After my long-term partner passed away, it was incredibly difficult for me to sleep.
The first few nights my mind just raced and wouldn’t slow down. In efforts to calm me down, I was prescribed some medicated sleep aids. They worked, but made me groggy and cranky. I also had the added anxiety that I’d develop a dependence on them if I kept using them.
So instead of continuing to rely on the medications, I set out to figure out ways I could improve my sleep quality without them.
Through my research, I learned it’s very common to experience a change in sleeping patterns following a crisis or loss. Some people experience it as insomnia, where their mind is racing and they have difficulty not only settling down but staying asleep once they finally fall off.
Others may experience it as extreme fatigue, where it’s difficult for them to stay awake. Bad dreams, intrusive thoughts and heightened anxiety only add to the issue.
You may not be getting enough sleep if you find yourself getting easily overwhelmed, having a low tolerance for frustration, irritable, angry, hostile, depressed, more emotional, negative, less social, hungrier and having a weakened immune system.
7 to 8 hours is an ideal goal to get your sleep back on track. Here’s a few things you can try to help you get more immediately and therefore start feeling better sooner.
A good night’s sleep starts with the environment in which you do it. Here are a few ways to improve yours.
Is your room dark enough to promote restful sleep? If not, you may want to try either room darkening shades, or purchase a sleeping mask to help shut the light out.
Leaving phones and other electronic devices out of your room can help promote better sleep by providing less distractions, as well as eliminating the “blue light” that’s been proven to keep people up later unnecessarily.
Is your room well ventilated? 60-80 degrees is ideal.
Is your bed comfortable? If not, you may want to consider investing in a new mattress, pillows or blankets.
White noise is helpful for some people who have difficulty sleeping. If you find you instantly nod out on an airplane or if you’re in a room with an air-conditioner whirring, this could be helpful for you.
There are white noise machines specifically for this purpose, or even phone and device apps that can accomplish the same thing.
If you’ve lost your sleeping partner due to divorce or death, this can be a difficult experience to get used to. When you are so used to falling asleep with someone besides you, it can make it much more difficult to learn how to do so without them.
To help with this, some people may redesign their bedroom to change the environment. For others, purchasing a body pillow may help. Do what feels right for you.
If you do not already have a bedtime routine, now is a good time to create one for yourself. When creating your own, make one that feels right for you.
This could mean dimming the lights at a certain time, relaxing with an evening bath, reading a good book, catching up with a loved one, journaling, listening to music or meditating are useful things to add to your routine and help promote useful sleep.
- Try not to nap. It won’t help you get back on a regular schedule, especially in times of stress.
- Use your bed for anything besides sleep. Watch TV in your living room until you’re back on track.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages in the afternoon & evening.
- Try not to smoke, especially before bed. Nicotine can really disrupt your sleep patterns.
- Try not to drink alcohol before bed. While that glass of red wine may help wind you down, your body will have a harder time processing it while you’re asleep, making it less restful.
- Stay away from bright lights including the TV & devices. They trick your body into not producing melatonin, which you need in order to feel sleepy.
- If you can, try not to take medication. Some sleep medications can cause addictions. Alternatives include trying these suggestions, or a natural supplement like melatonin.
- Try going to bed when you’re tired. If your normal bedtime pre-crisis was 10 pm, but you’re finding yourself post-crisis not sleepy until midnight, that’s ok.
- Exercise to help promote restful sleep
If You Can’t Sleep
Get out of bed and rest in a dark room for 30-60 minutes. You can do activities like reading or journaling about what you are struggling with.
If you are having nightmares or have anxiety about potentially having nightmares, have compassion for yourself regarding the trauma you are dealing with.
You also may want to speak to a counselor or therapist regarding your worries to help ease anxiety and promote healing.
When you can’t stop your mind from racing or thinking negative thoughts, try counting backwards from 1,000. You could also try 4×4 breathing, which includes breathing in for a count of 4, holding it for 4, breathing out for 4, and then holding again for 4. It helps you focus your thoughts away from the stressful ones and the repetition helps lull you to sleep.
If none of the above suggestions seems to be working for you, please reach out to your doctor.
What do you do when you can’t sleep? Leave a comment below.