Guest Contributer Sara Bailey: The Two Steps to Sleeping Well After Losing Someone

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Loss of sleep after losing a loved one is a sadly common phenomenon. According to What’s Your Grief, there can be various reasons for this, from intrusive thoughts of survivor’s guilt to nightmares (and the fear of having them) and symptoms of depression and anxiety.  
It may not feel like the most important thing in your life at the moment, but getting enough high-quality sleep should be a focus. Lack of sleep will make you feel tired and worsen the negative emotions you are feeling, but it can also have more serious long-term consequences.

In order to get back into a healthy sleeping pattern, you will need to consider the issues present in your internal and external environment that may be keeping you awake,

The Internal Environment

First, you need to address the internal causes for your lack of sleep, whether they be mental or physical. In other words, you need to take proactive steps to wind your mind and body down in the hours before bed. While you can’t forget the source of your anxieties, you can put yourself in a better headspace for rest. The following are a few proven techniques to help you do that:

For instance, there is ample evidence that regular exercise helps you sleep better at night. This is achieved on both a physical level -- you are worn out from having used up energy -- and a mental one, as exercise helps relieve stress and anxiety.

Another great technique is meditation. Meditating can help you clear your mind and let go of negative emotions, which is useful for much more than sleep. This blog post from Headspace explains how the practice can be an invaluable tool for processing grief. [Editor's note: Meditation can be found in a variety of belief systems. For a Catholic discussion of meditation, see paragraphs 2705-2708 of the Catechism.]

There are also certain behaviors you should avoid before bed, such as using your phone or laptop and drinking caffeine and alcohol. It is also a good idea to steer clear of certain foods, especially those high in fat, sugar, and protein.

The External Environment

Your sleep environment has a huge effect on your quality of sleep, so make sure yours is geared toward relaxation. The quality of your mattress is particularly important, so take your time selecting the best possible model for your needs. Investing in a good mattress may feel like a superficial change to make, but it can make a world of difference in making you feel physically comfortable enough to fall asleep at night.

There are more subtle ways you can improve your sleep environment. For example, a humidifier would not be an obvious sleep aid, but it can help. By reducing the effects of cold dry weather on your body, such as dry skin and irritated nasal passages, it can make you feel at ease.

In fact, there are plenty of gadgets on the market that promise to help you fall asleep faster. Many of them are excellent devices, but do be smart when shopping. Check reviews to see if other users have found them helpful, and try to buy products with warranties that will allow you to get your money back if they don’t work.

If you have lost a spouse, your bedroom comes with additional emotional baggage. After all, it is a space you shared with them, so it will invariably remind you of what you have lost. Changing an element of the room such as the paint color, bedsheets, or bedframe could be a good idea, as it can make the space look and feel different than they did when they were there.

The death of a loved one is an emotional ordeal that affects one’s life in a variety of interconnected ways. Tackling sleep alone can feel like trying to heal a serious wound with a Band-Aid, but it’s actually one of the best ways to take care of yourself in this difficult time. You need rest to face the days ahead and to function properly, and being mindful of the state of your body and your environment is the best way to achieve this.

After losing her husband Greg, Sara Bailey created to support her fellow widows and widowers. She is also the author of the upcoming book Hope and Help After Loss: A Guide For Newly Widowed Parents.

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