The other night I was reading a book for a long time and wasn’t even starting to feel sleepy. I knew it was after midnight and I was going to pay the next day for being up so late but I just couldn’t fall asleep. I’ve felt this way before but it was a long time ago. The wide-awake at night feeling took me back to those blurry times after my husband died and sleep was this strange state that I wanted so bad but it wouldn’t happen.
Or when sleep finally did happen it was at a weird time of the day and not for very long. Working your way through the loss of a loved one can change your sleeping and/or your eating habits. It may feel as though you are falling apart but it’s your body’s way of processing the shock of your loss. Your loved one was here and now, suddenly, they’re not. That’s a lot to handle. There are times when you want to fall asleep and you just can’t get there. Your body may be tired but your brain is in overload and just won’t settle down. There are so many decisions to make and so many emotions coming at you at once that rest is elusive.
Part of my problem was racing thoughts in my brain and the other part of the problem was that I wasn’t sleeping in my bed. I had moved to a different bedroom because my husband had died in his sleep in our bed. I couldn’t go back to our bedroom or our bed for a very long time. I was sleeping in the guest room on an unfamiliar bed which contributed to my unrest. Everything was turned upside down at that time and if sleep happened it wasn’t like regular sleep. It was closer to hitting a wall and blacking out.
When I would wake up, it was usually around 4 am, and then I couldn’t go back to sleep. I seemed to always be tired; drained of energy. The smallest tasks felt like a monumental effort. When I would first wake up I was unsure of what day it was and then I would try to think about what was going on. Then all of it would all come rushing back into my brain and I would remember that my husband had died. Oh s___! At that point, I was up and dragging myself around the house. I have no idea how my son put up with me during this time. It was not unusual for him to walk into a room in the middle of the afternoon or early evening and find me sleeping on the couch or in a chair. Most of the time he would tap my arm and say, “Mom, it’s 7 o’clock. Let’s have dinner.”
Eventually I found my way back to my (our) bedroom and my sleep patterns started to follow a more normal routine. But it took about eight to ten months for me to start sleeping through the night. I never used sleeping pills or asked my doctor to prescribe any for me but I know of some people who have taken sleeping pills while going through a rocky period and I don’t think they found it helpful in the long term.
In this “I needed it yesterday” world, we all try to squeeze one more thing into our day before we go to sleep and if you only did it once in a while then it wouldn’t affect how you sleep. But done on a daily basis, it’s just that much harder for your system to settle down and get some rest.
It’s a matter of mentally unplugging and finding that peaceful place within yourself. I promise you, it’s there, just waiting for you to slow down, breathe deeply and imagine a soothing place.