There are many reasons for sleeplessness, but losing a loved one sits at the top of the charts of stressful life experiences. Stress, depression, and anxiety are the major contributing factors of insomnia which, unfortunately, bridges a direct connection between losing a loved one and sleep deprivation.
That said, how do you sleep after losing a loved one? The first thing to do is determine how long you have had insomnia. If it’s longer than 6 to 12 weeks, the best course of action is to professionally seek cognitive-behavioral therapy. This form of psychotherapeutic treatment is specifically designed to deal with insomnia, depression, and anxiety; all of which go hand in hand with grieving loss. If it’s less than 6-12 weeks, forming specific positive daily habits, a nighttime routine, and a variety of at-home therapy methods is the most essential path to take in order to overcome insomnia.
As someone who has struggled with insomnia due to losing a loved one, I know that hearing “daily habits” and “nighttime routine” may not be the quick-fix miracle that we all wish were in existence. It takes time, patience, and a lot of dedication to form healthy habits and routines; many people give up after a month or so after feeling defeated, convincing themselves that nothing will ever work, and that they will never stop grieving their lost loved one. It’s a long road to feeling normal again, and sleep deprivation doesn’t make it any easier.
One thing that is helpful to keep in mind is that not many rewarding breakthroughs in life come easy. However, if you work hard, remain hopeful, and stay consistent in practicing at-home therapy and a new routine, you may find yourself a sufficient night’s sleep again before you know it. Thankfully, the ways you can cope with losing a loved one and being able to sleep again are abundant.
What Are The First Steps In Sleeping Again After Losing a Loved One?
Personally, I believe that all of the following steps are of equal importance and value, so which one you choose to implement first is for you to decide. It may feel difficult to know where to begin, as losing a person or pet can turn your entire world upside down. Not only does it have an effect on every aspect of your life—mental, emotional, physical, spiritual—but when it disrupts your sleep, all of those facets are impacted even further. Insomnia effects everything from our immune system, to mood, to overall functionality. Whichever method speaks to you first is ideally the one you should start practicing with.
It may feel as though overcoming the grieving period is impossible. You switch back and forth between anxiety and depression constantly, and often times something as simple as going outside is taxing and completely out of reach for you. The most important thing to remember is to not isolate yourself from your friends, family, and co-workers. An incredibly healthy way to grieve is to share your feelings and hardships with someone who is also suffering the loss, or knows how it feels to have lost someone. Communication is a key factor.
Everyone’s grieving period is different; some people bounce back right away, some people take months, and some even take years. Keep in mind that there is no official timeframe for how long it should take you to heal, and that it’s okay to take longer than others around you. Though there isn’t an exact number of minutes, hours, or days, make sure that you allow yourself to grieve in the first place. Internalizing your emotions and not giving yourself any time to accept losing someone will only result in further sleeplessness, as bottled up emotions tend to run through our minds more if we don’t release them.
Journaling before bed is one of the ways that helped me through my grieving and insomnia period, and I still do it to this day. Write out all of your thoughts for the day; what various emotions you’ve ran through, memories with your lost one that you can’t ignore, things that you hope to find the energy to do again. This is an efficient way of compartmentalizing your thoughts and decluttering your brain before bed.
Redecorating and rearranging your bedroom can also be helpful in coping with your loss. If you happened to have shared your room with the one you’ve lost, your bedroom will be a constant reminder of when they were still with you. This is exceptionally hard for healing, as well as trying to clear your mind when attempting to sleep. A fresh “new” bedroom will help you move forward and eliminate another layer of depression just before bed.
Forming Positive Daily Habits and a Nighttime Routine
As mentioned, new habits take time. They take effort and discipline to stick to, but the benefits of these habits and a new routine are well worth it. Often times, people fail because they get in a bad habit of mentally convincing themselves that nothing is going to help them get over this and back to a normal sleep cycle. Hours are spent awake in bed, you’re checking your phone for the time and it’s getting later and later—which FURTHER convinces you that you’ll never get through this—and your mentality of failure eventually becomes reality.
Instead of training your brain to believe you will never sleep again, train your brain to run off of the same daily routine and to know when it’s time to shut off for bedtime. It’s essential to keep your daily habits and routine to a consistent schedule everyday, so that your brain and body learn what to expect at a specific time; most importantly, when to communicate with each other that it’s time to fall asleep.
Here are a few daily habits that may help you sleep again after losing a loved one:
- Follow a regular sleep schedule. This means going to bed and waking up at the exact same time everyday – yes, including weekends. It may be difficult at first if you have insomnia until 5 AM and your schedule is to wake up at 7 AM, but eventually, your body will expect bedtime at a specific hour and condition itself to know that’s when it’s time to fall asleep.
- Spend time with family and friends. Isolating yourself can and will lead to depression, which is a massive contributing factor to insomnia.
- Stick to a healthy diet and exercise regimen. When we treat our bodies well, our bodies treat us well in return.
- Avoid electronics 1-2 hours before getting into bed. If you have the option, dim all the lights in your house after 6 or 7 pm. Allow your brain to associate darkness with sleep.
- Physical relaxation methods: take a bath, practice breathing exercises and meditation, read a book, listen to soothing music or sleep sounds (such as ocean waves, birds chirping, or white noise)
- Avoid using alcohol or drugs as a coping method
- Go for a walk, run, or bike ride (just get outdoors) every day at the same time
In relation, here are some suggestions for a nighttime routine. Again, by “routine”, I mean to do these at the same time every night:
- Journaling! As previously mentioned, keeping a grief journal can really help you heal through the process as well as clear your mind before bed by externalizing your thoughts. This is one of my favorite methods of at-home therapy and I highly recommend it.
- Set thermostat between 60-68 degrees – research has shown that this is the body’s ideal range of temperature to fall asleep in.
- Avoid using electronics in the bedroom. Even your cell phone should be put on silent and away from bed’s reach at the same exact time every night.
- Aromatherapy meditation. There are many, many apps that help you learn and practice meditating; shop around and find the one that works best for you. Incorporate this in with essential oils known for relaxation, such as lavender.
- Block out light
- Form a nightly ritual of having an herbal, calming tea at the same time every night. Close to bedtime, but not too close that you’ll have to disrupt your sleep by getting up to empty your bladder.
- Use soft earplugs or a white noise machine to cancel out any excess noise
- Avoid doing anything stimulating or stressful right before bed
- Read a chapter or two from a book at the same time every night – the same amount of reading every time, no more and no less.
- Practice exercising your brain after the lights are out, in a way that isn’t stimulating. Count down from 1000, or go through the alphabet in your head and think of an animal or a name associated with that letter.
100% of sleep experts recommend and strongly urge establishing a bedtime routine and sticking to it every single night, to properly train the brain to biologically know when it’s time to wind down and expect to sleep.
It is important to find a routine that you can easily go about; not only can it train you to fall back into a normal sleep cycle, but creating a new routine to look forward to everyday may also take your mind off of the loved one you’ve lost, which will ease your depression and anxiety which will allow you to fall asleep easier.
My Sleep Deprivation Has Lasted Longer Than 6-12 Weeks. When Is It Time To Seek Professional Help, And What Is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a form of psychotherapeutic treatment designed to help patients with depression, anxiety, and other main culprits linked to insomnia. Therapists work with their patients to acknowledge which thoughts and behavioral patterns are the main sources for encouraging insomnia and anxiety, including other psychological nervous disorders. They use a series of questions and tests to pinpoint the exact problem that’s causing the patient’s emotional or mental distress, and work with them using mental exercises to help replace the negative thoughts with positive and healthier ones.
Many studies show that CBT has a high success rate, and this treatment is a great professional method to take if your sleeplessness from losing a loved one has lasted for longer than 6 weeks. One of the most common mental blocks that heightens insomnia is thinking about the fact that you have insomnia to begin with, which elevates anxiety. CBT therapists focus on and specialize in getting you out of that mindset and convincing yourself that you will overcome your grief and insomnia.
Onwards And Upwards
No matter which way you slice it, the aftermath of losing someone is one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome. There is no proven cure or remedy that works for every single person, as we all grieve differently and at various paces. The most important things to remember are to allow yourself to grieve—you have to accept it before you can move forward—and that this is temporary; emotions and feelings will get easier over time.
Establishing new habits, a new routine, and practicing different methods of therapy have been effective in guiding people through the healing process for many generations, even those who feel or have felt like all hope is lost. Concurrently, these methods of healing serve as a bridge to the next chapter of your life; one that can include sleeping soundly once again.
It’s hard to see the bright side in the situation of losing your loved ones, but think of it as a bittersweet beginning. You can take this as an opportunity to grow in multiple areas of your life. Once you get through this, you will be emotionally stronger and more equipped to handle it in the unfortunate circumstance of having to go through it again in the future. Dedicating yourself to new habits is a surefire way to grow mentally, and, who knows? Perhaps you’ll discover a new passion or hobby along the way.