When a person is grieving, it is critical that they get good sleep. Quality sleep is important because it allows the brain and body to rest, restore, and consolidate new information – something the brain is doing constantly when a person is grieving. I recently participated as a client in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia. Prior to this specific type of therapy it would take me 2+ hours to fall asleep and I would wake up in the middle of the night for hours. These are some tips and tricks that helped me break that cycle and be able to fall asleep within 30 minutes and go back to sleep quickly when I awaken in the middle of the night.
“There is a difference between being tired and being sleepy.”
The bed is only for sleep and sex. Do not watch TV, play on your phone, read, etc. Also, do not spend time in bed grieving. Often we go to our bed for comfort when we are feeling anxious, sad, worried, etc. By doing this we are unconsciously sending a signal to our brain that the bed is where we go to grieve instead of to sleep. So find another comfortable place to experience those feelings or to do other activities so that your brain only associates the bed with sleep and/or sex.
Only go to bed when you are feeling sleepy. There is a difference between being tired and being sleepy. Tired is when you’re feeling drained of energy. Sleepy is when you could close your eyes and fall asleep. When I am feeling tired at night, I brush my teeth, get my water, and do any other pre-bedtime activities, then I lay on the couch until I am sleepy. That way, when I feel sleepy I can go directly to bed.
Find something soothing to listen to as you fall asleep. It’s very difficult for me to go to sleep when it’s silent because my mind starts working. So I prefer to listen to Yoga Nidra Vidya meditations on the Insight Timer app. This app is free and there are a wide selection of all types of meditations. You could also listen to sleep stories, soothing music, or night time sounds on your favorite app.
If you can’t fall asleep within 20-30 minutes, get out of bed. That goes for when you wake up in the middle of the night, too. Tossing and turning in bed only causes anxiety and frustration, and you don’t want your brain to associate those feelings with the bed. So get up and go to the couch or a comfy chair. Wait until you are sleepy again and then try going back to bed.
Try to wake up at the same time each day. If you’re having trouble waking up, grab your blanket and go sit in a comfy chair or couch to help you wake up. Maybe you buy your favorite type of coffee or tea as an incentive to wake up at the same time. This is probably the hardest step, but the goal is to retrain your body’s circadian rhythm, which amazingly only takes about 30 days to do.
“Make time to rest during the day if you need it, but try to not nap so that it’s easier to fall asleep at night.”
Journal during the day. A lot of times our brain begins to work overtime when we are trying to go to sleep. Having a journal, ideally paper and pen but you could also have an electronic one, helps your brain get out all of the thoughts and feelings so that they don’t churn over and over in your mind. Remember you’re not writing an essay, so you don’t have to worry how your writing sounds. In fact, you don’t even have to read what you wrote. Try to journal during the day instead of at night so that your brain doesn’t start working overtime when you are trying to wind down.
Try to not take naps during the day. Again, you’re working on retraining your body’s circadian rhythm, and naps can interrupt that. Definitely make time to rest during the day if you need it, but try to not nap so that it’s easier to fall asleep at night.
I hope some or all of these tips help you get a better night’s rest. If you’re struggling with any of these steps or need a place to talk through your grief so you can get a better night’s rest, please contact me to set up a free consultation.