Sleep Disruption from Grief

One commonly experienced symptom of loss is the disruption of normal sleeping patterns. Almost everyone will have problems sleeping at some point in their life - a period of stress at work, physical discomfort or worrying about loved ones can all play havoc with sleep. Usually, the disruption is short-lived, but prolonged sleep problems can negatively affect your mood, energy level and productivity at work, as well as putting a strain on relationships.

Such sleep problems can be categorised as follows:

  • Insomnia - difficulty falling asleep, waking up in the night or waking much earlier than usual
  • Oversleeping
  • Night terrors
  • Sleepwalking - aside from putting you in danger of physical harm, regular sleepwalking will result in a reduction in the quality of sleep, so that you feel tired all the time

Like most sleep problems, those resulting from feeling lost and low after the death of a pet will eventually lessen with time. However, there are some simple steps you can take to hasten this process. So that your sleep patterns return to something more like normal and you begin to wake refreshed and ready to face each new day again:

  • Establish a routine. Wherever possible, try to go to bed and wake up at the same times every day - this will help your body associate the time between with sleep. Only go to bed when you feel tired enough to sleep. This may be later than you're used to but if it means you fall asleep quicker, your body will benefit from the same amount of sleep without your anxiety levels rising as you lay in bed watching the minutes tick by.
  • Make your sleeping environment comfortable and quiet. Collect plenty of blankets and pillows in case you feel cold and remove any disturbing noises - earplugs can help if you have a partner who snores, or you may wish to move to another room altogether. Blackout blinds will keep the room dark, or a nightlight will take the edge off the darkness if that bothers you.
  • Relax before you go to bed. Tempting as it is to check your social media one last time, experts recommend switching off phones and tablets half an hour before retiring. Instead, why not choose a relaxing book - most people find that reading in bed soon makes them feel tired.
  • Catch up on lost sleep in the day. Sometimes a power nap can be just the thing to revive flagging energy levels. But take care to make sure they don't become a regular feature at set times - this will have a detrimental impact on the normal sleep routine you're trying to establish.
  • Pay attention to your diet and exercise regime. You might wish to avoid stimulants such as alcohol, nicotine and caffeine in the evenings. Also, try not to eat and drink too much after 8 pm - a full stomach can prevent you falling asleep, whilst a full bladder will wake you up in the early hours.
  • Keep a sleep diary. Jotting down details about how you're sleeping can identify patterns - perhaps you have problems sleeping after eating certain foods, or at particular times of the month.
  • Try a herbal remedy. A few drops of lavender, valerian, passionflower or lemon balm on your pillow can help relax your body and mind into a restful sleep. Try adding a few drops to your bathwater and taking a long wallow with calming music and candlelight - that could do the trick.

Of course, prolonged sleep problems can sometimes have more deep-seated causes. For example, persistent oversleeping may be linked with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Professional help may be useful in addressing and overcoming these if so.

You can find lots more general advice on how to sleep better on various websites including the NHS Choices website.