Loss is an unavoidable aspect of the human experience. Every year, the United States loses around 2.5 million people1 while the world loses over 60 million. Every person who passes away leaves behind an average of five close friends and family members to deal with the pain of their loss.
Grief is a universal sensation, but each person’s approach to processing it is unique. Each person’s grief process is unique; it takes time and varies from person to person. However, one in every 2.5 million2 grieving individuals has problems falling asleep. Losing a loved one can have a devastating impact on both your mental health and your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
What Is Grief?
There are five main phases of mourning that most people go through disbelief, bargaining with the devil, rage, and sadness. The stages of grief don’t necessarily follow a chronological order, and it’s normal to go through them in varying degrees of severity over the course of time4. Most people are able to accept and integrate the loss into their life after around six months when their grief begins to subside.
When Does Grief Become Complicated Grief?
However, for 10 to 15 percent of those who are grieving5, the depth of their sadness remains constant. After six months, many of these people are still experiencing significant bereavement symptoms. Complicated sorrow, extended grief disorder, or traumatic grief is all terms used to describe this type of loss. The following are some of the symptoms:
- Emotional agony that comes and goes.
- Preoccupation with the deceased and a constant desire to see them again.
- Resentment toward the deceased.
- Things that bring back memories of their deceased loved one.
- Detachment from others or a loss of faith in them.
- Non-emotional apathy
- Relative guilt.
- A feeling that a part of oneself has been gone.
Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder can coexist with complicated sorrow, but they are not the same thing (PTSD).
When a person has lost a close family member, such as a kid or spouse, their risk of developing complicated grieving doubles7. In addition to the general population, persons who have lost a loved one to cancer are more likely than others to experience the more difficult stages of mourning.
Not All Grief Is Created Equal
Everyone grieves differently, and this varies greatly based on the type of relationship you had with the person you lost. There isn’t one method to grieve correctly, but by examining the specifics of your loss, you may be able to choose the road to recovery that is most appropriate for you.
Grief after Suicide
People who have lost a loved one to suicide may experience more intense grief than those who have lost a loved one to any other kind of death. Grief following a suicide has been likened to the symptoms and repercussions of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
People who are struggling with this type of sadness may encounter obstacles. Suicide has a stigma attached to it, which could make it more difficult for those in need to seek help. In other cases, this may be exacerbated by local, cultural, or religious views on suicide.
- Grief should be handled in a way that works for you, according to grief counselors.
- The importance of having a network of friends and family is undeniable. For those who don’t have access to family or friends who can offer support, counseling and support groups may be a viable alternative.
- Healing takes time, so it’s natural to experience a few setbacks along the way. In the face of triggers like anniversary dates and reminders of the loss of a loved one, some experts recommend avoiding feelings of condemnation or shame. It’s possible that pausing or altering long-standing customs will alleviate some of these uncomfortable feelings.
Loss of a Spouse
Insomnia and sleep loss are often caused by the loss of a partner, and this type of loss may be the most common cause. For the most part, theories imply that this gap is due to a change in sleeping arrangements (no longer sharing a bed).
In the first two years after the death of a spouse, 28% of people may face an increased risk of serious depression.
People who have recently been widowed are two to three times more likely to suffer from inflammation because of sleep disruptions, according to research from Rice University and Northwestern University. A higher risk of cardiovascular disease or death may be associated with elevated inflammation.
Loss of Parents
The loss of a parent may be devastating at any age. As a result, research has shown that younger children are more likely to suffer from sadness and other emotional issues following the death of a parent.
One in twenty children under the age of 15 who have lost a parent is at risk of developing mental health difficulties.
The loss of a parent is sad for anyone, but some experts feel gender has an impact on how well children can deal with it. Men, according to some, have a more difficult time grieving the death of their fathers than women do. 3) Healing Suggestions
Relatives who have lost a loved one are advised to focus on their own skills and abilities in order to avoid feeling helpless or lost. The loss of a parent may force them to revisit unpleasant childhood experiences, and therapy may enable them to heal those scars. Some experts recommend consulting a therapist.
Children and Grief
Children, as previously said, are prone to having a particularly difficult time grieving. According to one study, children who have suffered a death in the family are less likely to engage in their usual pastimes and have lower levels of positive emotions than their counterparts in the control group. Some children with substantial depressive symptoms, on the other hand, had symptoms rarely seen in bereaved children, such as a sense of self-worthlessness and guilt.
According to the findings, 37% of grieving youngsters had suicidal thoughts.
In general, parents don’t seem to be able to tell when their children are going through a difficult moment, such as bereavement or sadness. Bereaved parents were able to recognize more symptoms than parents of depressive children, despite the fact that parents of bereaved children tended to observe fewer symptoms than their children reported.
Physical Symptoms of Grief
Grieving is not merely characterized by emotional and mental symptoms, as some people may not realize. There are several physical symptoms that can accompany this disease, including nightmares, a lack of interest, and other emotional repercussions.
It is common for people to suffer from aches and pains or an overall lack of vitality as a result of not getting enough sleep. Other symptoms to watch out for include a dry mouth, trouble breathing, and pressure in the chest. Some people’s eating habits shift, while others have an increased sensitivity to noise.
Sleep deprivation not only causes these symptoms, but also makes it more difficult to fall asleep. Grief can lead to sleeplessness, the most prevalent side effect of grief on sleep.
Complicated Grief Syndrome -What Is It?
How Grief Affects Sleep
Grieving people often complain about not getting enough sleep. More mourning feelings make it harder for people to sleep at night, and they are more likely to wake up for lengths of time after they have fallen asleep and spend a large amount of time in bed awake.
Losers are also more prone to experience middle insomnia8, which is the inability to get back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night. They can’t sleep because they’re too preoccupied with memories of the person they’ve lost. People have a hard time resting at night because of their recurring dreams about their deceased loved ones.
Often, researchers use the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) to measure sleep quality in those with sleep problems. In this self-administered quiz, the lower the score, the better one’s sleep. Poor sleep is indicated by a PSQI score of 5 or greater. Grief that is more complicated is associated with a PSQI score approximately two times higher, at 9.4410.
Sleep and Grief: A Bidirectional Relationship
Complicated grieving does not have a diagnostic trait, but poor sleep quality may raise one’s risk of acquiring it. A growing body of research shows that mourning is frequently accompanied by sleep disturbances and that the two are linked in a reciprocal way.
As many as 91% of people who have experienced complex sorrow have difficulty sleeping. Forty-six percent say they have difficulty sleeping at least three times a week because of their bereavement.
Sleep difficulties after bereavement—such as difficulty falling asleep and waking up during the night—are associated with more complicated grieving. Grief not only affects sleep, but it can also make the mourning process more difficult.
Bereaved college students, for example, had a higher risk of sleeplessness than their non-grieving classmates in one study. Moreover one in five students who had lost a loved one reported insomnia, compared to one in six students who had not. Complicated mourning was more prevalent among students with insomnia compared to those who didn’t suffer from the condition.
Spousal Bereavement and Sleep
In the United States alone, more than 800,000 elderly people lose a spouse or partner each year. These people are prone to restless sleep of poor quality. Their sleep deteriorated as their anguish worsened.
Widows and widowers may be particularly affected by the loss of a loved one because they may have shared their bed for decades. To go to sleep can feel different after a partner’s death, from nighttime rituals to the mattress itself. As a result, getting to sleep and staying asleep are more difficult tasks.
Nursing home placement and medication use are two more consequences of a spouse’s death. More than twice as many female widowers take hypnotics to help them sleep. In the two years following the death of a spouse, those who suffer from difficult grieving are more likely to acquire cancer or high blood pressure.
At any age, a lack of sleep is linked to a lower quality of life. When it comes to older people, sleep apnea doubles the chance of death.
Additional Comorbidities and Sleep
One out of every four people who have lost a spouse experience significant depression, which can linger for up to two years following the bereavement. People who are dealing with loss and depression are more likely to have a poor night’s sleep. Poor sleep is predicted by both the depth of their melancholy and the depth of their bereavement.
As a result, sleep disturbances may exacerbate the grieving process and make it even more difficult. Grieving can lead to a loss of appetite, which affects approximately 43% of people. Experiencing a loss while suffering from a physical illness increases one’s vulnerability to developing profound grief and significant depression, as well as the sleep issues that accompany these conditions.
Grieving people are more likely to have elevated inflammation levels13 than those who do not suffer from sleep disturbances as a result of the loss of a loved one. They may be at greater risk of cardiovascular disease as a result of this sort of inflammation.
In the wake of a loved one’s death, a person’s lifestyle can change significantly, resulting in a decrease in their quality of sleep. It is common for grief-stricken people to exercise less and engage in less social activities, both of which might affect their sleep. A lack of sleep can be linked to sedentary lifestyles14 and loneliness15 alone.
Dangers of Letting Insomnia Continue
Even while sleep loss is a natural occurrence for most people, it doesn’t reduce the negative effects it can have on the body. Sleep deprivation may increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and anxiety. The circadian rhythm and hormonal and immune system alterations that may occur as a result of persistent sleeplessness may raise a person’s risk of developing certain cancers.
In an attempt to address their own chronic insomnia, some people may use sleep aids such as sleeping tablets or alcohol. Neither doctors nor sleep experts advise it. It has the potential to cause addiction and additional sleep deprivation. Instead, cognitive-behavioral treatment is recommended by experts.
Treatments for Grief and Related Sleep Issues
The effects of grieving might be exacerbated by a lack of sleep. In the same way, getting enough sleep helps ease the burden of sorrow. In order to reduce symptoms, it’s common to suggest a therapy that addresses both grieving and sleep problems.
Therapeutic Treatments for Grief
Psychotherapy and medicine are two options for dealing with grief. Hypnotic medicines are prescribed to many persons who have lost a loved one due to insomnia or difficult bereavement. As a result, older persons who are mourning may be more prone to nighttime falls and injuries.
The combination of antidepressants and complicated grief therapy (CGT)16 can be an effective treatment for depression. In CGT, a therapist employs a set of methods to teach the patient how to better manage their grief-related emotions. Sleep is better for individuals who combine CGT with antidepressants than for those who take antidepressants alone. Their sleep apnea is not completely gone, but it has greatly improved. It has been found that those who have difficulty sleeping at least three times a week due to bereavement have decreased from 49% to 15%.
Complicated grief symptoms can be alleviated by both cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy, according to research17. While these treatments may help with the symptoms of complicated grieving, some research shows that they don’t necessarily improve one’s ability to fall asleep at night. As an example, a Dutch study indicated that participants who completed cognitive behavioral therapy for difficult grieving reported fewer sleep issues after therapy. Over half of the participants, on the other hand, reported sleeping worse than the normal individual.
Additional treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy tailored specifically for insomnia, may be prescribed to alleviate the sleep problems associated with mourning.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia
CBT-I, or cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, is widely accepted as a treatment that is both safe and effective. Up to eight weekly, hour-long sessions with a therapist are normal in this treatment, during which time patients explore their bad sleep habits and beliefs, and then discover new ways to deal with them. Improved sleep hygiene practices, such as:
- Keeping the room as dark, cool, and silent as possible.
- Eliminate electronic devices from your evening routine at least an hour before you turn in.
- Daytime napping should be limited.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages and caffeine after lunchtime.
- Keeping a regular exercise schedule.
Stimulus control and sleep limitation are two more components of CBT-I that have proven to be especially effective:
- Stimulus control aims to make a person’s bedroom synonymous with rest and relaxation. If the person remains awake for more than 10 minutes, they are told to get out of bed and leave the room and go to sleep somewhere.
- The goal of sleep restriction is to adhere to a rigid daily schedule based on the average amount of time spent sleeping by the individual, plus or minus 30 minutes. As an example, a person who slept for six hours would be allowed to sleep for 6.5 hours. Having a consistent sleep routine makes it easier for a person to learn to associate their mattress with the act of sleeping.
It takes time to grieve, but there are many who can assist you. Speak to your doctor if your mourning symptoms are getting worse and interfering with your sleep.
How To Sleep When You’re Grieving?
Despite our best efforts, Litsa and I have come up with a simple list of tips for getting a better night’s sleep. Please consult with your doctor or therapist, if any of the above suggestions have failed to help and your sleep is still disrupted. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you may want to seek the advice of a medical professional who can help you discover new ways to help you sleep better.
Creating a sleep-friendly atmosphere is essential to receiving the rest you need. I can think of various things in my own bedroom that leads to poor sleep, such as buzzing phones, glaring streetlights outside, and children sleeping in my bed. In all seriousness, I’m totally screwing this up. Make your sleeping quarters more conducive to sleep by removing things that keep you awake during the night. There are several ways in which you could go about this:
- Reduce the amount of light entering the room as much as possible.
- If necessary, wear earplugs and/or an eye mask.
- Avoid waking up every time you get an email by putting your phone in another room.
- Sleep in a room with plenty of fresh air.
- The ideal temperature range is 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Consider having a separate blanket for each person in the bed if evening routinely results in a fight over the blanket. Sharing a blanket can boost heat and make you more aware of your sleep partner’s every move.
- Comfortable bedding is essential. Good bedding includes a high-quality mattress, pillows, and comforters. This is a good place to start.
- Find a source of white noise if you don’t already have one. Box fans are so soothing to those of us who grew up without air conditioning that we can no longer sleep without them. To help you sleep, white noise shuts out sudden changes in sound, which many of us are programmed to pay attention to during the REM cycle (like mothers of newborns).
- Do not engage in any activity that is exciting, frustrating, or anxiety-inducing in your bed or bedroom. If you want your body and mind to link the bed with sleep, you need to get them used to it.
When There’s An Empty Side of the Bed…
Sadly, for some who have lost a companion, the empty side of the bed can bring up terrible memories and tough emotions. You can, of course, reorganize the space, purchase a new bed, or find a new place to stay in the house. Some people might benefit from this, but for others, the experience of sharing a bed with someone goes much beyond the quality of the sheets and the furniture placement.
Those who have lost a significant other must learn to adjust to the fact that they will have to sleep alone. Allowing the dog to sleep on your bed while you are away is an option, but make sure the dog is wearing a body pillow. However, comfort can be found even in the most unlikely locations. It has also been said that sleeping on the deceased’s side of the bed might help grieving widows and widowers feel closer to their loved one’s spirits.
Routine and Ritual:
Routine is something I despise, therefore I attempt to make it seem like it doesn’t exist. According to scientists, setting up a bedtime ritual is an efficient approach to notify the brain that it’s time to wind down and get ready for sleep.
Rituals may include things like reading a chapter in a book, snuggling with your partner or a furry friend, taking a warm bath, journaling, listening to calming music, meditating, and doing whatever it is that you do to maintain your lovely appearance. A regular bedtime and wake-up time might also be beneficial to your sleep cycle.
The Dos and Don’ts of a Good Night’s Sleep
- When you’re tired, go to bed.
- During the day, engage in some type of moderate physical activity. However, it is best to avoid exercising in the hours leading up to sleep.
- You can incorporate a cup of caffeine-free herbal tea into your pre-bedtime routine.
- Meditate! YouTube is a great place to get step-by-step tutorials.
- In the last hour before going to sleep, engage in activities that are calming and relaxing.
- Late-day snoozes are best. In fact, it’s possible that you should stay away from them entirely.
- In any way other than sleeping, use the bed.
- Consume caffeinated beverages at night or even during the day. Caffeine’s impact on sleep can be found in these two articles.
- Before going to sleep, smoke a cigarette (or at all).
- Tobacco is a stimulant, and it can disrupt sleep.
- Before going to sleep, have a drink. While a glass of wine may help you unwind and drift off to sleep, your sleep cycle may be disrupted as your body attempts to break down the alcohol, resulting in a sleepless night.
- 1-2 hours before night, expose yourself to strong light from bright lights and technological devices.
- As a result, melatonin (the body’s natural sleep molecule) may be suppressed due to these strong lights.
When You Can’t Sleep…
- Relaxation exercises are a good place to start.
- Spend 30-60 minutes in a darker area after getting out of bed. Try journaling or reading a book about what you’re going through.
- You’ve probably heard the saying, “Never go to bed a madman.” There may be some truth to the idea of trying to address the issues that keep you awake at night, but it isn’t without its risks.
- Things to do, mend, or settle is what many people think about as they lie in bed.
- Afraid you’ll have nightmares or having nightmares right now? Observe how you’re dealing with stress, anxiety, fear, and trauma. Some of this will go away as you deal with the loss… You may also wish to see a counselor or read this book if you continue to have nightmares.
- Something cerebral or peaceful may help settle your mind when your head is rushing or if you’re plagued by bad ideas. Think up a girl’s name for every letter of the alphabet, or count backward from 1000 by threes. My own go-to trick, which I can’t back up with any evidence, is this:
- Whenever I find myself unable to sleep, I concoct a daydream-like scenario in my thoughts that have nothing to do with any of the current sources of anxiety, stress, or excitement in my life. Imagining myself as a Broadway star at the age of 33, I find myself falling asleep before the curtain even rises.
- Although it sounds ridiculous, it’s a common method of dealing in today’s society.
- Take a look at sleepfoundation.org.
- You might want to take into account CBT.
- Your doctor can help you.