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August 01, 2017
Grief is a natural response to the emotional trauma of loss, which is part of life. Not only do we suffer from absence, we’re also dealing with a major life stressor. Whether we’re processing the death or impending death of a loved one, or another type of loss like divorce, the symptoms of grief can have a significant impact on our day-to-day lives, including sleep. The stage of grief and our individual coping mechanisms may determine the effect on our sleep patterns.
The most commonly recognized symptoms of grief are based on the Kubler-Ross model outlined in the book On Death and Dying. People move through the stages of grief at different rates and in different ways, sometimes becoming “stuck” in one stage for an extended period or seeming to skip over a stage altogether. There are no rules on how to grieve, but it’s helpful to be familiar with the stages and understand where you are in the process.
Insomnia is most likely to occur during the anger and bargaining stages. Often, when we lay down to sleep and stop going through the motions of everyday life, the brain becomes overactive and we focus on our anger or on the things we think we should have done differently. While it’s important to allow yourself to fully experience each stage as it happens, if grief is causing insomnia, talk to your doctor about appropriate solutions such as therapy, meditation, or medication.
Many people find grief exhausting. In addition to the bereavement itself, there’s also a lot of planning and activity associated with loss, such as funeral services. This exhaustion can lead to an intense desire for lots of sleep. In addition, while the depression stage can manifest itself in many ways, some of the most common symptoms are lack of energy and decreased motivation. This can cause people to sleep too much as a form of escape.
While there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, some methods of coping, such as substance abuse, can become self-destructive. Prolonged grief can also cause other health issues, such as heart problems. The sleeping problems associated with grief can weaken the immune system and exacerbate illness.
If you or a loved one are dealing with significant physical and mental health repercussions as a result of grief, there are lots of resources that can help. Those dealing with terminal illness, whether it’s their own or someone else’s, may find various hospice services helpful. Your general physician may be able to provide appropriate referrals, and you may want to take advantage of grief counseling services. In an emergency, online communities and crisis hotlines specific to grief and mourning issues can provide fast assistance.