Sleep is such an important part of our lives, yet many of us don’t pay much attention to it until we start to have problems. Disturbed sleep is extremely common after any kind of stressor, and it is especially common after a bereavement.
Many of us will have patterns of sleep habits that we have formed over our lifetime. They may have worked for us in the past, but sleep may never have been a problem before.
Losing sleep can make everything in life seem more effortful. If you are having difficulty falling asleep and/or experiencing problems staying asleep throughout the night this will have a profound effect upon your ability to function during the day. You may be experiencing nightmares or disturbing dreams.
Traumatic experiences like bereavement can cause our body and our brain to get out of sync, meaning that a deliberate effort to sleep better may be necessary. It may involve changing your entire routine, a routine that previously worked for you.
It is not easy to change the habit of a lifetime and to come to terms with having to make significant changes in the first place.
If you have had problems sleeping for a long time you may have developed habits or strategies to help you sleep but they may actually be making things worse. This is very common.
We are all organisms that learn by association.
If you have your lunch at the same time every day your body learns to associate that time with food, it will prepare itself, releasing digestive enzymes and sending signals to the nerve cells of the saliva glands.
Sleep works in a very similar way. If the only thing we do in our bed is sleep then our brain will associate our bed with rest and release the necessary chemicals to induce restful relaxation.
We need to re-train your brain to associate your bed with only sleep. This will mean working hard to eliminate any associations with being awake in bed.
Bad sleep habits
There a few things that you should try eliminating until you have established a more stable routine:
It is not uncommon for people with sleep problems to turn to alcohol to calm down, often in an attempt to relax or go to sleep.
Lack of Exercise
This starts with a regular bed time. Much like we mentioned before, when we eat at the same time each day our body associates that time with food. The same goes for sleep.
However, this will take time to develop. If you are used to sleeping at 1am but are now trying to adjust to 11pm then your body is unlikely to feel drowsy at 11pm. It will take some work and some planning.
It is a good idea to start winding down at least 30-minutes before you go to bed. You can try doing a relaxation technique – this can be a simple breathing exercise or a guided imagery exercise. Feel free to try the ones we have on our Get Support page.
After doing your relaxation exercise and unwinding, try going to bed. If you are not asleep within 15-minutes of lying down, it may be a good idea to leave the bed and go into another room. The theory here is that this helps our brain associate being in bed with going to sleep rather than anything else.
Another method to help you nod off is to stop trying to fall asleep whilst you lie in bed. We know this sounds counterintuitive, but often the focus on having to fall asleep keeps our mind stimulated and therefore makes it harder to drift off. Another option is to lie there, stop trying to sleep, and just allow yourself to rest and take deep breaths.
How do I know when I am getting the sleep I need?