Tips for a better sleep when grieving

Published: 23/11/2022

Grief is a universal experience which everyone processes differently. One common factor however for many people during their grieving journey is insomnia.

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep and or stay asleep. Lasting anywhere from weeks to months, it is often the result of stress, anxiety, poor sleeping environment or something more serious like a traumatic event.

Symptoms of insomnia can include: 

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Feeling tired after a nights sleep 
  • Depression or anxiety 
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks and forgetfulness 
  • Ongoing worries about sleep 

The trauma associated with the loss of a loved one can have a profound effect on a person's mental health and sleep because the emotions associated, weigh so heavily on a person. A  body experiencing mental and physical fatigue can often cause sleep patterns to be disrupted.

Life is busy, and for many people the feeling of being exhausted, fatigued and stressed has become a norm in their daily lives. Therefore when a person is faced with an unexpected trauma, they may not even notice how sleep deprived they really are.

When coping with grief and loss a person's sleep cycle can feel different, especially when grieving the loss of a partner. Bedtime routines coupled with physically being in bed can feel particularly empty and lonely. To help achieve a good night sleep it's important to create a positive mindset around sleep again and incorporate a healthy night routine.

A healthy bedtime routine requires the brain to connect the bedroom with sleep. Therefore, winding down on daily tasks and avoiding highly stimulating activities such as working on a laptop, mobile phone or watching TV should be kept to a minimum.

Incorporating calming activities into night time routines will also help slow the body and mind down giving the body the best chance at a good night's sleep. This can include reading, journal writing, meditation, listening to an audiobook and meditation practises.

Below are tips to help with a better night's sleep. 

Journal writing

Journaling is therapeutic when it comes to expressing our feelings and allows us to externalise our thoughts, feelings and struggles when coping with grief and loss. Journaling before bedtime is said to help reduce overactive thoughts by transferring them to paper allowing the body and mind to feel more at ease. 

Meditation practice 

Meditation can be practised through guided meditation using phone apps or through breathing and relaxation exercises. Finding at least 10-15 minutes before bed as meditation can help relax the muscles and mind and provide the body with a state of calm.

Related article: Mindfulness for Grief

Herbal tea

Sipping on a warm cuppa or milk before bed can help encourage the mind to start winding down and relax. Avoid stimulants such as alcohol, smoking or caffeinated teas, coffee and soft drinks before bed as they can give the body unnecessary energy. Instead, stick to decaffeinated drinks at night time to give the body the best chance of getting a better sleep. 

Warm bath

A warm bath at night can help relax the muscles in preparation for bedtime. Adding bath salts and essential oils like lavender can help calm the body and mind. Listen to soothing music for a total relaxation experience. 

Turn off technology

Many of us have become accustomed to taking our mobile phones everywhere we go and feel lost when we don't have them by our side. However, being on smartphones before going to sleep stimulates the brain as the blue light that our smartphones release is known to weaken the production of melatonin which is the hormone that controls our sleep and rem cycle. So it's best to turn smartphones to aeroplane mode during sleep or do not disturb mode.

Bedroom is a calming space

Setting up a bedroom before the night routine can make a person feel a sense of calmness within themselves and in the room. This might include shutting the blinds, folding down the sheets, turning on a lamp and ensuring the TV is off. 

Stay awake during the day

Avoid taking a nap during the day as it can conflict with an already disrupted sleep cycle. 

Yin yoga

Yin yoga before bed can be a great way to calm the body and mind. The practice allows the body to slow down, relax and reset. By holding a pose for 5-10 minutes during the practice it allows enough time for the muscles to relax and the mind to focus on breathing moving through a total body relaxation. 

Relaxation massage

Consider booking into a therapeutic massage and bodywork such as reiki or acupuncture at night. Both methods can help the body destress and relax by stimulating the central nervous system and can increase the body's natural healing abilities promoting physical and emotional wellbeing. 

Speak to someone

It's important to know you are not alone when it comes to struggling with sleep during a time of grief and loss. Speaking to family and friends or a professional counsellor can be a way to express your feelings and stress.  

People underestimate the impact insomnia can have on the body. If you feel as though your sleep is being disrupted for longer periods of time and is becoming unbearable, it may be worth seeking professional help as many counsellors can help during periods of grief and loss.

The stress of losing a loved one can have a major effect on our ability to sleep. Trying to implement a good bedtime routine therefore can be particularly important.

If you are experiencing prolonged insomnia, it might be worth speaking to your GP or professional counsellor to get your sleep routine back on track.

To find support:

Beyond Blue provides Australians with information and support to improve their mental health. Call 1300 22 46 36 or visit beyondblue.org.au for more information.

Lifeline Australia provides Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support. Call 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au for more information.

GriefLine listens, cares and supports people experiencing loss and grief, at any stage in life. Call 1300 845. 6am to midnight AEST, 7 days a week.

MensLine Australia is a professional telephone and online support and information service for Australian men. Call 1300 78 99 78, 24 hours / 7 days a week.

Kids Helpline is a free 24/7, confidential and private counselling service Australia wide specifically for children and young people aged 5 to 25 years. Call 1800 55 1800.

Life Supports Counselling provides Australians with experienced counsellors & psychologists in their local area Australia-wide. Call 1300 735               

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