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How to Make It Through the Night

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9 Tips for Surviving Long, Sleepless Nights after the Death of Your Partner

During the daytime, I can pretend that Joe is away, working outside or in his workshop. Alone for the evening meal and crawling into an empty bed confirm the worst! The loneliness for him descends like a shroud and there is no escape. What do I do to get to sleep easier? And what about those long hours in the middle of the night when I wake and can’t get back to sleep?

STICK TO A REGULAR SCHEDULE. Have dinner with the TV news commentator. Have a set time to go to bed, a radio alarm to wake me at the same time every morning. Get up, regardless of how little sleep I have had. Maybe take an early afternoon nap, not longer than 30 minutes; set the timer.

GET REGULAR EXERCISE EVERYDAY, but not within 3 hours of going to bed. Exercise relieves stress and may help me relax and fall asleep.

AVOID CAFFEINE AND ALCOHOL. Caffeine is a stimulant that can interfere with sleep patterns. In addition to regular coffee, there are measurable amounts of caffeine in chocolate, some soft drinks and non-herbal tea. Alcohol also disturbs sleep patterns.

EAT LIGHT AT THE EVENING MEAL. Have a carbohydrate snack about an hour before bedtime. Also try a glass of milk.

AVOID SLEEPING PILLS. It is too easy to become dependent and too difficult to get off them.

GET SUNLIGHT IN THE AFTERNOON. It helps my body’s natural clock let me sleep at night.

CREATE A SLEEP-PRODUCING ATMOSPHERE. Low lighting, soothing music, a tepid bath, deep breathing, visualization of a beautiful setting, relaxation of body muscles or inspirational reading. Develop a nightly ritual of the things that work for me.

KEEP BESIDE MY BED, for those long wakeful hours, dull reading material, a journal to record my feelings, note cards, a note pad for “to do” lists, a manicure set, and a radio for late night talk shows and music.

IF ALL ELSE FAILS... go to the kitchen and make hot chocolate, adding marshmallows. Sip slowly, listen to the night sounds, look for the moon, the stars. Remember that nighttime is a good time for crying, and crying is healing.

I only need to get through one night at a time. I can do this. When I wake during the night, I will determine if I need to cry, get busy, prepare food or just feel God’s presence and a place of peace. Morning will come.

How do you cope with grief and insomnia? Share your ideas for making it through the night in the comments section below.

Marta Felber, author of "Grief Expressed: When a Mate Dies" and "Finding Your Way After Your Spouse Dies," has held many counseling and consulting positions in the U.S. and abroad, including serving for 10 years as director and head counselor at a center for expatriates in Jakarta, Indonesia.