Alaska Sleep Education Center

Sleep Apnea's Affect on Grief

Posted by Stefanie Leiter

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on Oct 29, 2018 6:00:00 AM

It is never easy to lose. But grief does not have to be due to loss of a person. Grief can exist from a divorce, from a broken relationship, job loss, or from a medical condition deemed terminal.

And it can stimulate and compound the loss over time causing lack of sleep that leads to additional social, physical, emotional, and mental issues.  grief

In short, if not taken care of through an experienced physician, grief can take over your life.

Grief is the normal internal feeling one experiences in reaction to a loss, while bereavement is the state of experiencing that loss. According to Medicine Net, three out of four women outlive their spouse, with the average age of becoming a widow being 59 years.

More than half of women in the U.S. are widowed by the time they reach age 65. Every year, 4 percent of children under the age of 15 experience the loss of a parent through death.

Research shows 40 percent of bereaved individuals will suffer from an anxiety disorder in the first year after the death of a loved one.

The grief can be so intense for some elderly individuals that a 70 percent increase in death risk occurs six months after their spouse's death. The stress is too intense for their body to continue.

On a cognitive level, sleep deprivation impacts the brain’s ability to process memories and make sound judgment, so the individual becomes more forgetful, less able to retain learnings from the day, and more likely to behave rashly or make poor decisions.

Emotionally, the individual has a tougher time balancing their mood, and is prone to produce higher levels of stress hormones, resulting in increased anxiety and poor outlook.

Physically, an individual's immune system is compromised with little sleep making them more likely to get sick. Sleep deprivation is linked to heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

Another loss in the grief process is pet loss. A veterinarian becomes a trusted source for the family; but in the case of euthanizing, it is a painless process for the pet. For the family, the added stress to the bereavement process by leaving family members feeling guilty initially, but if done properly, can help families understand that they spared their beloved pet unnecessary suffering.  grief and loss

 Since 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages of grief has created the standard model to follow and prescribe.

  • Denial: a state of shock and denial; life seems
    meaningless and overwhelming
  • Anger: a necessary stage of healing; frustration and irritation replace confusion; the more you feel it, the more it will allow for healing
  • Bargaining: struggling to find the meaning behind the loss; telling stories and reaching out to restore what is lost
  • Depression: feels like the grief will last forever; hostile or reclusive; withdraw from life; separate from a mental illness of depression
  • Acceptance: steps to plan out how you will move on; exploring options for accepting reality; learning to live with it

Triggering events can create a delay in the acceptance process. Father’s Day, Christmas, a movie, or a song can trigger a memory causing additional grief. For those who experienced a loved one’s death due to a violent situation, sleep can be disrupted with nightmares or night terrors. The trauma is relived through the dream as if the event is happening again to them or imagining the event happening to them.

Though nothing can replace the grief felt over the loss of a loved one, Mindfulness and Grief share helpful tips to cope. A secret formula for mourning does not exist for a grieving individual since everyone experiences grief differently. But if you know a loved one who may be experiencing prolonged symptoms, these tips may help them sleep better at night.

  1. Exercise during the day. Taking some time to relieve stress from the body and mind can energize the rest of the day.
  2. Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening. If you limit the intake to the afternoon, your body will not metabolize the drinks during bedtime.
  3. Schedule regular massages to help release tension or anxiety.
  4. Create a sleep sanctuary. Dark curtains, oil diffusers, and cool temperature can create the ambiance needed to sleep well.
  5. Keep a grief journal. Journaling for grief allows you to externalize your thoughts and stories. You may also want to keep a sleep journal and pen by your bed, and write down any thoughts or sensations that are keeping you awake.
  6. Relax before bed leaving electronics off. Yoga, meditation, soothing music, and warm baths can help settle your day.

Depending on the severity of grief of loss, the most common symptoms of grief are:

  • Crying
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Questioning Life
  • Questioning Your Spiritual Beliefs
  • Isolation from Friends and Family
  • Abnormal Behavior
  • Worry
  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Guilt
  • Fatigue
  • Anger
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Aches and Pains
  • Stress

One way to determine if you are dealing with grief is an online quiz by Dr. John P. Cunha. Though a quick result to start the process of awareness, it is best to talk to your doctor if you are not sleeping and your grief has been prolonged. Your physician may recommend a sleep study to determine next best steps. Call Alaska Sleep Clinic today.  We are the only sleep clinic in Alaska with a Sleep Doctor specializing in Cognitive issue of sleep apnea.

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Topics: depression, fatigue, loss, grief

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