Sleep and Grief
Tips and Tricks to Get the Rest You Need
Submitted by Mattress Nerd
After a loss, sleep may be the furthest thing from your mind–or, you might find yourself trapped in bed. Grief is tricky. It affects everyone differently, and even for the same person, responses to grief can vary from one loss to the next.
This one may sound obvious. Most people recognize that grief typically accompanies death; whether that may be the loss of a loved one, pet loss, the loss of a friend, or someone else in your life, grief is typically an expected response.
But there are numerous other losses people experience which can also cause grief. Loss of a job, an opportunity, or other financial loss. Loss of a home, a car, or other possessions. Even–and maybe especially–those that carry sentimental, rather than financial value. Loss of health or ability, when you or someone you know is diagnosed with a terminal or chronic illness or injury, can also cause grief. Clearly, it’s more common than most people expect or realize.
Grief is a normal, natural reaction to loss. Everyone will experience it at some point in their lives. However, there are a lot of misconceptions about what grief is, where it comes from, and what it looks like.
Most people have heard of the “Five Stages of Grief,” originally developed by Elisabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While these stages are a great starting point, more recent studies find that the five stages don’t necessarily cover it. For example, some people may go through all of these stages, and some may only experience some of them, or maybe even none of them; for some, grieving looks completely different than these. Also, few people actually experience the stages in this order, and it’s even possible to move back and forth between them.
Another misconception is that grief is something we eventually “get over” or “move on from.” In fact, it’s very possible and even common, that grief is a lifelong process. While the intensity of emotions present in grief may lessen in time, most people still experience them now and then over the course of their life. There’s no “normal” length of time for someone to grieve, either. It may last for weeks, months, years… In short, grief is a unique experience for everyone.
Still, there are a few more common symptoms or experiences that can indicate that you, or someone you know, is in the grief process:
While all of the above symptoms can be tough to manage, sleep problems can make the other symptoms even worse. Maintaining a good balance between lack of sleep, and too much sleep, can be especially tricky. You might have a hard time falling asleep, consumed by thoughts about the loss. You might have a hard time staying asleep, or have other sleep disturbances, due to nightmares or a disrupted sleep cycle. Especially if you find yourself sleeping too much, which can really knock sleep cycles off track, resulting in less restful sleep, or trouble falling asleep at your typical bedtime.
And sleep deprivation can be a serious problem, especially when it becomes chronic, or long-lasting. Cognitive or mental functioning can break down. You may become more forgetful, have difficulty concentrating, have a hard time making decisions, and be more easily overwhelmed by emotions. Speaking of emotions, mood changes and stress can also come from sleep disturbances. And, physically speaking, sleep problems can weaken the immune system, and even contribute to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer.
Given the seriousness of these symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor as soon as you notice the problem to ensure you are getting the right amount of sleep. Your primary care provider or PCP can diagnose and treat most sleep disturbances. You might also consider seeing a sleep specialist if insomnia or other sleep issues are not responding to treatment. And, especially if the sleep disturbances are linked to grief, seeing a psychologist or mental health counselor can help. In fact, treating sleep and mood issues, including grief, with a combination of medication and counseling is much more effective than either medication or counseling alone.
If getting in to see a doctor is not financially feasible, or if you’re unable to get an appointment immediately, there are a few recommendations for strategies you can try at home.
Grief can be a terrible experience. But it doesn’t have to be a sleepless one. These tips, tricks and resources can help make sure you get the right amount of sleep, but if they don’t, make sure you see your doctor or therapist. You don’t have to go it alone.