Q&A series: Why Can’t I Sleep?

Sleep. We need it, especially after traumatic loss, but it is often elusive. The stillness of night does not bring stillness when the mind is filled with turmoil and worry, thoughts of not only the loss but also circumstances that can be quite horrible. The nervous system is on hyper-alert, with anxiety and perhaps depression adding to the melee. Too often, this is a time of pain, not peace.

If sleep does come, it may have a nightmarish quality. Certainly, a second or two after waking – whether in the middle of the night or the morning – the harsh realizations begin, sliding over a new survivor mercilessly. Everything we don’t want is there waiting.

It often takes a lot of time to find real rest again. The journey that began with the loss of a loved one is not a quick trip. It is no wonder that survivors who are left behind lose strength, become exhausted, eat little or too much, or begin to suffer health problems. From shock to the grinding period of dealing with the aftermath to the early stages of finding support and healing, a survivor’s work is just to breathe, to do what must be done.

Here are a few suggestions that might help ease the nighttime hours, for sleep is important to both healing and health:

  • Consciously make your bedroom a special and safe place. Add comforting plants, candles, or pillows. Perhaps a rocking chair and lap blanket. Use a soft lamp. This is your room for respite.
  • Place a notebook and pen beside the bed. These are for writing down any worries you think of so that you can keeping them in the book will help free your mind from the burden of remembering. Deal with them in the morning.
  • Create a gentle routine. Perhaps a bath or a cup of hot herbal tea before bed will help you relax.
  • Think of yourself as deserving and needing this kind of care. You have been deeply wounded and need an “intensive care unit” of your own. Even if no one can see your wounds of loss, they are there.
  • If you wake in the night unable to go back to sleep, sometimes it helps to check in with online support, such as the Alliance of Hope for Survivors of Suicide Loss. After a few minutes reading or posting, you may be able to sleep easier, knowing you are not alone.
  • Place a soft blanket within easy reach, just for comfort if not for warmth.
  • Take your time with recovery. This is more like a marathon than a sprint.

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