Nightmares in Grief: A Bedtime Ritual to Invoke Peace and Tranquility

Nightmares in Grief: A Bedtime Ritual to Invoke Peace and Tranquility
Photo by Artem Beliaikin / Unsplash

Your psyche is also grieving. It is trying to process the death and make sense of what happened. You are safe

Maybe you have not been able to sleep because you have recurring nightmares multiple times a week. Maybe your nightmares are like the ones I used to have in which my mother would die repeatedly in my arms or maybe yours are some variation of that.

What might be the same is the terror that remains when you wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. The dreams feel so real and vivid that you can still feel the agonizing horror of them.

Nightmares tend to center around the circumstances of death: how they died, the last images of them, what you could have done, should be done or any other unfinished business you had with them.

Over time they can be debilitating and the bedtime ritual and this morning ritual can help soothe the disruption caused by nightmares and help you go back to sleep.

A Bedtime Ritual To Help You Cope with Nightmares

If you notice that the frequency of your nightmares increases and they are happening multiple times a week, use this bedtime ritual to enter into a more peaceful and relaxed state before bed.

If you also struggle to fall asleep because of anxiety, emotional overwhelm, or an overactive mind, use the bedtime rituals in this article to help you fall asleep. You can also learn more about the anatomy of a bedtime ritual and how to create yours.

In addition, check out this article for additional sleep resources and aids.

Ritual Flow – Before Bed

Total Time: 30 – 90 minutes

Ritual Intention: Tonight, I will have a healing dream visit from my person and I will wake up in the morning fully regenerated and recharged at all levels of my beings

6:00 - 8:00 P.M.: Evening Activities - Spend some time doing things like working on a house project, cooking your loved one’s favorite meal for dinner, or any of the other early evening activities in this article to help you get into a space where you are ready for bed

8:00 - 8:15 P.M.: Wind down activity:  Spend some time listening to a visitation dream podcast like this one, a podcast, or other people’s grief stories and garner a sense of support and community in your grief

8:15 - 8:30 P.M.: Reflect & Journal: Settle in and reflect on your day. Give yourself time to validate any feelings of grief you felt. You might also want to sip a cup of passionflower tea and listen to binaural beats or any other music as you write. Use the prompts below or write whatever comes to mind

  • How are you feeling at this moment?
  • What went well today, and what didn’t?
  • What did you need today that you did not get e.g., more compassion, kindness, support, understanding, etc?
  • How was your grief today and what did you miss most about the person who passed?
  • What did you do today that you are proud of and would love to share with them? Talk to them, tell them how you are feeling as if they are there sitting next to you and listening
  • What are some of the happiest memories of your person? You can also keep pictures of them with these memories in a place where you can see them as you journal
  • Ask them to meet you in a dream in a place that is special to both of you. It could be where you were in the pictures with happy memories. Tell them you just want to chat. Hold this intention and invitation as you go into the night

8:30 - 8:45 P.M.: Personal Hygiene: Spend some time taking care of yourself. This might include brushing your teeth and taking a nice warm shower. You can also wear your loved one’s t-shirt to bed or take something of theirs to keep them close

8:45 - 9:00 P.M.: Sleep Hygiene: Spend a few minutes ensuring that your space is ready for sleep by doing things like making sure the temperature is between 60-68 degrees, and spraying lavender on your pillow. Check this article for additional sleep hygiene practices

9:00 P.M: Blue Lights Out: Turn off all screens at least 30 minutes to 60 minutes before you go to bed or at this point before your sadhana practice

9:00 - 9:30 P.M.: Sadhana practice: This is your time to sit with yourself and tune in internally and open yourself to connect with something bigger than yourself that can support you in your journey with grief starting with a good night of sleep that can replenish your depleted resources.

  • Invocation: Say your invocation out loud to invite support from something bigger than you. A key part of any ritual is opening to receive support from something that is greater than yourself. If you are religious, you can invite the main spirit of your religion and if you are not, you can invoke transpersonal energies such as the body intelligence, nature, life, and Jungian archetypes like the self to support you as you transition from waking consciousness to sleep and dreams. Check this article that explains the art of rituals within the context of grief.
  • Breathwork: Perform a gentle breathing exercise like box breathing or do a guided breathwork insight timer or any other sleep app to help your mind calm down
  • Meditation: Listen to this soulful sleep-guided meditation to help you unwind like this  other meditation that creates space for your mind to gently come to rest

9:30 P.M.: Sleep: Put on eyeshade, ear plugs, turn on white noise, sleep music from the free app Insight Timer and go to sleep if you are not already sleeping that is

Ritual Flow – After Waking up from a nightmare

Nightmares about loved ones after death are loaded with subconscious fears, anxieties, and all the unresolved emotions and thoughts around death.

If you a nightmare wakes you up in the middle of the night, use the ritual flow below to help ground and calm you so that you can go back to sleep. You can also use this morning ritual instead if you wake up from the nightmare in the morning or at a time when it is too late to try to go back to sleep.

Nightmares put your body into a heightened physical state and you might wake up with your heart raising and a feverish feeling because your body is reacting as though you were actually experiencing a stressful situation because your brain interprets the experience as real.

If you wake up in the middle of the night, instead of trying to analyze the contents of your nightmare, perform the ritual below.

Total Time: 15 – 30 minutes

Ritual Intention: I enter a safe space in sleep where I have healing dreams and I wake up fully regenerated and recharged at all levels of my being

First Few Minutes.: As soon as you get up, try to bring yourself back to the reality of the present moment as fast as possible. Follow the steps below to do this.

  • Lights on: Turn your lights and allow your awareness to settle in your bedroom. You might be drenched in sweat, your heart is racing, and overwhelmed by terror and panic. Try to notice what you are experiencing
  • Movement: Get out of bed, walk around a little or go to the bathroom
  • Mantra: Repeat the mantraI am safe in my body, It was just a dream". My brain was just trying to process my grief and make sense of the death of my person
  • Get a favorite photo of your person and look at them to counteract any horrible images that were present in your dream

Grounding: Next, you will want to spend a few minutes grounding yourself so that you connect with your physical body and calm down your nervous system. You can do this in a few ways

  • Take a sip of cold water
  • Spray your wrist with an essential oil blend and take a few whiffs or you can just turn on an essential oil diffuser,
  • Put on some grounding music and perform the 4-7-8 breathing (inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds)
  • Apply an ice pack to a specific area of your body or cover your face with a cool washcloth

Self-Soothing/Distraction: Go into another room in your living space to help refocus your mind and do any of the activities below for about 15 minutes to distract yourself

Back To Bed: After about 20 – 30 minutes, go back to bed and say your invocation, and then choose any of the other practices below to induce sleep

  • Invocation: Repeat your invocation again and an affirmation that you will have healing dreams. As a twist, you can have the intention for your loved one to visit you in a dream
  • Bedtime Stories: Listen to a bedtime story from the “Nothing Much Happen Podcast” or Insight Timer App
  • Mediation: Listen to this meditation for sleep that centers you in your heart space
  • Poetry: Listen to Mary Oliver's poems in this podcast episode
  • Audiobook: Listen to an audiobook of your choice. The Power of Now always puts me to sleep!
  • Sleep Music: Put on some sleep music, ASMR, or white noise to help you fall asleep. Check out this article for more sleep music options or download a sleep app like Calm or Insight Timer

General tips

  • Try not to surf social media when you wake up because the more mental stimulation you receive, the more difficult it will be to relax enough to fall asleep. if you use your phone, switch it to night mode or opt for blue light glasses
  • Avoid things that might trigger nightmares like alcohol, late snacks, and certain medications or sleep supplements. For example, melatonin triggers nightmares in some people in higher dosages. Experiment and see what works for you

Your brain is grieving. With nightmares dissipate

Usually, when you experience the death of a loved one, you go into a state of shock, and all your internal resources are directed toward bringing your body back into homeostasis. Specific memories and thoughts surrounding the death and your loved one, in general, become traumatic and are repressed.

When the dust settles, and your brain and psyche are ready to process not just the loss, but the circumstances around it and what it means for the future, sometimes the outcome of that is the nightmares you are experiencing as well as intrusive thoughts and mental ruminations.

In reality, what is happening is that your brain and psyche have entered an active grieving state while you are sleeping, and they are working to help you integrate the loss into your life story. With time, as you have the capacity, you can support your brain in the grieving process by actively turning towards your grief and processing it through activities like crying sessions, reaching out to support groups, podcasts,reading books about grief, and seeing a grief therapist.

You can also work directly with your nightmares using image rehearsal therapy (IRT) which is a simple and safe technique you can use on your own to begin exploring and rewriting recurring nightmares.

With time as you process your grief, the frequency of nightmares will reduce and eventually taper off. In my case, they turned to visitation dreams and a new relationship with my mother which is also possible for you.

Things will get better.