grief on sleep: insomnia.
There are a variety of tell-tale signs that doctors think could point to a higher risk of experiencing Complicated Bereavement. People who depend on the presence of a loved one for a positive mental or emotional reward become attached to this feeling, causing them to be unable to move forward with this symbolic “reward.” Likewise, people who have historically had a difficult time dealing with other losses in their life may require extra help in coping with grief later on.
Losing sleep might be a normal thing that everyone goes through from time to time, especially in times of great distress or sadness, but that doesn’t diminish the terrible impact it can have on the body. Receiving less than 7 hours of sleep a night could increase the likelihood of diabetes, heart conditions, obesity, or anxiety. In some cases, chronic insomnia may increase the risk of certain cancers due to the disruption of the circadian rhythm and changes to the immune system and hormones.
Some may turn to sleep aids, like sleeping pills or alcohol, to attempt to self-treat chronic insomnia. This is not recommended by doctors and may be dangerous as it could lead to addiction and further sleep deprivation. Experts recommend cognitive behavioral therapy, instead.
Relying on naps and alcohol to sleep are not recommended, as they could actually cause further sleep problems. While alcohol may help you “pass out” you won’t be getting the restorative rest you need.
Exercise could be a great way to naturally induce sleep and body relaxation.
Some experts recommend journaling as a way to get out thoughts and feelings that have become disruptive. Always check with a professional to learn what is right for you.
If the loss of a co-sleeper is the cause of grief, moving the bed or purchasing new bedding could alleviate some of the symptoms.
Even your best friends do not understand what you’re going through, and it may be helpful to connect with groups online of people with similar experiences. Talking your feelings through with someone with a similar background may help your mind rest.