During the pandemic, it is imperative that we get the proper sleep that our bodies need and deserve!
The Importance of Sleep When Grieving
Grieving is a process of coping with the loss of someone or something significant to us that is no longer with us. While grief is a universal experience, we all go through this experience differently.
Your internal body clock operates on the circadian rhythm, a 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Your circadian rhythm is regulated by light and dark rhythms. As the night falls, the pineal gland in the brain receives information about the state of dark from the environment and increases the hormone melatonin production, which helps you fall asleep.
Sleep is a vital function that revitalizes our body and mind, helping us feel rested and refreshed when we wake up. Without sleep, our body and brain cannot work correctly. Sleep promotes sense and body restoration and mood regulation. It helps strengthen the immune system and clean the brain of toxins that build up during the day.
A chronic lack of sleep increases the risk of chronic physical disorders, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, stroke, and obesity. Sleep deprivation can affect your coordination and balance, making you prone to accidents and injuries.[iii]
The Implications of Grief
As our reaction to a life change that we didn’t want, grief affects all aspects of our lives, destabilizes our coping mechanisms, and has severe implications for our well-being.
Most people experience acute grief that occurs in the first six to twelve months after a loss and gradually quiets down. However, some people experience complicated or persistent grief, which continues longer than twelve months.[i]
Grief, especially when it is persistent, can have a detrimental impact on mental and physical health. Research shows that grief can affect the hormonal function and immune system, increase the risk of high blood pressure, and cause cardiac problems.[ii]
Grieving can also trigger chronic stress, depression, anxiety, feelings of anger, aches and pains, loss of appetite, and sleep problems. Yes, sleep problems. Many can become sleep deprived during grief.
The Link Between Grief and Sleep
Research shows a direct link between lack of sleep and aggravated grief response because sleep deprivation is a risk factor for depression. Many studies have found that grief can lead to major depression and that lack of sleep aggravates depression symptoms in someone who is grieving.
In fact, there is a bidirectional connection between grief and sleep. A disturbing experience of grief can profoundly disrupt your sleep patterns. It can cause feelings of anxiety and sadness that interfere with the regular sleep routine.[iv]
But sleep can influence grieving too. When you are sleep-deprived, your grief may intensify. In other words, quality sleep promotes a normal grieving process as it helps process and heal your emotions and adapt to changes in your life triggered by loss.
The Importance of Sleep in Preventing and Alleviating Mental Health Problems
Sleep deprivation can compromise your ability to focus, make decisions, and solve problems. A lack of sleep can impair your ability to think clearly, concentrate, process memories, control emotions, cope with grief, and keep illness at bay.[v]
Studies show that sleep problems often develop before the major depression. Also, depressed patients who experience insomnia and other sleep-related disturbances are less likely to respond well to therapy than those without sleep issues. At the same time, depressed patients with insomnia are more likely to think about suicide and commit suicide than patients without sleep problems. [vi]
How to Get Quality Sleep When You Are Grieving
Although grief makes sleeping hard, you need quality sleep to endure the grieving process and heal. The Holy Bible states that it is vain to not get the proper rest because you are up stirring into the ceiling, counting sheep.
Here are five strategies to improve your sleep habits and environment while you are grieving.
1. Creating healthy sleep habits and routines that can improve your sleep quality and give you the much-needed strength to cope with your loss. Go to bed at the same time every night!
2. Set standard pre-bed patterns to calm body and mind e.g., mindfulness meditation, prayer, reading, and relaxation techniques to having a sleep time cup of herbal chamomile tea.
3. Limit alcohol use and caffeine late in the day and at night. Avoid using electronic devices or watching television in bed which is my guilty pleasure. Research shows that using electronic devices before bed affects circadian rhythm, suppressing melatonin release and making it harder to prepare for sleep.
4. Ensure that your bed is comfortable, block noise and light, and set a pleasant bedroom temperature. Unfortunately, environmental factors affect the quality of our sleep!
5. Take a warm bath with Epsom salts, dead sea salts or essential oils to relax you so that you can get a good night sleep.
Seek Professional Help
Even though grief is a normal reaction to loss, many people have difficulties dealing with loss independently. Support and help can come from many resources, including your family, friends, support groups, and mental health professionals. A thanatologist, grief counselor, grief specialist, or psychiatrist can all help you understand and express your emotions to prevent prolonged or complicated grief or major depressive disorder.
[i]https://www.mhanational.org/bereavement-and-grief [ii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1112778/ [iii] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/why-do-we-need-sleep [iv] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2826218/ [v] https://www.sleephelp.org/mood-emotions-sleep/ [vi] https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health