10 Tips for When Grief Disrupts Your Sleep

Although we each process grief in our own way, it's not uncommon to experience disrupted sleep for a time after the loss of a loved one. Here are 10 strategies to help you get to sleep.

Rachel Hechtman Rachel Hechtman
ARTICLE4 MIN READ
10 Tips for When Grief Disrupts Your Sleep

Although grief is a universal experience, each and every one one of us processes the associated emotions in a unique and individual way. That being said, sleeping disturbances are a very common complaint of the bereaved.

The painful weight of losing a loved one can wreak havoc on our mental health and subsequently our sleep. So, in spite of experiencing both mental and physical fatigue, many bereaved people struggle to sleep soundly during periods of grief and loss.

Life is busy. It's easy to overlook how tired we are feeling.

Life’s busy pace means many of us have become accustomed to feeling exhausted, spaced out and stressed. So when we are in the midst of dealing with all the formalities and emotions experienced when a loved one dies, we may not notice just how sleep deprived we actually are.

Fatigue impairs our ability to function properly at the best of times. This is especially so when we are dealing with grief. So, it’s vital you look after yourself by taking the necessary steps to give yourself the best possible chance of getting a good night’s rest.

Everything about sleeping can feel different

When someone has lost a partner, bedtime can be especially tricky. Everything about going to sleep, from bedtime routines to the bed itself, can feel different, empty, and less safe. In order to attain good quality sleep, the first step is to recreate a positive mindset around sleep time as well as a healthy bedtime routine. 

Setting up a healthy bedtime routine

A healthy bedtime routine requires your brain to associate your bedroom with sleep. This means you should avoid highly stimulating activities such as working, playing computer or mobile phone games or watching TV, whilst in your bedroom.

Instead, opt for activities like reading a book, writing in a journal, listening to an audiobook or using a mindfulness app designed to help you ease into bedtime. Here are ten things to try when you are finding it difficult to fall and stay asleep.

1. Journaling

Journaling for grief allows you to externalise your thoughts and stories. It can be a way to give yourself permission to stop the painful thoughts and allow your body to fall into slumber.

2. Meditation

Try to make a concerted effort to schedule in twenty minutes of conscious relaxation or meditation before you want to fall asleep. Relaxation exercises can provide a bridge between wakefulness and sleep. This in turn will help you relax your muscles and calm your mind so you can rest, rather than toss and turn.

3. Herbal Tea

For some, incorporating a cup of herbal tea or warm milk into the bedtime routine further induces feelings of relaxation and readiness to sleep. Be sure to avoid stimulants such as alcohol, smoking or beverages that contain caffeine. For that reason it's best to avoid green and black tea, cola and coffee. Avoiding these stimulants after 3pm can further support obtaining a good night’s rest.

4. A warm bath

Taking a relaxing, warm bath before bed can sooth the muscles in preparation for sleep. Adding some soothing essential oils such as lavender can also help.

5. A quiet space

Make sure your bed and linen are comfortable, and that the room is dark and quiet. Do the windows have curtains or blinds that block out the light sufficiently? If light is a problem, investing in block out blinds may make the world of difference.

6. Turn off your mobile phone

These days many of us feel lost when our mobile phone is beyond arm's reach. But the beeping, buzzing and flashing lights of calls and messages interfere with getting a good night’s rest. The blue light that phones emit is known to restrain the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls our sleep-wake cycle.

A good idea is put your mobile phone on silent mode. Better yet, leave it in another room.

7. Don't take a nap

When you may feel tired in the afternoon, it's best to avoid taking a nap. As enticing as a nap may be, you probably won’t be tired enough to sleep through the night as well.

8. Phone a friend or see a counsellor

As the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. Having someone you can call to discuss your feelings with can be another great way to relieve some built up stress. Offloading some of your feelings can help you feel more relaxed and ready to sleep at night.

Talking to family and friends is a great option, but if neither of these suggestions work for you, then there are specialist bereavement services available, including the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement.

Don't underestimate the impact of insomnia and exhaustion. If you feel it's all becoming too much and you require more immediate help, Lifeline is another service that can help you during periods of loss and grief. If you are finding your sleep is interrupted for a longer than usual time, or if you are finding it unbearable, then it may be worth seeing a professional counsellor.

9. Go for a walk

Including a regular, moderate walk in the fresh air can help support mental health as well as tire you out at night.‍ Try to schedule regular opportunities for gentle exercise even if this is not something you did before. Organising a walk with family and friends offers an opportunity for socialisation and inclusion, two things that are often difficult or lost after the death of a loved one.

10. Get a massage

Lastly, consider booking yourself in for some therapeutic bodywork, such as reiki, massage or acupuncture. These therapies can help your body relax and relieve stress. If you arrange an appointment outside of your home, consider asking a friend to drive you to and from your appointment so you can relax completely.

Wrap up

Difficulty with sleep can occur throughout our lives. Good sleep hygiene is important at every stage of life, but particularly during periods of stress, grief and loss. If after trialling these ten tips for falling and staying asleep you are still experiencing trouble sleeping at night, it might be time to make an appointment to see your GP. They may hold the key to getting you back on track after a prolonged period of poor quality sleep and chronic fatigue.

The stress of losing a loved one can impact our ability to sleep, causing us to feel worse for wear. One way to reduce that stress on your family is to plan and prepay for your cremation. This is where Willed can help. To speak with one of our funeral arrangers, please call 1300 945 533 or go to willed.com.au.

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