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Sleeping through Divorce

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Divorce Detox: Sleep is one of our most precious resources during divorce. It's vital to our health and well-being. During sleep, the body renews its energy, releases growth hormones and heals. Yet during divorce -- a time of extreme stress -- sleep is one of the first things to become irregular.

woman sleeping
There are two types of disruptions: excessive sleeping and lack of sleep. It is not uncommon to experience both of them in the same period of time -- and even alternate between not being able to sleep and sleeping what seems like all the time.

Everyone's body reacts to stress in different ways, so it is not unusual to experience sleep disturbances during the transition of separation or divorce. Once you become aware that you are having sleeping irregularities, it is important that you get help and don't let the problem get progressively worse: Chronic insomnia contributes to injury and illness and may have adverse effects on cognitive functioning, interpersonal relationships, concentration, the ability to handle stress and productivity.

Sleeping It Off
One of the ways our body takes care of itself is by sleeping. Some feel guilty or ashamed about sleeping more than usual during divorce, but there's really nothing to be ashamed about. Sleep is an important way for the body to recover from stress and repair itself. Trust that your body knows what it's doing! It has many systems that function perfectly and automatically. Take breathing, for instance: Your body naturally breathes without you having to think about it, just as it circulates blood.Feeling tired is an indication that your body needs to rest.

Yes, sleep can be an escape from facing life's challenges; if you are not receiving help, do so. But at the same time, be gentle with yourself. Be grateful that your body knows how to recover -- even if it might be taking a little more time than you would like. A trip to see your internist or another medical professional is highly recommended, as well. The effects of extreme stress can cause other health challenges, so take good care of yourself.

Not Enough Sleep
Insomnia -- lack of adequate sleep characterized by having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep -- is common during separation and divorce. Worrisome thoughts may wake us up or prevent a deep, peaceful sleep. Here are some things that may help you relax so you can get some shuteye:

  • Take a hot bath or shower before bed.
  • In the evening, drink chamomile tea, warm milk, hot water with lemon or Natural Calm Anti-Stress Drink.
  • Schedule your bedtime: Go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Use a sleep machine or listen to a soothing CD. (We recommend Brookstone's "Tranquil Moments Sleep Sound Therapy".)
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Each night before you turn out the light, jot down a few things that you are grateful for. (Even in times of extreme stress, we can be grateful for our breath, the sun, a warm cup of tea .... Focusing on gratitude before bed shifts your mind to a loving state. It's easier to drift to sleep coming from a place of gratitude than from a place of fear and worry.)
  • Set a "bedtime intention." State the positive outcome you wish to receive each night, without using the words "no" or "don't". For example: "My bedtime intention is to release all stress and tension in my mind and body. I intend to sleep peacefully throughout the night and wake up in the morning after eight hours of sleep feeling revived, refreshed, renewed and thankful for a new day."
  • Keep a sleep journal and record your sleep rituals and patterns. After a short time, you may be able to identify specific things that worsen your insomnia.
  • Limit your caffeine during the day; avoid it at night.
  • Avoid napping if you find that you are waking up in the middle of the night.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol. (At first, alcohol may make you drowsy; later on, though, it might wake you up by activating a burst of norepinephrine.)
  • Exercise daily in the morning or afternoon. You'll experience many benefits, including better sleep. (Keep in mind, however, that exercising in the evening could make it harder for you to fall asleep or stay asleep.)
Wakey, Wakey!
Waking up in the middle of the night is double trouble. First, worrisome thoughts rouse you; then there's the added stress of knowing how the lack of sleep will negatively affect you the next day. A tiered approach can often get you back to sleep:

Step 1: Upon waking up in the middle of the night, try to calm yourself back to sleep by keeping the light off and staying in bed. Pay attention to your breathing and take long, deep breaths. If you don't fall back to sleep, move on to ...

Step 2: Listen to relaxing music or a hypnosis CD. Once you find one you like and get used to it, you may grow accustomed to falling back asleep in just a few minutes. If that doesn't work, move on to ...

Step 3: Read a book in bed -- one that typically either makes you drowsy or engages your mind to the point where there's no room for worrisome thoughts. Once your mind is tired, you will fall asleep.


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