How to Deal With Grief & Insomnia: 12 Tips to Help You Sleep

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When you’re grieving, sleep is one of the first things that suffer, as grief is both physically and emotionally draining. It can leave you sleep-deprived, affecting your mood, intensifying your grief symptoms, and even affecting your cognitive functions. 

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A continual lack of sleep can also lead you to suffer beyond normal grief that typically lasts anywhere from six to twelve months to more prolonged and complicated grief. Complicated grief is harder to cope with the longer it goes untreated. 

Recognizing the importance of sleep to the overall grief-healing process is essential to your emotional and physical well-being. If you’re looking for new ways to deal with grief and subsequent insomnia, keep reading on to learn about what can cause it and tips to help you sleep a little better.

How Does Grief Affect Sleep?

Grief affects your sleep in many different ways, beginning with your sleep habits. It interrupts your usual sleep patterns, which affect your cognitive functioning and mood stability. 

Whenever there’s a disruption of your sleep habits due to grief, your mind and body go through biological grief reactions. You may start to feel disoriented, unable to function, and your mind becomes foggy, leaving you unable to think clearly. These symptoms are all caused by insomnia induced by complicated grief. 

Insomnia is a grief-related symptom that can be effectively treated as you go through the stages of grief. The following are some tips to help you get better sleep and deal with your grief more effectively.

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Tips for Getting Better Sleep as You Move Through Your Grief

A bereaved individual will experience many sleepless nights for the first few days or weeks following a significant loss. Nights without sleep are typical and should be expected. You can take specific steps to help you reclaim your sleep as you try to cope with your loss’s pain and sorrow.

Here are some things you can try immediately to help you get better sleep:

1. Maintain your current sleep schedule

Experiencing the death of a loved one or other type of significant loss, you can expect to lose some sleep over it. Your mind and body go into shock as you try and make sense of your grief. There’s nothing uncommon about suffering through a few sleepless nights in the first few days or weeks following a loss.

It starts to become a problem when these nights turn into weeks of prolonged sleep deprivation. To curtail some of the effects of grief-induced insomnia, try and keep to your current sleep schedule. If you’re used to going to bed at a particular time, test and maintain that routine even if you’re lying in bed wide-awake. This triggers your body’s chemistry to recognize this time of night (or day) as your time to rest and sleep.

2. Create a sleep routine

Sleep routines are created mostly out of habit. You probably already have one and don’t recognize it as being one. For example, if you like to watch an hour or two of television before calling it a night, or if you read a book until you get sleepy, those are considered sleep routines.

They’re nothing more than habits you form in your nightly routines that trigger the brain into thinking it’s time to get ready for sleep. If you don’t already have a nightly ritual, try experimenting to see what works best for you. 

3. Enhance your sleeping environment

Think of ways that you find pleasure in your sleep to enhance or recreate the ideal sleeping environment for you. Fresh, crisp linens, a comfortable mattress, and just-right pillows are all things that make up your sleep environment. 

Other things to consider adding to your bedroom or sleeping area are soothing scents, soft lighting, or relaxing music playing in the background. All of these things lend to an environment that signals peaceful, restful sleep. If your room is chaotic, cluttered, or messy, it’s harder to get a good night’s rest in it. 

4. Wind down before bedtime

There are many winddown routines that you can try before bedtime to get you in the mood for sleep. Many people practice shutting off all electronics and disconnecting from social media a few hours before bedtime to get you in the right mindset for rest. 

However, others need that final dose of nightly news or social media updates before turning in each night. Experiment to see which type of person you are and what works best for you. If shutting down access to your online world hours before you go to sleep gives you anxiety, consider placing a time limit on your nightly scrolling.

5. Get exercise

Exercising during the day will get you physically tired come nighttime so that you can fall asleep faster and easier than without it. You’ll need to figure out what time for exercise works best for you as exercise can have the opposite effect of keeping you up at night. 

Some people feel more energized and ready to go after a good workout, while others use it as a form of winding down in the evening. There’s no right time to exercise. You’ll need to try a few different times of day to see what helps you sleep better. 

6. Meditate

Meditation is a mind and body practice that teaches you to be present in the moment. There are many different and effective ways to practice meditation to help you with your insomnia. One of the more straightforward techniques uses the breathing method known as mindful meditation. With this type of meditation, you practice breath-work. This means paying attention to each breath you take in and each breath you exhale.

Over time, you’ll become adept at focusing solely on your breath until you learn to control the thoughts that are keeping you awake. Once you know how to meditate, falling asleep should become easier for you. 

7. Avoid napping 

Sometimes, grief can affect you in ways that you’ll want to stay in bed and sleep all day. This will leave you sleepless at night, perpetuating an unnatural sleep cycle. There’s nothing wrong with sleeping all day if it fits into your daily schedule. But, when you find yourself staying in bed all day because you’re depressed, this can lead to other serious complications.

Train yourself not to nap during the day after the first few days of grieving. In those early few days, you’ll want to listen to your body and allow yourself to grieve freely. After a week or so, try not to nap during hours when you’re usually awake. 

8. Read books

Reading books on grief will help you get to know your grief better and possibly help you get to sleep faster when trying to. For many, reading a book before bedtime clears the mind and is relaxing. It also helps get them in the right mindset for sleep.

Reading a book before bedtime reduces stress and helps you relax into sleep. It also helps distract your mind from your grief, sorrow, and loneliness that you may be experiencing due to a loved one’s death. 

9. Avoid stimulants 

Avoiding stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine before your usual bedtime will help you fall asleep faster and attain a deeper, more restful sleep. When your mind is already racing with thoughts of grief and despair, the consumption of stimulants close to bedtime makes you more alert, sending your brain into overdrive. 

When you find sleep, you can expect it to be interrupted by frequent bathroom jaunts as caffeine stimulates the bladder in some people.

10. Recognize the importance of sleep

Sleep is an essential function that your body needs to perform at its best. Rest and sleep have a healing power that’s sometimes overlooked. When you get adequate sleep, you are:

  • More aware
  • In a better mood
  • Healing from your grief quicker
  • More alert during the day
  • Able to function better
  • Able to think more clearly 

11. Get adequate sunlight

Exposure to daylight and direct sunlight has a mood-boosting effect produced as a chemical reaction by your brain. Sunlight triggers feel-good endorphins and helps regulate your internal clock. 

In areas where sunlight is at a minimum, or it’s inconvenient for you to go outside, consider the use of a sunlamp or sunlight simulating lamp. These lamps mimic the effect of direct sunlight, and you can use them year-round when access to the outdoors is limited or impossible. 

12. Seek outside help

When it seems you’ve run out of options in trying to resolve your sleeplessness, consider finding a therapist or counselor to help you work through your grief. There are different options for treating sleep disorders in bereavement. Your trained counselor or therapist can talk to you through which options can help.

Treatment of grief-induced insomnia through the use of psychological intervention is an alternative to taking prescription drugs to combat your sleep deprivation. 

When Grief Causes You to Lose Sleep

Grief affects everyone differently. One of the most common ways a person experiences grief-related symptoms is through the lack of sleep or insomnia. The good news is that it can be effectively treated, and in most cases, suffering through sleepless nights is only temporary.

Getting adequate sleep when you’re lost in despair can be helped by being proactive in reclaiming your sleep patterns. Try going to bed at the same time each night, meditating to release negative or distracting thoughts, and finding ways to calm your mind and body through exercise, yoga, or meditation. 

If you're looking to learn more about grief, read our guides on grief triggers and self-care and grief.


Sources

  1. Monk, Timothy H., Anne Germain, and Charles F. Reynolds III. “Sleep Disturbance in Bereavement.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, Psychiatric Annals, February 22 2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2826218/
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