Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Importance of Sleep in Recovering from Grief

Consecutive journal entries from 21 and 22 October 2003:

“Work was depressing me from 1000–1230hrs so I opted to work from home (Mum and Dad’s)… Worked from Mum and Dad’s just to give myself time to handle this grief.”

It’s too easy to forget how sharp and telling the pain of grief is as the years wind on. Reflecting over my 2003 journal recently I was reminded how sudden the depths of depression, anxiety and overall grief would hit. I could’ve been right at 9.30 A.M. and by 10 A.M. an utter mess, shrieking on the inside as I escaped public notice. One day would be okay, the next an abyss. During the above period I was seriously sleep-deprived.

I was astounded when reflecting (yet not really surprised in retrospect) regarding the link between anxiety, depression, grief and a whole medley of mental and emotional ailments—and the effect of poor sleep or sleep deprivation.

It’s one thing I also discovered again recently—a poor night’s sleep meant my abilities of coping with even the slightest irritation and inconveniences were noticeably compromised.

Grief is such an insidiously horrible experience and the last thing we need to exacerbate things is suffer a lack of sleep. But so often the irony plagues us; grief causes depressed and anxious feelings which in turn cause sleep deprivation—and sleep deprivation propagates the feelings of depression and anxiety, propounding and extending the grief. It’s a vicious cycle.

The key to all, therefore, is getting enough good quality sleep. Here are some considerations to bear in mind:

è Beware ‘sleep debt’: night after night of little or no sleep puts us further behind. To recover from sleep debt requires a consistent run of healthy nights’ sleep. It might take even up to three or four weeks to fully recover the sleep debt we’ve build up.

è We must try and discipline ourselves to go to bed at the same time and wake at the same time. Routines and the basics are crucial.

è If we find ourselves waking in the wee small hours and we struggle to get back to sleep we’re better off getting up and doing some light reading in a soft lit room with a warm glass of milk. Warm, relaxing showers are good too. The trick is replicating the process of preparing for bed.

è Hope is critical. We need to engender hope as much as possible and not worry (easier said than done, I know!).

è ‘If pain persists see your doctor.’ It might be a paracetamol mantra, but it’s probably the single best piece of advice. Sleep deprivation medication, and other advice and referrals, can be a godsend.

The last thing we need when we’re battling grief and the depressed and anxious feelings ensuing from our battles is a constant seesawing of the emotions. A lack of sleep will almost certainly mean a more emotionally challenging time of it.

The biggest advantage we have in getting our sleep is we reclaim more of our right mind. As a result we’re less prone to the emotions which tend to have their way during these times as it is.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

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