Sweet Dreams! Sleep as a Key to Self-Care

Mar 26, 2021

Debbie Vallandingham, LMSW-ASCW Bereavement Manger

If the last year has brought anything to our attention, it was the need to stress self-care. And one of the most often misunderstood and overlooked parts of self-care is a healthy night’s sleep. The average person feels tired at least three days a week and almost a quarter of Americans feel tired five or more days a week.

This lack of quality sleep can lead to headaches or challenges in focus in performing daily tasks. But interrupted and irregular sleep can lead to greater dangers. Sleeping less than 7 hours a night could increase the likelihood of diabetes, heart conditions and even anxiety. Studies show that untreated insomnia makes a person feel more frustrated, easily overwhelmed, angry, irritable, depressed, or negative in general.

The Relationship Between Sleep and Grief

The loss of a loved one causes stress and strains that often results in changes in lifestyle. And grief isn’t just felt on an emotional level; it is also felt on a physical level. One way those grieving feel the physical impact is through sleeping disturbances. It’s bad enough that the Centers for Disease Control reports that 1 out of 3 Americans struggle with getting quality sleep. When you’re grieving, getting a complete and good night’s sleep becomes a far greater challenge.

A 2010 study found that sleep disturbances were far more common among those grieving the loss of a loved one than in the general population. Not only do those grieving have more disturbances during the night, they displayed a worse quality of sleep than those who are not grieving. And the harms experienced by those grieving have worse impacts on a person’s long-term health. In one study, those who have lost a spouse have a higher instance of cancer, heart trouble, high blood pressure and poor eating habits linked to sleep than those who were not grieving.

There is Hope: Add Sleep to Your Self-Care Plans

For those grieving, we must acknowledge that grief isn’t the same for everyone. And the same is true for finding ways to slow down and get a better night’s sleep. But here are a few tips and techniques that you can try to improve your sleep routine and have those sweet dreams:

Set a Sleep Schedule

It’s critical for consistent, good sleep to try to keep a regularly scheduled bedtime every night. This helps your body to adapt its internal clock, that circadian rhythm, to a set time in order to improve your sleep cycle.

Get a Little Physical Exercise During the Day

Whether it’s walking or even doing stretches in your living room, exercise can help you prepare to sleep. But it isn’t about tiring yourself out. It is about releasing the stress from the day. But don’t wait until too close to bedtime. When you exercise within three hours of heading to bed, you risk building up endorphins that make you feel good and keep you awake.

Dim the Lights Early

Higher light levels in the evening have been shown to suppress the hormones that prepare our bodies to sleep (melatonin). This is especially true of blue lights that we often find on our device screens and in LED lights. Turning down the lights, especially when you start feeling sleepy or at some point before bedtime helps create a signal to your mind that it is almost time for sleep.

Avoid Certain Foods and Drinks

Caffeine can significantly impact your sleep schedule, including lengthening the second phase of the sleep cycle and shortening your deeper sleep. Try to avoid caffeinated beverages or food in the evening, especially coffee which can have half of its caffeine content in your system even at five hours later. The same is true with alcohol. A glass of red wine might feel nice to wind down on a difficult day, but it too can impact your deep sleep.

Rearrange the Bedroom

This is especially important for those who have lost a spouse or sleeping partner. If the emptiness of the bed triggers painful memories or difficult emotions, you can start by rearranging the room. Move the furniture to see if you feel a sense of change. Or, you could buy new bedding or even a new bed itself.

Listen to a Bedtime Story

Don’t laugh! Focusing your attention on the details of a pleasant bedtime story can be a wonderful mindfulness exercise that can help lead to a good night’s sleep. These types of stories can be found in books or even recorded as podcasts available on your smartphone. Studies show that sleep and mindfulness apps, including podcasts, can help people clear their mind before bed to get a better night’s sleep. These apps and podcasts, many of them available for free, can even improve concentration, gratitude, creativity, productivity along with relaxation.

Get Ready for Sweet Dreams!

Hopefully, you can give one or more of these tips a try. It may be having a warm cup of herbal tea in dimly lit room, far away from any computer screens or it could be resting in bed with the timeless appeal of a calming story to gently coast to the land of sweet dreams. At the end of the day, we hope you think of self-care to give yourself a better night’s sleep.


One-on-one counseling for adults and children along with a variety of virtual support groups. All are offered to assist in coping with the death of a loved one. While feelings of grief are normal, handling them can be difficult and painful. Talking about what you are going through can help. Call 734.779.6690 to schedule an appointment.

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