I have had trouble sleeping for as long as I remember, the art of sleeping has always escaped my grasp. Now days it’s a lot worse.
I don’t sleep, and on the odd occasion I do sleep it is riddled with odd dreams and nightmares.
When the accident first happened I wouldn’t sleep, I would just stare up at my ceiling or at a spot at the wall, begging for at least a little bit of restful slumber.
I would spend hours sitting in Riley’s computer chair staring out the window over the city just wishing, wondering and crying. I would be so exhausted. I finally felt tired enough that I could sleep around 4 or 5am. I would then lie in bed sleeping on and off until 8 or 9am where I would get up for work.
Slowly I managed to get more sleep, unfortunately this is where the nightmare started. I have had nightmares for a long time but usually they are kept pretty under control. Riley would shake me awake and cuddle me tight until I was calm enough that I could go back to sleep and they didn’t happen that often.
After the accident when I finally started sleeping again I would get one almost every night and I would not go back to sleep afterwards.
The nightmare was always fundamentally the same with small differences each time. I would be at the crash site, just before the accident. I was standing off to the side on a little grassy patch. I would see him, travelling down the road. I would wave and smile. And then I would see the car. Travelling up the road, I watch as it slows down and indicate. And then I see it turn, my heart leaps into my mouth, I shout.
Halfway through it turns into a scream as I watch Riley hit the car, his body flips over the handle bars and rolls across the bonnet of the car, falling on to the ground on the other side. The car stops in the layby. The motorbike is totalled.
Riley is lying on the ground. Not moving, I run over to him. I want to do something, anything. I sit down beside him, people milling around us, I lean over and put my hand on his cheek, tell him I love him. Then he suddenly opens his eyes and screams. At that point I wake up.
It’s the same every time, with subtle differences. I touch his other cheek, the licence plate of the car changes, the colour of the ocean is darker but the outcome is still the same. I wake up and sit in bed feeling hopeless, useless and wishing there was something I could have done. That wishing you could help never goes away.
Nightmares show our deepest fears, like boggarts. Unfortunately ‘treating’ nightmares aren’t nearly as easy as getting rid of a boggart. There is no magic spell for a good night’s rest (trust me I have looked)
Nightmares especially about an incident involving death are something that have to be worked through but there are a couple of things that you can do to help with keeping them slightly more under control.
Obviously the first step is realising these nightmares are part of a bigger issue, nightmares in adults are usually the result of psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) particularly likely if you have recently experienced a traumatic or life-changing event, such as the loss of a loved one. (Tada) (Sometimes just normal stress but not as much)
Tips on improving your ‘sleeping hygiene’ (Sleep hygiene definition, “a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good night time sleep quality and full daytime alertness.”) (Sometimes they help, sometimes they don’t.)
- Avoid eating before bed. This is the most talked about one, like not having cheese before going to sleep because it gives you weird and extremely vivid dreams. Cheese is particularly bad because of the Tryptophan with in it. “Tryptophan is an amino acid taken by Vitamin B6 and converted into Serotonin. Serotonin can cause extremely vivid dreams at higher levels. Tryptophan is found in such foods as cheddar cheese, chicken, salmon, lamb, egg, flour, white rice, and milk. Cheddar cheese has the most amount of tryptophan.” (Just fyi)
- Check with your doctor about the medication you are on. Some medication can seriously mess with your head at the best of times but especially when you are in a vulnerable state.
- Make your bedroom a relaxing environment.I know it’s difficult but try keep it tidy, make sure you have the right blankets on the bed so you aren’t too hot or cold. I have to get another blanket on the bed after Riley died because my human hot water bottle was gone.
- Get more physical exercise and cut back on caffeine and alcohol. These are the usual. Getting in exercise is difficult but just start off small. Walk to the letter box, walk around the block etc. Less alcohol and caffeine is pretty self-explanatory.
- Talk to people. Also pretty self-explanatory.
- Try imagery rehearsal treatment.Try to imagine an alternate ending to your nightmares – one that has a better outcome, do this while you are lying in bed, still awake. You can think about it, maybe talk it through out loud, write it down etc. Just think about a better way your nightmare could end. For me, I like to think that Riley opens his eyes and instead of screaming, he tells me he loves me. He tells me he’s sorry he won’t be home in time for dinner, he tells me to look after Berlioz. In this dream the happy ending isn’t that he survives, that was never going to happen due to the stroke but it’s that I get that one last time to talk to him that I wanted. I get told one last time that he loves me, that he’s proud of me, that I am strong and I will get through this. All the things that I wish he could have told me.
You have to try encourage happier dreams. Easier said than done I know but attempt to find a happy place. A place or time where you are your happiest. Think about that, maybe it was a date, maybe it was a lazy Sunday. Whatever it is, think back on, remember how happy you were. You made it through life that far to get to that wonderfully happy place and you can do it again. You are strong enough and you will make it.
It’s a dark picture but lying on my chest at the bottom left is Riley sleeping, bottom right is Berlioz on my stomach. My happy place? Being cuddled up with my little family.