Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sleep and Grief

Maybe it should be "lack of sleep and grief" least for me. Sleep has sorta been a "frenemy" the last three years. I wanted it, but couldn't get it. Going to bed sounds like an awesome idea when it's 8pm and I am grief-stricken and alone. But then I wake up at 2am and it's not so great.

Pretty much the entire time from the moment of her diagnosis to her final breath, sleep was not very present, certainly not peaceful sleep. Anxiety, stress, worry, all the mental factors impaired it. Then I got on a nasty feedback loop cycle, where I was taking in more caffeine and sugar to get through the long days, but that ends up impairing sleep. The weeks long stints in the hospitals were awful for sleep cycle disruption - critical and urgent care facilities are filled with noise, alarms, and interruptions (not to mention poor quality beds). I went on anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication when she was initially diagnosed, but over the period reduced them - they helped a bit early on with my sleep, but the efficacy wore off. Same with sleeping pills - initially effective, but the effect wore off.

After Meagan died, I was able to catch up on some sleep, my body and brain just physically exhausted and with some sleep aid medication I did recover somewhat. But unlike in the past (I had never been a long sleeper - usually around 7 hours) I still was only getting 5-5 1/2 hours a night - not enough to keep me mentally fresh and capable of functioning. Lack of sleep is a definite impairment of the grief recovery process.

There is also this weird relationship I had with sleep. In talking to others who have gone through similar experiences I've learned it's fairly common. There you are - however many days or months after you've lost your loved one - and it's evening, you are alone, tired from the days activities, sad, angry, confused, lonely, and the grief fog has you lethargic, unmotivated, and wallowing in self-pity and self-loathing. I'm not into the bar or club scene, and I wanted to be around for my boys when the mood struck them, so going out was not a great option. The only thing that sounds good to avoid all this pain is sleep (especially if you are not into other mood altering or mind-numbing substances - I have been a non-drinker for over 20 years). But it's too early. Then you start watching the clock, is it too early to go to bed yet?

My cut-off used to be 10:00pm. Then 9:30pm. Then 9:00pm. It was such a welcome relief to crawl into bed, and get some sleep, and avoid all that emotional pain and brain chatter.

Until I rolled over and looked at the clock and it was 2:00am. Then 3:00am. Then 4:00am. Then 4:30am. Then I had to have a rule about what time was too early to get out of bed, forcing myself to stay in bed to try to get whatever benefit I could by simply lying there - for my body at least, because the brain was sure working. So then lack of sleep reduces your capacity to function well, which increases the impact of grief and how you are feeling about that aspect of life - so another vicious cycle.

I did a lot of research on sleep hygiene and over the last 15 months have gotten to a sort of truce with sleep. I know the sleep impairment suspects and try to manage those. I get a lot of exercise, and have tried my hand at meditation. Learning to be alone and being ok with that has helped. I've tried to find things to do in the evenings - the witching hours - such as attending classes or grief group support. I get enough sleep now, although I still use a single tylenol pm to help - it seems to work and doesn't have any side effects of note.

But I still have nights where going to bed at 8pm sounds like a really good idea.

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