While there are many signs and symptoms of grieving (see, “Allowing Grief to Run Its Course”) there is one that seems every griever has in common – difficulty sleeping. This can mean having trouble falling asleep, or being able to fall asleep but then waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to go back to sleep. It’s an especially frustrating symptom as a lack of sleep only serves to contribute to the weariness a griever is already feeling.
Grief is an exhausting process. A person who has lost a loved one will find their every waking moment filled with thoughts about their loss.
It can be in the form of questions….could I have done more? Or tried harder? Or saw a different doctor or sought treatment sooner? Or, what if I never let him leave the house that night? Should I have tried harder to get her to stop smoking? Or take better care of herself? Should I have seen the signs that he was doing so poorly?
Mixed in with the questions from the past, are the future worries. What comes next? Where will I go from here? How am I supposed to go on? How can I go to work and take care of the rest of my family now? Who is going to take care of me?
And finally, sleep can elude the griever as they find themselves consumed with the sights and sounds encountered leading up to their loved one’s death. Reliving what their loved one looked like in their final days, the sounds of their breathing or of their suffering. If the loss wasn’t following a long illness, the trauma can come from remembering the phone call that came, or the atmosphere of the hospital when they were told the news.
While these thoughts and worries exhaust the griever all day long, the night brings no respite. In fact, the quiet and lack of other distractions can mean that many people find themselves staring at a dark ceiling each night, as their body begs for sleep but their thoughts won’t allow it.
Problem is, a good night’s sleep is a crucial part of our well being, and as the mind and body try to heal from grief it is even more important. And yet, it is often overlooked as an important part of what it takes to help a griever begin to feel themselves again and move forward.