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How To Sleep When You're Coping With Grief

Updated: Jan 16

The loss of a loved one is a traumatic time when you struggle to function because of your grief. But in the weeks and months following your loss, something also experienced but not always noticed is a change in sleeping patterns resulting in difficulty sleeping.

This can be due to factors such as bad dreams, discomfort sleeping in the bed you once shared with your partner, or perhaps due to a disorder like insomnia, depression, or PTSD. But whatever the reason, getting enough sleep is vital for maintaining good mental and physical health and needs to be a priority, especially when you’re grieving.

Health effects

There’s plenty of research to show that long-term sleep deprivation can have serious health consequences, including;

  1. Accelerated skin aging

  2. Increased risk of stroke

  3. Decreased bone density

  4. Weakened immune response

  5. Increased risk of obesity

  6. Increased risk of heart disease

  7. Increased risk of cancer and premature death.

On top of all that, those grieving can also experience a range of adverse emotional effects from prolonged lack of sleep, such as intolerance, irritability, hostility, depression, and general negativity.

Ways to sleep

So if you’ve recently lost a loved one and are experiencing an inability to sleep, here are some ideas that may help.

Change your environment

If the place where you sleep is not conducive to sleeping, there are several tweaks you can try to make it a more restful environment. These could include;

  1. Phone – make sure it is switched off and left in another room.

  2. Light – if a streetlight is entering through your window coverings, invest in blackout blinds.

  3. Noise – if the street or household noise is a problem, consider a pair of earplugs or white noise earphones.

  4. Temperature – try and sleep in a well-ventilated room with a temperature in the mid-60s.

  5. Comfort – if your bed is old or uncomfortable, invest in a new mattress, pillows, and bedding. A mattress protector will also offer a barrier shield between you and your mattress, as well as an additional layer of comfort.

  6. Company – if the feeling of sleeping without your partner is keeping you awake, try letting the dog sleep on your bed.

Establish a routine

Suppose you establish a regular bedtime routine every evening. In that case, you’re telling your brain it’s time to wind down ready for sleep. Ways to do this might include;

  1. Dim the lighting an hour or so before bed

  2. Read a book or write in your diary

  3. Take a relaxing warm bath

  4. Drink a cup of hot chocolate or herbal tea

  5. Listen to some soothing music.

Calming actions such as these can all help to slow you down and make you feel more sleepy.

Prepare for sleep

Calming your mind before sleep is even more critical than slowing your body. Your brain can be hard to switch off, mainly when you grieve the loss of a loved one.

When you’re lying in bed, take long, deep breaths and try not to think of anything in particular. And if the cogs continue to turn, try counting backward from 100 or thinking of names for each letter of the alphabet.

Hopefully, you’ll eventually succumb to the mesmerizing effect of such pointless activities and drift off to sleep.

Things NOT to do

As well as taking positive steps to improve your chances of sleeping, there are several big No-No’s you need to avoid;

  1. Naps – never take an afternoon nap

  2. Coffee – don’t drink coffee in the evening as caffeine interferes with your sleep cycle

  3. Cigarettes – don’t smoke before bedtime, as nicotine is a stimulant

  4. Alcohol – don’t drink alcohol before bedtime as your body will have to work to break it down

  5. TV and mobile devices avoid these before going to bed, as the blue light they emit makes the brain think it’s time to wake up.

Hopefully, one or more of these suggestions will help you tip the scales towards enjoying a good night’s sleep again. Just bear in mind when you’re dealing with grief, it can take time for sleep patterns to normalize, so do the best you can and take it a day at a time.

And talk to your doctor about it because they may have some valuable ideas beyond writing a prescription for sleeping pills. For example, they may recommend you try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This treatment explores coping strategies for problems such as insomnia.

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