Reality Revisited: Learning To Sleep

First posted in April 2019. We have grown so much more than we ever thought we would, and we want to share our earlier posts. We aim to reflect on the early struggles of our grief, and what we went through without our mum. We are proud of where we have come from, and of where we are going. We hope you are as well.

If you are struggling with your grief, that is okay. You are not alone.


This is probably one of the most difficult issues I have dealt with throughout 2018 and until this point in my life.

I’ve always been active in my sleep: sleep walking, sleep talking, generally just weirding people out whilst I’m unconscious.

Then in 2018, I found I couldn’t sleep very well. It started off gradually; I would sacrifice sleep in order to keep up with my caring responsibilities, revision, homework, etc. I would also try to fill my time with YouTube, reading or journaling before I went to bed, just so I could try to be ‘me’ at at least one point in my day.

When I did sleep, it would come quick, fast and heavy. No dreams, just a blink of an eye and then I was up again. I think my relationship with sleep at this point was a fairly average one. Sleep wasn’t something that relaxed me or whatever, it was just another thing I had to get done.

As my mental health worsened, my relationship with sleep became more complicated. I used to long for sleeping longer. I was cutting out more and more sleep around the exam period, and the dark circles under my eyes seemed like tattoos because they never went away. In the mornings, I could never wake up. I was frequently late for school, and when I woke up I just used to think “what’s the point?”

Before exams, I had my first ever night terror. I remember the second time more vividly  though; my friend was over and I woke up screaming because I had no memory of who she was or why she was in my room. My Mum came running into the room to see me shaking and clutching my pillow.


That’s pretty hard to come back from.

After exams, we found out about the spreading of the cancer to Mum’s liver. Our days rapidly became full of nurses, medicines, crying, trying to deal and understand with everything. If Mum had a difficult night where we were looking after her, we couldn’t have lie ins to make up for the sleep we lost the night before. We had to make Mum breakfast or make sure she had taken her medicines. We were always losing sleep, for example, Katie was frequently woken up by Mum sleepwalking in the night.

Inevitably due to the amount of stress I was under, the night terrors just got worse and worse. I started to fall asleep, and I would wake up an hour later, because I thought a man was in my room, a child was under my bed, my duvet was levitating, I had to fight someone, my family had been murdered and I had to capture the killer. Unfortunately, I could go on. The first time after my Mum passed away, I woke up screaming that there was a man in the house. Katie had a panic attack because she truly believed we had been broken into.

When my night terrors were at their worst, I would wake up in the morning, feeling relieved. I would look at my clock and work out how many hours I had before I would have to go to bed again. I began to feel anxious falling asleep. I would be lying in my bed, forcing myself to stay awake until I would just pass out. I felt afraid all the time, waiting something to happen. I would fall asleep during the day, or I would just find myself sleeping on people’s beds without knowing how I got there.

A night terror is different to a nightmare, as when you have a night terror, you thrash around in your sleep screaming, your heart hammers hard, you feel like you can’t breathe, and you can’t recognise the people around you. You’re easily confused; once i woke up and I thought I had hurt all of my family.

It’s terrifying. It makes me feel stupid, literally insane, and incapable of performing a normal function every human should be able to do.

I felt like a prisoner in my own head. I was terrified to fall asleep, and when I had night terrors I couldn’t calm down because I didn’t understand that there wasn’t a threat.

There never seemed to be any rhyme nor reason to my night terrors. They just seemed to happen. I now know that night terrors can be a symptom of PTSD or anxiety.

When I would try to research about night terrors, I couldn’t find much, so I pretty much did every wrong thing I could have ever done:

·     I stressed out about sleeping; Sleeping became the opposite of relaxing, and my bedroom was not a relaxing environment.

·      I would make useless checks; I would wake up and check the house for strangers or men, check the locks. Whilst initially this calmed me down, in the long run, they only made me more anxious because if I didn’t check the locks then I started spiralling.

·      I avoided sleep; Night terrors can occur when you don’t get enough sleep, or if your sleeping patterns become disrupted.

·      I would force myself to stay calm; It is perfectly ordinary for a human body to experience stress, but when I experienced it, I would try to suppress what I was feeling so as to avoid anxiety, and (I believed) a night terror. I would feel incredibly anxious but I would force myself to push it to the side. But no, this only adds to the problem because your pushing your feelings down. You process most of your feelings from the day in your sleep, so, voila, night terrors.

(obviously I am not a doctor but) What I have done which works for me:

·     Medicine; my GP prescribed amitriptyline. This medicine works by reducing anxiety levels, and you take it as you need it. I’m pretty sure the effect was purely psychosomatic; I believed I wouldn’t have a night terror so I didn’t. Until I did have a night terror on this medicine, so I haven’t had it since. I have also tried herbal remedies but it didn’t work at all for me.

·      See sleep as time to relax; This sounds so easy, but if you said this to me 3,4,5, 6 months ago, I probably would have just burst into tears. Before I would lie in bed tense and nervous, but now, I try to make sure my body is as relaxed as possible by performing a “body scan” ( I have written about body scans here: I Dont (Self) Care ).

·     Counselling; Whilst counselling sometimes made me have night terrors because I unearth all the thoughts and feelings I’ve tried to suppress, it helps to talk about your dreams, fears, because you feel less like a freak.

·      Stop eating 4 hours before sleeping; we noticed a correlation between eating late and sleeping.

·     Pampering; Pampering is important because you are looking after yourself and it helps you to unwind.

·     Try to unwind; I watch a lot of comedy before I go to bed because laughing is the best way to chill out.

If you experience someone having a night terror, I know it is terrifying for you, but please think about that person. I have just woken up thinking I have been kidnapped and I have no idea who you are, so please be patient with me. The best thing to do is to relax yourself- Do not try to hold them. When the individual comes around, they may be mortified, embarrassed and ashamed, but please try to make them feel comfortable. Sometimes drinking a herbal tea can be a good way to calm their nerves and to give them an opportunity to talk about what has happened.

If you get night terrors; you are not a freak. You are not a freak for feeling anxious, or because you have experienced trauma, or any other reason. I have screamed so loudly I have been so sure people will call the police, but it never happens. You are okay, and one day you’ll be able to wake up feeling rested. I promise, and that’s a promise I used to think I could never make again. I used to say to myself “I guess this is just me now.” It isn’t. You are still wonderful and you deserve good things.


Copyright © 2021 The Grief Reality. All Rights Reserved.

25 thoughts on “Reality Revisited: Learning To Sleep

  1. Thank you so much for sharing. Night terrors, chronic insomnia…just makes life almost impossible to function. Im glad you have gotten a bit of relief! 😊

  2. Yes sleep is important. For a few weeks after Amanda passed, I didn’t sleep much. For months after that, I slept but didn’t feel rested. It was like six, seven hours went by and didn’t where they went. Hope you’re doing better now. Oh, I sleep fine now. Hugs.

  3. It could be a phase, but it sounds awful and distressing, definitely the best idea to talk to someone about it, getting peace in your mind and soul by talking things out is very important xx

  4. I haven’t experienced the awful sleep troubles, but my life is enriched now. I expect writing helps you come to some kind of terms with that kind of suffering, but i wanted you to know that your honesty helps me be more honest about addressing my own struggles. What a mystery how words without meetings can be so influential.

    P. S. Next Sunday is the one-year mark of my sister’s difficult dying. When I see her husband on that day, because of visiting here it will be less awkward to look into his eyes, knowing that I can appreciate his pain a little better. (When I sent a note several days after Christmas, he had acknowledged in a brief response, “I am devastated. Quite simply, Susan was my whole life.” I didn’t know what to say back.)

  5. My sleep has not really got back to normal. But you learn to work round the changes. You are so right with trying to relax. I put on music, not the stuff I really like just random stuff I find on Amazon Music, Often it works. Hope the sleep improvements continue.

  6. When I was a caretaker of my dad, he passed away on March 2020, he was victim of a profound Alzheimer disease, what can I say?. Sleeping could be a utopian word. I’m sleeping more day to day and it was a hardest battle during 15 years. Take care and enjoy all days and sleeping ta!

  7. I sleep very badly for 7 years. Tides of panic, despair, exhausting etc. I wake up several times every night. Sometimes I fear of even just go to bed. I hope they will invent a medicine so I won’t need to sleep.

  8. Dear Evee,
    Not being clear on your “theology” (what you believe about God), allow me to refer you to a Brit of exceptional intelligence and wit, C.S. Lewis.
    “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” in “The Screwtape Letters”
    Night terrors as you describe may at times be spiritual activity of demons preying on distraught minds. I would not encourage anyone to go to an extreme and think any “bad thoughts or dreams” are demon activity, but The God Who Is wants us to be at peace, even in the midst of storms, both literal and figurative. (See Isaiah 26, with emphasis on verse 3-4, 12-13, and 19)
    And though your mum’s death is perhaps the worst possible of storms you may ever face, there will be others. I pray for your peace.
    your friend always,

  9. I remember having many nights spent sleepless and when I finally slept awaking drenched in sweat with my heart pounding. I found that instead of letting my mind go on its not so merry way that if I listened to an audio book, I would fall asleep and break that terrible cycle. I hope this helps someone.

Leave a Reply