by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Thankful for good sleep
I can remember my mother draping a heavy afghan over my lap when I was four, and asking me if I’d like it for my bed. Done in tightly crocheted, multi-color granny squares framed in eggplant-purple, the heavy blanket snuggled me like a hug. Yes, I wanted the beautiful blanket for my bed—and I used it for nearly three decades, until it was ragged and falling apart and almost real. If it were a stuffed animal it would have been like the Velveteen Rabbit, which inspired the beautiful quilt called “Wall of Silence” that was designed and made by a rejected mom.
Our sleeping environment, what we put on our beds and fill our minds and bodies with in the evening, can improve our ability to sleep. Good sleep is one of the things I’m most thankful for. Restful sleep is a necessity that positively affects life. Oh sure, I still have the occasional evening when the dogs are barking or someone else in the house makes noise in the night. We all do. But I’m no longer troubled by the insomnia that commonly plagues parents abandoned by adult children. I remember well those nights of lying awake, wondering how this could happen to me, and even if everyone else would leave me, too. Troubled sleep and disturbing dreams are common after emotional trauma, but sleep is important.
Sleep: A basic for mental and physical health
Sleep well, and you’re better able to cope. It’s a fact. People with chronic insomnia have a higher incidence of developing depression, and the inability to get good, restorative sleep is also associated with physical complaints and disorders. Restorative sleep is essential for physical and mental health.
There have been many studies on insomnia and its relationship to all sorts of other conditions. At the bottom of this page, I have linked to an article in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine that provides a comprehensive overview. You might want to read it on a night when you can’t get to sleep.
Ways for parents abandoned by adult children to sleep better
One helper is your sleep environment. You can find articles all over the internet with tips about making the bedroom conducive to sleep and to keep the bed a place you use only for sleep. If your bed is associated only with sleep, the school of thought is that you’ll fall asleep quicker when you go to bed. Try ear plugs or muffs, light blocking masks and drapes, and the right sort of pillow. Ideas about comfort make sense, too. Use sheets and blankets that feel good, invest in a good mattress that feels cozy and promotes relaxation, and choose bedroom décor that’s restful and enhances a sense of calm. One of the most detailed books on the subject is Start Your Day with a Good Night’s Sleep: A Guide for Rest, Relaxation, and Blissful Sleep by Robert Sachs, who draws on his education, experience, and philosophy to break sleep down to the minute details that might make a difference for you. Give it a try if you want an all-inclusive guide.
Here, I’ll cover a few things that have worked for me or other parents abandoned by adult children—which brings me back to my eggplant-purple afghan from childhood. I I remember crawling underneath that heavy afghan at night and feeling swaddled in love. I know some of this was the special feeling of my mother bestowing the gift of handmade love from a family friend on me, but I believe its sheer weight also played a role. After that afghan unraveled and became too ragged for daily use, I missed its weight.
For years, I tried to recreate the feeling by piling on multiple blankets. Of course, my husband likes little more than a thin sheet, so my attempt at better sleep contributed to his insomnia. Why do opposites attract? That’s an article for another day maybe. . . .
Recently, I’ve discovered a solution: the weighted blanket. A former Occupational Therapist who is a member of the support group for parents of estranged adult children here at the site first brought their use to my attention. MJMom, I’m forever grateful!
Weighted blankets were first used in medical settings and for autistic children, but they’ve gone mainstream for good reason. Studies show that weighted blankets decrease anxiety and increase the brain’s feel-good chemicals. Thankfully, the blankets come in sizes for one—meaning the cozy, soft, warm, heavy blanket I use on my side of the bed doesn’t bother my husband who’s relaxing under his featherweight covers. The blankets are a bit pricey, so beware. For me, it’s been a great investment. Maybe you ask for a weighted blanket as a gift (or get yourself a gift).
My weighted blanket is a fleece one made by Sensory Goods in the U.S. (washable and dryable, too), but there are a variety of brands in differing styles, colors, and weights. Be sure to read the information and choose one that’s right for your body weight. Customer reviews also played a part in my choice of a blanket that’s about 10% of my body weight. Those not accustomed to heavier bed covers might prefer a lighter-weight version.
You could also make your own weighted blanket. Go to YouTube.com and search for how to “make a weighted blanket” videos. If you don’t sew, try using the words “no sew” in your search. There are some very talented and creative people who have posted how-to videos.
More tips for better sleep
Here, we’re not covering supplements or medications. What follows are tips and techniques that I’ve found useful, or have been recommended by other parents abandoned by adult children.
Lavender—The scent of lavender is known to promote sleep. Fragrant oil can be dropped on a tissue or cotton ball and placed under your pillow. Or try a diffuser. The scented pads are very convenient. I used to take them along when traveling because odd environments can disturb my sleep. The pads worked great, and came individually wrapped or in a tin, but I haven’t been able to find them lately. If you know where to get them, do tell.
Meditation and Muscle Relaxation—A technique called “progressive muscle relaxation” can ease stress from where its held in the body, and help you get to sleep. For instructions and a video about progressive muscle relaxation, try this site. You’ll find some other techniques at this site too. This is just one site with this kind of information–so if it doesn’t resonate, do your own search for progressive muscle relaxation or guided meditation.
Sleep music—There are some music and video-plus music arrangements created specifically for better sleep. Some are based on the brain’s waves during typical sleep patterns. Others are simply soothing rhythms and/or sounds from nature. Music has always seemed more of a distraction to me than a soothing sleep aid, but it works for some. A friend who has a distant son tells me she can’t go to sleep without her music that’s based on brain waves.
Prayer—There’s something about mentally going through my good wishes for the people I love (including my estranged son and his wife), and trusting that all will be well, that calms me. Some other estranged parents have told me they feel the same. “I don’t know how many times I’ve fallen asleep mid-prayer,” said one mother whose worries over her estranged daughter plague her many evenings. If you’re a spiritually minded person, prayer can help.
Soothing drinks—Calming chamomile tea is a favorite of mine. On a winter night, even a plain cup of hot water can have a soothing affect. Some say warm milk promotes sleep. One thing is for sure: alcohol does not promote restful sleep. People may say alcohol calms them, but it’s known to disturb sleep patterns.
Practicing gratitude—Similar to counting your blessings, thinking of a few things each night (especially if you write them down) can have a calming affect. Remember the smallest joys of the day, and as you lay down to sleep, let them play and replay in your mind. It sure beats ruminating over the what-ifs and whys.
Having trouble sleeping?
These are just a few ideas for better sleep. What do you do to promote the restorative sleep you need? I hope you’ll share with the parents abandoned by adult children who regularly read this blog by posting a comment. Then they can be thankful for a good night’s sleep too.
Insomnia: Definition, Prevalence, Etiology, and Consequences (Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine)