WSN: Widow-Man with Dr. Nyle Kardatzke
“I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.”
-Robert Frost, from “On Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
Sleep is a great healer, but it can be elusive in a time of grief. Some men have trouble falling asleep. Others sleep easily but wake up in the middle of the night. I have had both of these sleep problems. Another is the temptation to sleep a lot, sleeping to escape life and grief. If you have persistent problems sleeping, you may need to see your doctor for help.
My wife had difficulty sleeping in her last few years. I fell asleep almost instantly as I hit the pillow. In the morning, I would ask about her “adventures in the night” to hear about her times of sleeplessness. Now my sleep is more unpredictable like hers was. When I go to bed, I don’t know how well I will sleep. I might sleep soundly through the night, or I might wake up and need to turn on a lamp and read for an hour before sleep returns.
Your body requires a reasonable amount of sleep, given all you are going through right now. Sleep is part of the healing process. The amount you slept before your wife’s death was probably your normal amount for that time in life, but you may not return to it for a while. Be patient; don’t try to force things.
Men tend to be problem solvers and want to do something. But sometimes we have to live with a problem and let it take its course. Sleep may be one of those problems. If loss of sleep is persistent, however, your doctor can prescribe something to get you through this sleepless phase, and you will later begin to sleep more naturally.
You may find it helpful to keep a bedside diary about your sleep. Note the time you turn off your light and the time you get up for a few weeks. Keep a record of your wakeful episodes in the night. Your sleep diary may help you understand what you are experiencing at night. Your notes may help if you talk to your doctor about sleep problems.
If you are a praying man, bedtime prayers may help you and the people and situations you pray for. You can give your problems to God through prayer. Sometimes I have prayed myself to sleep, and I think God accepts that kind of prayer as well as those offered in full consciousness.
My wife has been gone for ten years. The sleep problems I had in my early grief have gone away, but now I have varying sleep success. Some fitful nights are normal for many people. Don’t panic about them. Find your way through them, and continue to seek a healthy sleep life.
Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, WIDOW-MAN, every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at firstname.lastname@example.org