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Grief and Sleep: 4 Tips for Overcoming Insomnia

purple heart outline on rock. blue lettering FOR ALL THOSE WE HAVE LOVED & LOST. on wood

Grief is a natural and healthy reaction to losing a loved one, but it’s also an emotionally powerful response that can affect your life in negative ways. Bereaved individuals often experience a disruption of their normal sleep cycle, which can result in insomnia. Guilt, sadness, anxiety, and a racing mind when you’re trying to sleep can make it very difficult to settle into a normal and healthy sleep pattern. Stress is to be expected when you experience a loss, and managing that is an important first step in combating insomnia.

Loss of sleep is a common symptom of grief, and it is quite common among those who sleep in a bed they once shared with their lost loved one. Allowing yourself time to grieve is important, but it may be necessary to take action if symptoms of depression are causing sleep deprivation.

woman sleeping wearing eye mask

Get on a Schedule

When dealing with sleep issues, it is important to stick with a regular regimen to help your body get back into its normal cycle. Try going to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time every morning, and maintain that schedule even on the weekends and holidays when you might be tempted to sleep late. Remember, your body needs time to readjust to a regular and healthy sleep schedule, so there should be no disruptions.

If you’re a napper, consider putting that habit on hold until you’re back into the groove. Avoid exercising or ingesting a stimulant, such as coffee, late in the evening so you don’t elevate your heart rate. Instead of working out before bed, do a few stress-relieving stretches like neck rolls, chin tucks, and calf raises.

The key is to restore your circadian rhythm, which, according to, consists of the “24-hour cycles that regulate physiological and psychological processes.” These cycles can be affected by depression and anxiety, which can lead to sleep problems. The loss of a loved one will understandably lead to sadness and depression, but meditation, a healthy diet, and exercise can help guide you back towards a normal circadian rhythm.

Fitbit heart rate from practicing BollyX choreography 6/12/22

Regular Exercise

Exercise can play a key role in resolving a sleep problem. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, whether it’s at the gym, at a local park, or at home. The more you can do to get yourself feeling tired in the evening, the easier it will be to wind down when you need to. Exercise can be a positive distraction from emotional pain, too. Plus, it gets the endorphins in your brain working, which makes you feel good. And, of course, it’ll keep your blood pressure down and your weight under control, which may help alleviate the depression you’re experiencing.

view into a white bedroom

Re-Do Your Sleep Space

Trying to sleep in the bedroom you shared with a spouse/partner is often difficult for bereaved people. Consider putting away any photos or decorations that remind you of the past, at least until you’re feeling better. While you’re at it, why not redecorate? Add some new window treatments (including blackout shades to keep the room dark at night), get a new nightstand, and repaint the walls with a soothing color that’s conducive to restful sleep. Bear in mind, however, that earth tones usually work best (try to avoid bright shades). Also, don’t forget your mattress, as a lumpy, uneven mattress is often a contributor to sleep problems.

fan in corner of red room

Helpful Gadgets

You may find it helpful to turn on a floor fan or a sound machine so there’s rhythmic background noise all night. According to Yoga Sleep, white noise is often helpful to drown out the noise and create a cue for your body that it’s time to sleep. Or, you might try a Philips Hue light, which can be set to “mimic” the dimming of sunlight and emit light in the morning when it’s time to wake up. The Dodow sleep lamp uses blue light to relax your breathing and enhance your sleep state. Avoid keeping the TV, computer screen, or tablet on at night; they emit a light that can trick your brain into thinking it’s time to wake up.

Dealing with the emotional fallout of a devastating personal loss is always hard and takes time; you need to adapt mentally, physically, and emotionally. If you’re unable to maintain an important function like sleep, it’s important to consider some lifestyle changes. If the problem persists, consult your doctor or a sleep specialist.

Sheila Johnson once enjoyed a very successful career, but her health was another story. She left the corporate world to start her own business, on her own schedule. She found a routine that balances work life with taking care of her mental, emotional, and physical health. She created Well Sheila as a place to not only share her story but inspire others to put their physical and mental health first with a regular wellness routine and daily self-care.

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The information in this post is being provided to you for educational and informational purposes only. It is being provided to you to educate you about women's wellness and as a self-help tool for your own use. It is not a substitute for medical or health advice from a professional who is aware of the facts and circumstances of your individual situation. This information is to be used at your own risk based on your own judgment. For the full Disclaimer, please click here.

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