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Sleep. It is a fundamental necessity to all creatures. And sleep is totally amazing when you get it. And more than frustrating when you can’t. Sleep repairs the body and replenishes a tired mind. It can be the single most restorative process the body has. Sleep helps to regulate mood and intellectual function, which definitely make an impact on your grief journey. The importance of sleep has been the focus of studies and research for generations.
Escape from Grief
With grief, sleep is just that much more important. The physical, mental and emotional relief that comes with sleep is monumental. For those grieving, sleep may be the only respite they get from all the overwhelming sensations, thoughts, and emotions. It is the only time they get to recharge what little battery they have left.
The night my son died I was so exhausted from the intense sadness that I fell asleep hard and fast. Several hours later I woke to use the bathroom and a wave of knowledge and realization left me sobbing. I caved to the emotions until I was exhausted and once again fell asleep. The waking hours were torturous. A fog of emotions and dim realization that my sweet Christian was gone.
Sleep was the only time I was 100% safe from emotional distress.* I was temporarily safe from the reality of my pain. There were no dreams, no memories, nothing. For hours each night I floated on a blank nothingness that enveloped me in the one safe place I could find. It was bliss to have the respite even for a short amount of time. Shortly after Christian died I wrote about how difficult sleep became during the early stages of grief in Grief & Healing.
*I realize this is not the case for everyone. Some people have nightmares and/or night terrors. I have been fortunate enough not to deal with them.
I’ve gone through a lot of sleep phases since Christian’s death for such a short time. For the first several weeks after Christian’s death, my whole being was exhausted. I would sleep all night long and also for a couple hours during the day. The weight of the stress and the pain drained me and, as a result, I had to take daily naps. I took naps for weeks but I continued to be exhausted. I finally worked on weaning myself off of naps and for a few days I felt like I was back on a regular sleep cycle.
Then the sleeplessness hit; something I’ve never dealt with before. Most nights I would fall asleep with a modicum of ease. And then other nights I would just lay there knowing sleep was a long way off. Inevitably somewhere between midnight and three in the morning I would wake. And not be able to fall back asleep.
I alternated between watching TV and scrolling through social media. Mostly though, I’d just watch endless episodes of something on Netflix and eventually fall back asleep to it. Some nights it got so bad that I would get up, make a cup of tea, and read. Hours later I would finally to back to bed and then fight to get back to sleep.
After weeks of that, I began to work on forcing myself back to sleep when I woke up. No matter how strong the urge was to do something else, I’d compel myself back to sleep. I’d use a lullaby setting on my phone or allow a favorite song to play through my mind. Some nights I just got tired of fighting and would go through the routine of drinking tea and reading. The fight for sleep is mentally fatiguing and sometimes it’s just not worth the effort.
The Elusive Sandman
Right now I’m in a sort of loop. Most nights I work on getting back to sleep, but then other nights there are still times I have to get up and roam the house before I can attempt to resume sleep. The last week or so I have been dreaming vividly every night. It is beginning to disrupt the sleep rhythm that I had been establishing. It’s frustrating that I continue to have seemingly no control over my rest patterns. Every time I seem to have a handle on it, it changes yet again.
Sleep can be so elusive when you are grieving. The emotions and memories can be entirely overwhelming. Your brain replays the pain and the heartache over and over. The mental pictures are relentless. You may even question decisions and moments you can never change or take back. The brain is a remarkable thing, but it can truly make sleep an elusive quest during grief.