Welcome to the New Year! I have been encouraged for quite some time by colleagues and clients to share some of the common and natural challenges we experience during our grief journey. My intention starting in 2021 is to finally share both my professional and personal wisdom to all those who have been affected by loss, death and life transitions. I aspire to offer you my knowledge, combined with practical ideas for taking care of your grief. I have set out to write a blog twice a month in hopes that my information reaches anyone who may need validation, a sense of normalcy and ideas for hands-on care for what they are experiencing during their grief. Let’s start with the topic of sleep.
“How is your sleep?” This seemingly random question is one that I remember being asked as a young adult by a caring therapist sitting across from me. It left me wondering about why she would be asking me such a “silly” question. My initial thoughts were: Duh! Of course, it (sleep) sucks, why are you asking this? Of course, I instead respectfully responded with: “It’s not good.” From there, my therapist asked me further questions about what my version of “not good” entailed. They included: “How is your sleep affected?” “Do you have difficulty falling asleep?” “Do you wake up frequently?” “If you wake, do you have trouble getting back to sleep? “Do you oversleep?” Once she received my answers, she then explained to me some helpful information about sleep and its relation to grief. After a period of time throughout my therapy sessions, it was comforting to realize that what I was experiencing was completely natural and to receive validation that I was not losing my mind- even though it felt like I was at times.
Throughout our sessions, my therapist shared that sleep is important because it essentially allows our body and mind to rest, recharge and reset. This is facilitated by our Autonomic Nervous System (responsible for our fight/flight/freeze response), which in turn supports our Circadian Rhythm (a natural process that regulates your sleep-wake cycle). Upon learning all of that, it is no surprise that when you encounter a loss or death, that grief interferes with your sleeping patterns and can easily become problematic. When grief stresses the nervous system, it can then interfere with circadian rhythm. Without the usual 6-8 hours of restful sleep that you cycle into each night, it is impossible to feel rested or recharged. You may notice challenges getting to sleep and experience frequent waking or the inability to fall back to sleep. This disrupted sleep can leave us waking up feeling tired, lethargic, have difficulty concentrating, become irritable and short-tempered towards others, have a low mood or increased anxiety and much more. Without my own therapist asking me such a simple question followed up with more explanatory information as to potential reasons why my sleep was disturbed, I would not have known nor understood some important things contributing to my limited sleep- let alone know what to do to improve it while I was grieving. I am certain I would have continued to suffer for longer than necessary if I didn’t receive this knowledge.
In my 20+ years of working with grief and loss experiences, I have learned from my own grief support, my clients’ experiences and from academic research how valuable this simple question about sleep can be and I vow to share that knowledge with others. I’ve found that the willingness to spend more time exploring the underlying culprits of grief, (which are likely responsible for wreaking havoc on our sleep and daily functioning), is vital in the healing journey. Now, as a grief therapist myself, I always ask the simple question: “How is your sleep?” knowing firsthand that you are likely sitting across from me thinking about what a “silly” question that is and wondering why I’d be bothering you with it. My goal is to get to the bottom of the grief concerns that are hindering your sleep and to help you understand the importance of processing this part of your grief journey so that you do not have to suffer for longer than necessary either. It is crucial to recognize the importance that proper sleep and rest has on our physical and mental well-being, especially during challenging times.
If there are any topics or questions you have about sleep or grief in general, please leave your questions in the comment section after reading this article or send an email to the writer.
Elizabeth (Liz) Hides MSW, RSW, CT, CMMT is owner of Healthy Directions a private practice in Calgary, Alberta that focuses on grief, loss, and life transitions. She is a Registered Social Worker, Certified Thanatologist and Certified Mindfulness and Meditation Teacher. Liz’s expertise is helping Albertan’s navigate traumatic losses such as suicide, homicide, and sudden deaths. She encourages exploration of resilience and personal growth after a loss through a blend of traditional talk therapy and non-traditional methods to ease grief experiences. You can contact Liz through her website – www.healthy-directions.ca
To view my other blogs please visit https://healthy-directions.ca/resources/blog/
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