Exhausted Grief: Can't Sleep After the Death of a Pet
After pet loss, sleeping can seem impossible.
Posted February 23, 2017 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
One of the most important things to do while grieving is to continue meeting your basic needs. This includes getting appropriate amounts of sleep. Grief is immensely taxing on your body and takes a lot of work, and energy.
Unfortunately, most grieving pet owners find that sleep can be extremely elusive. Trying to fall asleep can cause a focus on the distressing thoughts in the death and absence of our beloved pet, and our anxieties may rise.
This causes problems in some attempting to avoid sleep altogether. Others receive a disruptive sleeping experience, waking in panic and anxiety, or longing for their companion animals and waking up in an abrupt manner.
There are a few steps to take that may help in reducing distressing emotions while trying to fall asleep, and preparing our bodies to recognize the need for rest, even amidst the grieving process.
Keep to Your Sleep Schedule
Routines are incredibly important as we are grieving, and even so for our pets. It can be extremely easy to avoid the practices of trying to fall asleep during our pain. We can be reminded of what our previous routine was with our companion animal, which triggers painful reminders of their absence.
Sticking to a sleep schedule allows the body to “remember” that it should be winding down. Instead of “forcing” the process, the body takes control and tells you it needs to rest. Remember, grieving is very taxing on your body. These routines can keep a natural rhythm of balance, instead of forcing the body to “figure out” when it is time to sleep or not.
Focus on Relaxation Before Bed
When our anxieties are high within the grieving process, it can be incredibly hard for our bodies to ever achieve a state of relaxation. We take for granted in the day-to-day the ability to wind down and prepare for bed. Adopting a relaxation practice can be helpful for emotional reduction and settling anxieties.
Meditation practices can be incredibly helpful for encouraging relaxation before bed. For the grieving individual, “calming the mind” can seem nearly impossible. It can be helpful to use a guided meditation process. There are many guided meditation recordings for free on YouTube. Some people need to explore different narratives, as everyone is different. The voice pitch, style, and speed in guided meditations are all unique, and everyone is different within their preference. Some tones, for example, may actually increase anxiety for one person but relax another. Explore which works best for you.
When struggling with racing thoughts and the rumination, or repetition, of distressful reminders it can actually be helpful to get out of the mind. In this case, progressive relaxation may benefit versus meditation. Progressive relaxation involves tensing your muscles and then releasing them, attempting to hit every muscle area within the body. This method involves direct physical encouragement for the body to release tensions and stress.
Lastly, visualization and affirmations may help others. Visualization is the active process of focusing on a positive, or calming image or memory. Spending time with this in your focus can create a subsequent relaxation in your body. Affirmations focus on repetition of a positive, or calming message over and over again in your mind and frequently said out-loud to promote relaxation and gratitude.
Products to Promote Relaxation & Sleep
It can be incredibly soothing to enjoy a warm beverage before bed. It is especially important for the grieving individual to recognize simple pleasures. Even the tiniest nurturing activity can bring a small comfort or relief our body craves throughout the process.
There are many teas on the market that only have one job: promote relaxation and sleep. They have a combination of herbs known for their relaxation quantities, such as Chamomile, Spearmint, etc. An example of these teas can be found here.
Others recommend melatonin as a supplemental support for sleeping. Melatonin can be found in many different forms including a pill, and now spray forms. It’s important to talk with your doctor before trying herbs or supplementation as it may interact with medication(s) already being taken, or present with allergen concerns.
Many people rejoice in the calming and relaxation effects of lavender. It can be found as a sleep sachet, which you can even make yourself. Lavender is also commonly found in its purest form of essential oils, which may be applied topically, diffused, or put into lotions which all focus on promoting a relaxation effect in the body. There has been a lot of research done on lavender and the beneficial nature of the herb.
Be Intentional With Your Thoughts
One of the most important things to remember is that it is completely normal and natural for sleep to be disturbed throughout the grief process, especially in the very beginning. Our entire world is disrupted and our bodies have their work cut out for them in processing through the wave of emotion we are currently experiencing.
Be patient with yourself above all else. It is certainly ok to take a nap at a time that will allow you to sleep, even if it is the middle of the day. Sometimes a nap is a great respite in our emotional state throughout the grief process, as the days can feel very long.
Be intentional as you are laying down to sleep, either for a nap or for the night, with your thought process. It will be hard to do, especially in the beginning. Attempt to focus on the positive memories shared, or your favorite times. These thoughts may still bring tears, yet they may also result in a smile.
I am a published writer, educator, and adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. I focus my work on the psychology behind the human-animal bond, specializing in endings and transitions. I am passionate about reducing the cultural stigma associated with pet loss, supporting pet owners, and educating veterinary professionals. Additional information on me and my current projects can be found at lovelosstransition.com, or I can best be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.