Sleep doesn’t come easy to many of us at the best of times. Experiencing grief can only worsen our sleep, whether that’s from an overactive stressed and anxious mind, or dreams and nightmares interrupting us through the night. 

Setting up healthy sleep habits can help support us through difficult nights, improving our sleep quality which can also improve overall mental health and wellbeing. 

In Part 2 of our Grief sleep guides, we will walk you through developing and maintaining healthy sleep habits while grieving, and the effects poor sleep has on the body and mind.

Click here to read Part 1 - Grief sleep guide: Getting through the night after a death.

Healthy sleep hygiene while grieving.

Sleep hygiene refers to our habits and circumstances surrounding sleep. When struck with losing a loved one, all good habits tend to go out the window as grief takes over. Maintaining habits can give us a sense of normalcy and routine during a difficult time, taking it one day at a time.

Developing nighttime and morning routines are a great step towards developing healthy sleep hygiene. These could look like:

Nighttime routine:

  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon so it has time to work its way out of your system.
  • Gentle exercise in the evening, such as a walk, stretching or yoga.
  • Avoid using technology for an hour before bed, and try reading or journaling to calm the mind. 
  • Don’t ignore and fight your way through tiredness. Go to bed when you’re feeling sleepy. 

Morning routine:

  • Wake up at the same/similar time every day, and go to sleep at the same time every night - why
  • Once you’re out of bed, make your bed. This can help discourage you from getting back into bed.
  • Try to get some early morning sunshine. Exposure to light during your early waking hours helps to set your body clock.
  • Drink plenty of water before you have your coffee.
  • Eat a balanced breakfast that you can look forward to having. Having something tasty that’s filled with protein, carbs and fats can help set you up for the day.

How poor sleep affects the body and mind.

The effects of grief and the effects of poor sleep have a lot of overlap. Sleep deprivation can cause a heightened stress response, changes in mood, difficulty concentrating, and long term can lead to depression and anxiety. 

Grief affects us similarly as well; many people experience exhaustion, changes in appetite, aches and pains and anxiety due to chronic stress from the grief. Not to mention the general fear, panic attacks and despair we feel in loss. 

Read: Why does grief feel so physical?

Part of working through your grief is reducing your stress in any way you can, but also cutting yourself some slack. Your days might feel hard, or even impossible, and beating yourself up for not sticking with healthy habits is only making things worse, and the habits even harder to develop. Praise yourself for every small change or action, and be kind to yourself on the days where nothing gets done. 

How you can reduce your stress.

It might feel like you’re listening to a broken record with this advice, but there’s a reason these are some common ways to reduce stress, which in turn can help with your sleep. 

  • Exercise: at this stage of grief, any movement is good movement. As you start to incorporate regular movement back into your life, a mixture of strength, cardio, and more low impact movement like walking or yoga are important for general muscle and cardiovascular health.
  • Talking to someone: whilst we’ll always encourage seeing a GP to get on a mental health plan and utilising a psychologist, we understand this isn’t accessible for everyone. Lean on your support systems like friends and family, or reach out to a hotline or support group. Keeping your grief bottled up can wreak havoc on the body, so talking to someone can reduce a bit of the pressure. 
  • Working through your emotions: following on from above, overwhelming negative emotions like anger or guilt can prolong the intense effect of grief and stress when not kept in check. The issue isn’t the negative emotions itself, but how much space you allow them to take up. If negative emotions take up all the space, there won’t be enough room for anything positive. 
  • Breathwork and journaling: both are mindfulness practices that are proven in reducing stress and calming down the nervous system. Sometimes just jotting thoughts and ideas down can help calm and clear your mind.  
  • Laughter: whether that’s a funny TV show, or spending time with people who bring you joy and make you laugh, laughter is truly the best medicine. 
  • Avoiding people or things that cause stress: Many of us have people, events or just something that keeps us in a state of stress. Learning to set boundaries and saying no when you need to can help keep that stress in check.

Habits to last a lifetime. 

The thing with habits is that it’s so easy to fall off the bandwagon on the best of days, and in grief setting up routines and habits can feel overwhelming. 

The best advice we can give is to take your time to add on one change at a time. Trying to change everything at once will feel like way too much, and you’re more likely to drop off from the habits by doing that.

We’re here for you.

Grief is a lifelong journey of love, loss and learning to live without your loved one by your side. At Bare, we’re here to help. Head to our Grief Resources for videos and articles talking through grief, and you can also book a complimentary appointment with Claire, our grief specialist.