The effects of grief are far-reaching. When you’ve lost someone you love, you not only experience painful emotions but your ability to lead a healthy lifestyle also suffers.

One major way that grief disrupts the lives of bereaved people is through lost sleep.

Sleeplessness is a known symptom of grief. Even as you feel physically, emotionally, and mentally drained, you may find you’re unable to rest—right when you need it most. Intrusive thoughts, headaches, and muscle tension make it difficult to fall asleep and cause repeated waking throughout the night.

Some people turn to sleeping pills or psychiatric medications to combat insomnia while grieving. While certain medications can help you sleep, they have downsides, according to UpToDate. For instance, medications that treat insomnia can cause daytime drowsiness, and some even carry a risk of addiction.

That’s why behavioral change—not medication—is generally recommended as the first line of treatment for insomnia. Before talking to your doctor about sleeping pills, Be BOLD Psychology & Consulting invites you to consider the following changes.

Improve Your Sleep Environment

Grief can amplify minor bedroom discomforts to keep you from sleeping. If you’ve lost a partner, your bedroom may also hold painful memories that keep you up at night. If possible, take these steps for a more soothing bedroom:

  • Set the thermostat to between 60–67 degrees.
  • Avoid nightlights and use blackout curtains or a sleep mask for total darkness.
  • Replace a mattress that aggravates aches and pains with a mattress that’s comfortable for your particular sleep position.
  • Maintain quiet in the bedroom. If you need noise to sleep, try out a pair of headphones, or invest in a small set of speakers and a budget-friendly receiver to fill your room with white noise.
  • If you wake up with dry airways or dry, itchy skin, use a humidifier. Humidifiers add moisture into the air for more comfortable breathing. They’re especially useful in winter when air tends to be drier.
  • Use your bed only for sleep and intimacy. Do not read, do work, eat, or scroll through social media in your bed.

Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

Set the stage for a peaceful night’s sleep by relaxing your body and mind before heading to bed. In addition to a regularly-scheduled bedtime, which regulates your body’s internal clock, adopt these daily bedtime habits:

  • Stop using electronics one hour before bedtime. The blue light found in electronics such as TVs, computers, and smartphones tricks your body into believing it’s daytime. As a result, you don’t feel tired when you should.
  • Create a relaxing hygiene routine. Your bedtime routine should be soothing, not rushed. Set aside enough time for oral hygiene and a warm shower or bath before bed.
  • Meditate before bed to clear your mind. Meditation relaxes your body and trains your mind not to dwell on painful thoughts.
  • Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings. Investing in dimmer lights/switches could be helpful, and these can even be set on a timer!
  • Do not eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, whole-foods based snack!
  • Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.

Adopt Healthy Daytime Habits

Your daytime activities also affect your ability to sleep at night. To help yourself feel relaxed and tired when bedtime arrives, practice these healthy habits during the day:

  • There’s a clear link between exercise habits and sleep quality. When you exercise during the day, you are more likely to sleep better and longer. Exercise is also great for working through negative emotions during grief. Avoid exercising too close to bedtime if it prevents you from falling asleep.
  • Watch your caffeine intake. Caffeine makes it easier to cope with insomnia, but it also contributes to it. Avoid drinking caffeine after noon so it’s out of your system by bedtime.
  • Don’t self-medicate. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it causes sleep disturbances that prevent quality sleep. Don’t drink close to bedtime and monitor yourself for excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Stress management. Stress can accumulate from a variety of situations. In a grieving period, look for ways to reduce stress in other areas of your life to help you cope.

If you’ve taken these steps and still can’t sleep, it’s time to talk to your doctor about medication. However, medications aren’t a long-term solution for sleep problems.

The National Institute on Aging reminds you to make sure you’re receiving adequate support for your grief. This is a difficult time, and you don’t have to go through it alone. That is why Be BOLD Psychology and Consulting offers individual and group support to assist you in working through and better managing your grief. Our clinicians have background and training in grief and loss, and would be glad to walk alongside of you during your grief journey. Moreover, our 8-week therapeutic support group is an excellent option for those looking to connect with others, share experiences, and heal together. And we are currently enrolling for our next Grief and Loss group for clients in North Carolina and 28 other states, beginning soon! Email [email protected] for more information about individual and/or group therapy services.

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Dr. Bate leads several therapy groups, which may be accepting clients. As a PSYPACT provider, Dr. Bate can service clients in over 30 states and jurisdictions. Authority to Practice Interjurisdictional Telepsychology (APIT) under the PSYPACT* Commission E. Passport issued 2/11/21 Mobility Number # 6459. Specialty areas: Queer and/or gender diverse folx, couples/relationships, and families. Trauma, PTSD, grief, bereavement, loss. Substance use/substance misuse, addictions. Relationship stressors and communication issues. Student-athlete stress. Court-ordered therapy and sex offender treatment. Mental health evaluations in the context of high-conflict divorce. Criminal and Civil Forensic Assessment. Email: [email protected] to schedule your free consult or request an appointment here. I help people who feel stuck, numb, or who are gripped by grief, loss, and unresolved trauma experience deeper, more fulfilling relationships and life outcomes. I assist people and families working through addiction find a path towards wellness. I work with individuals who may feel lost, scared, or alone to better understand their gender identity, sexual, relational, and romantic orientations. I also help intimate partners and families understand each other and communicate more effectively, including about matters of identity.

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