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Sleep Tips

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Sleep is often disrupted by grief, for many reasons. Anxiety, sorrow, anger and a host of other emotions are churning within you. Your sleep might already have been disturbed by months of care-giving. Living everyday in the unknown territory of life without your loved one can kick your adrenal system up several notches. While sleeplessness is a natural result of grief, lack of sleep can also interfere with the grief process, which takes time and uses a lot of our energy.

While medical sleep aids can be helpful for some in the short run, they can have side-effects and other consequences. Any sleep medications should be used in close consultation with your physician.

Besides the physical rest, our well-being depends on being able to sleep long enough to have complete R.E.M. cycles. These occur in 90 minute cycles throughout the sleep time. These cycles are how we dream, and whether or not we remember these dreams, they are where we process our daily lives, our struggles, emotions, hopes, and fears. To dream is an important part of our grief work.

There are many non-medical ways to enhance sleep. The following are some tips culled from several articles and web-sites. Google “sleep tips” for a wealth of sites that discuss sleeplessness and suggestions for longer, sounder sleep.

  • Avoid caffeine later in the day.
  • Avoid alcohol later in the day, especially an hour before bedtime. While a “nightcap” can help some fall asleep initially, it interferes with the second half of sleep, resulting in awakening from dreams, difficulty returning to sleep, daytime fatigue and sleepiness.
  • Avoid nicotine, which is a stimulant.
  • Eat a sensible dinner earlier in the evening, and have a light snack before bedtime.
  • Some snacks that help induce sleep are half a turkey or peanut butter sandwich, a banana, some whole-grain low-sugar cereal or granola with low-fat milk or yogurt.
  • A cup of warm milk or chamomile tea can be relaxing.
  • Exercise moderately during the day, but not right before bed.
  • A warm bath is very soothing and helps your tensed muscles start to relax. Some experts suggest that a shower can be too stimulating.
  • Lavender scent is an age-old solution for sleeplessness. Many stores sell lavender sachets, linen sprays, oils, etc. If you don’t like lavender, find a scent that does help you feel relaxed or comforted. Never go to sleep with a candle, oil, or incense burning.
  • An herbal eye-mask can soothe as well as keep out distracting light.
  • A nightlight can help reduce anxiety, or try an electric candle with comforting prayers or a large-print prayer nearby. Visualize where on the earth the sun is shining at that moment.
  • So many experts advise against having the television on, or even in the bedroom. While many people have the T.V. for companionable noise, that very noise, as well as the light, interferes with sleep. The flashing, amplified commercials, and subject matter of whatever is on works on us even if we do manage to fall asleep, and interrupts our sleep and dream cycles.
  • Keep the bedroom, and especially the bed, for sleep. Be sure the temperature is comfortable for you. See that it is well-ventilated, without being drafty. Our bodies are sensitive to light, so draw the shades to block out street lights or early morning sun.
  • Work with your grief during the day. Sometimes it’s so painful that we try to shut it out with busyness and distractions. Then, when we fall into bed exhausted at night, the thoughts and feelings we kept at bay earlier come flooding in at the first chance. Journaling, thinking, allowing cleansing tears to flow during the day can make it easier to sleep at night.
  • To help ease anxiety and cope with the confusion that comes with grief, make a list for the next day, then let it go.
  • Read something light before bedtime. Avoid reading or watching news or anything else violent and disturbing.
  • Visualize a beautiful, restful scene. Listen to guided imagery, peaceful music, or soothing nature sounds. Many stores now sell such CD’s. Hallmark has a large line, as well as other companies. A “white noise” machine can be helpful.
  • Deep-breathing exercises, massage, or yoga at any time of day are some ways of relaxing overwrought muscles.
  • Keeping a bedtime routine, including regular times, cues the body to start relaxing and preparing itself to sleep.
  • If you awaken during the night and don’t have to use the bathroom, try staying in bed for at least 15 minutes. If you really can’t get back to sleep right away, do a quiet activity, keeping the lights dim.
The internet offers many helpful grief sites, some with chat rooms. Many others besides you are grieving in the night. Knowing that other mourners are likely also on-line can reduce that terrible sense of isolation. With the care and caution you would always exercise while exploring the web, search for a site where you can find ideas and support 24/7. Here are some helpful links:, and