To Sleep or Not to Sleep, That is the Problem…

Author: TAPS

Advice from TAPS Survivors

For many of us, sleep patterns are disrupted after the death of a loved one, whether the trouble is lack of sleep or too much sleep. Sometimes we toss and turn, waiting for sleep to overtake us. Other times we waken suddenly in the middle of the night, heart racing and thoughts whirling. And sometimes we just want to pull the covers over our heads and ignore the new morning. It can come as a surprise that the problems of wakefulness or oversleeping can last as long as they do. 


Earlier this year, survivors who subscribe to the TAPS Saturday Message shared some strategies that helped them relax enough to get the rest they needed. It is our hope that you might find something in the suggestions below that will work for you. Since we are all individuals, what works for one does not necessarily work for all. Try the suggestions that appeal to you.

Mary-Ann McLendon, surviving mother of SPCO Blake McLendon 

My husband and I both had a great deal of difficulty sleeping through the night. We were running on two to four hours of broken sleep per night for the longest time. It was horrible! We tried many things and nothing seemed to work for either of us, but a little further along we slipped back into a more normal sleep pattern. Here are some things that have worked somewhat for me: 

  • Sleepy time tea helps relax the body, making it easier to go to sleep. 
  • Sunflower seed and bananas can help with sleep problems. Try eating a banana two hours before bedtime. A handful of sunflower seeds at bedtime helps me sleep longer without waking up. 
  • It's important to be in a dark room. Turn alarm clocks away from you if you have a lighted digital type. No night lights, no TV’s turned on, and black out window coverings are recommended. Or use a blindfold made for sleeping. The darker the better.
  • It is best not to watch TV or use your computer just before bedtime. It has to do with the kind of blue light they emit that adds to the sleep problems. 

Shanette Booker, surviving spouse of SSG Andre Booker

When my husband Dre first passed away, I used to sleep in his favorite high school sweater. He always wore that sweater when he wasn't feeling well or if he had a hard time falling asleep. I found great comfort in putting it on before going to bed. The other thing that helped is that my phone alarm is set for 10:29 every night with Taps as its ring tone. After Dre passed away I would hear the night bugle call on the post where we were stationed... it helps me now to remember that it’s time for "us" to go to bed. I lie in the bed, grab my journal, and write to him as if we were talking about how our day went. After that I find myself snuggling up with his favorite blanket and I close my eyes and think of him holding me as I "trick" myself into falling asleep.

From Susan Britanisky, surviving mother of LTC Jeanne Hutchinson 

Sleeping after the death of a loved one, especially if the death was not anticipated, is impossible for a long time. After three years, sleep comes a little easier than in the beginning, but waking up each morning is still difficult. Sleep is necessary so, for the most part, I think of our beautiful successful child and send her our total love and tell her we will be with her eventually. This gives me some comfort of mind and body and allows sleep to come.  

From Rose D’Angelo, surviving mother of TSgt Nicholas D’Angelo 

I still do not get enough sleep. If I have trouble getting to sleep, I warm a glass of milk and put a teaspoon of honey in it. That works for me. I keep a journal and it seems to help me to write in it as often as I can. I take things one day at a time. If I have trouble sleeping, I do not worry about it. I read scriptures and books written by people who have experienced losses like I have. Lots of prayers, too. I pray for God’s comfort, strength, and peace for myself and my other children.

Shirley Hemenway, surviving mother of ET1 Ronald Hemenway 

I was working right after Ronald died, and yes, there were days I went to work very tired. Usually, the next night I could sleep because I hadn't had much sleep the night before. I still have nights I can't sleep, so I get up and do some things that never got done during the day. I feel better if I accomplish something on the nights I don't sleep. Keeping busy seems better than tossing and turning all night and keeping my husband awake.

Alice Daniel, surviving mother of SSG William Daniel 

The dark is the worst time for my mind. I pray for each and every one of you to come up with your own method of coping with sleep time as soon as possible. I learned two things early on. One was not to go to bed until I could no longer hold my eyes open. The other was that if I woke up in the middle of the night, I might as well get up. Otherwise I lie in bed and my mind wanders to places I do not wish to visit. However, I could not sit in my den like a bump on a log from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. Needlepoint, crochet, puzzles or any mind-occupying activity is a good thing to do. When it became apparent that I was not getting enough sleep to operate on, I finally gave in to our long-time family doctor and began taking a nighttime sleep aid which has helped tremendously.  

Kathy Allen, surviving mother of SSGT Charles Allen 

On those nights when I wake up and can't get back to sleep, I sit up and read. I find that a good book takes my mind to other places where I can relax and, for a short while, not think about what has happened. On one night, I knew I wasn't going to get back to sleep anytime soon, so I got up as if it were morning, put on a pot a coffee, and started watching a movie. After a cup of coffee, I fell asleep on the couch and woke up as the movie ended. I was able to go back to bed and sleep through the night.

Mary Richards, surviving mother of A1C Kenneth L Richards 

I can have a great deal of trouble falling asleep. My mind wanders places I don't want it to go. Memories and my imagination can seem so real! I was given the gift of a set of CDs with sound tracks that help ease anxiety and help me fall asleep. I don't use it all of the time, but it can help. I also use a guided meditation to keep my mind clear and "whirling-thought" free to help ease me into much needed sleep.

I'm not much of an early riser, but I just get up and get going. There is always laundry to fold or food to prepare. One of the other things I do is try to avoid napping. Sleeping during the day just keeps me up longer at night.

In this darkness, I find it helpful to remember Psalm 30:5 "Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning." I will not be forever weeping. There will be joy again. A time will come when my darkness is relieved and a new day begins.