Prioritizing Sleep During Grief & Illness



About once a year, usually in the winter, I get a sinus infection or bronchitis with a cough that lasts for-EVER. When I look back on the previous week I can clearly see that it was a lack of healthy sleep that triggered it. That and being coughed-on by a stranger in line at the grocery store. Sleep is usually part of the cause and then it definitely becomes part of the solution.


My family recently suffered a tragic sudden loss, and it shook all of us deeply. We kept saying “I don’t know how we’ll get through this.” The reality is we’re getting through it because it’s the only thing we can do.


HOW ARE YOU SLEEPING?


Sleep has been a central topic in most of our conversations lately. We hug then we ask, “How did you sleep last night?” or “Are you sleeping?” When we say goodbye we’ll remind each other to “Get some sleep.” The ironic part is it’s one of the things we need the most but it’s the first thing to go when life temporarily falls apart. Unfortunately, it’s a reality we all face at some point in our lives, and that’s why I think it’s worth talking about.


No matter what it is that you’re going through, sleep-deprivation does not mix well with emotions. Prioritizing sleep won’t make the emotion go away, but it will help.


There are several key differences between sleep and sickness, and sleep while grieving, but the central theme is the same: It must be a priority if you’re going to heal physically and emotionally.


The goals are the same no matter what the circumstance:

1. Take care of yourself

2. Know that it’s temporary


When you’re sick, your body needs the rest, whether you’re tired or not. Go to bed early, no matter time it is.


I never understand people who are sick and won’t slow down. They continue on with daily life as though nothing has changed. DUDE, your body is screaming at you for a rest! Listen to it! Go lie down!


I know that it’s not realistic for all aspects of life to come to a complete stop when you’re sick, especially if you still need to get work done or feed the kids, but there must be some kind of slowing down, and there definitely has to be resting. Otherwise, how do you expect to get better?Rest whenever possible. And make your bed a place of comfort. Get as cozy as you can and enjoy the time off! Watch all the Mission Impossible movies in a row, and don’t you dare feel guilty! You’re sick! Tom Cruise wouldn’t want you getting worse!


How annoying is it when a coworker shows up at work with a cold? Am I the only one who wants to scream, “WHY ARE YOU HERE!? STAY IN BED! NOW WE’RE ALL GONNA CATCH IT!”


The following is from ‘The Art of Being Ill’ by Jill Sinclair:

The truth is that illness is not a sign of weakness, merely a sign that we are unwell. But sickness is now so undesirable that it’s become something to fear. Look at the language we use around illness – 'battling’ flu and 'fighting’ off a cold, and it’s always 'us and them’ – when, in fact, the thing about an illness is that you really need to be on its side, and you need to know how to give your body the best possible chance of recovery.


The bottom line...rest as much rest as possible when you’re sick.



GRIEF AND SLEEP


But what about grief? I believe the same goals apply here. Take care of yourself, and know that it’s temporary.


When you’re grieving, going to bed when you’re not tired can result in negative or racing thoughts, worries, fears, etc. It’s better to go to bed when you’re tired to avoid spending extra time in bed that can turn dark and twisty.


This is so me! As a former insomniac and “bedtime thinker” my default is lying in bed and letting my thoughts go somewhere sad or dark, especially while grieving. I choose to distract myself by reading or watching a show that I love so that I can be good and TIRED when my head hits the pillow. It also distracts me temporarily, which gives my mind a break. Going to bed wanting to go to sleep eliminates that lie-awake-worrying time. You could also grab some paper or a journal and start writing! Get your thoughts out of your head and down on paper.


Grief from a relationship breakdown, a loss of a loved one or a job you loved can bring on feelings of everything changing or crashing down around you. This is a good time to remember that it’s temporary, and focus on the good.


You WILL get through it. You always do.


I joke about this often, but when asked how I am during a tough time I’ll say, “Well I still have my looks, so at least I have that going for me.” (Yes, I use humor to mask insecurities and emotions.)

It can be really tough to continue your normal routine when life has taken an unexpected and unhappy turn. Be kind to yourself, and be patient. Take the time you need.


Sleep needs to be a priority, but don’t be surprised or discouraged if it’s a struggle. Focus on the sleep you ARE getting, not the hours you’re not getting, or how many times you’re waking up. It’s temporary.


Something I’ve experienced recently: Grief temporarily brought on a fear of the dark, of being alone in bed in the dark with my thoughts. Bedtime suddenly became a little creepy. I had to talk myself through that. Tell myself that I’m safe and loved, and that I’m okay. It did eventually go away.


Focus on making bedtime amazingly comforting. Surround yourself with things you love, get in your coziest clothes. Make bedtime a familiar friend as much as possible so that any negative emotions you start to feel or think there will be unwelcome. Think of going to sleep as confiding in a friend. Speak about it in a positive way. “I’ll feel better in the morning.”


A few other things to take note of:



WATCH YOUR ALCOHOL INTAKE


Having a few drinks before bed might knock you out faster, but it affects your ability to get into the deeper sleep stages, and that’s the restorative healing sleep you need, especially when you’re going through a hard time emotionally.



GO EASY ON THE CAFFEINE


If you’re feeling tired during the day, and you have the option to grab a coffee or a nap, go for the nap. It will help with more than just waking-you up.



KNOW THAT IT'S TEMPORARY


Knowing that it's temporary involves understanding that your usual routine might change short-term, and that’s okay. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself.


Leo Tolstoy once said:

Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.


#rest #insomnia #stress #health #journaling #sleep

Copyright Beth Wyatt, 2020


Spring photos of Beth by Melissa McCallum Photography

Winter photos of Beth by Rae Connell Photography