For a lot of people, getting a good night’s sleep can be a tricky task to accomplish at the best of times, without grief coming into play. Sleep while experiencing grief can be especially difficult to achieve and the bereft often have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

So in the days, weeks, or even months after someone close to you has died, it is common to experience a change or disruption in your sleeping pattern.

The problem is, fatigue creeps up on us slowly. The emotional turmoil that follows the loss of a loved one often causes various levels of exhaustion. This might even be a long and sustained period of exhaustion if the deceased person’s health had been deteriorating for some time.

Consequently, we can get so used to feeling tired, spacey, or overwhelmed with everything we need to do after someone close to us dies, that we might not realise how sleep deprived we are. If you are experiencing a time of intense grief, it’s so important to look after YOU.

Life and grief are that much more difficult to navigate when you’re fatigued. So I’ve put together some tips to help you get through the night and try to get some sleep despite your grief.

A moderate walk can support mental health and tire you out at night.
A moderate walk can support mental health and tire you out at night, to help you sleep while grieving.

Tips to settle yourself to sleep at night while grieving.

As difficult as it may be to find the energy to exercise during the day, even the smallest activity like a moderate walk can help tire you out at night. Getting some fresh air does wonders for mental health too. Physical activity is a good step to promote sleep at a time of grief - or any time for that matter. If you have a dog to walk, your four-legged pal will appreciate the exercise as well.

Establishing a bedtime routine is key to telling your brain it’s time to rest. Start by setting yourself a nightly bedtime goal and try to stick to it as best as possible. Setting an alarm can also be a good reminder to get ready for bed when bedtime approaches.

Your brain should associate your bedroom with sleep, so avoid highly stimulating activities like watching TV, or playing computer or mobile games. Instead, unwind by reading a chapter of a book, or try journaling to write out what you’re struggling with. Alternatively, close your eyes and listen to an audiobook.  

Working a cup of herbal tea into your bedtime ritual might also help you relax, but avoid green tea though, as it has caffeine in it, which is of course a stimulant. You’ll want to avoid drinking coffee or caffeinated beverages in the evening or late afternoon altogether. The same goes for alcohol, as your body will be working hard to break that down, instead of resting.

Meditation, yoga, or even simple stretching before bedtime can also help you to get into the zone and wind down before bed. There are countless mindfulness tutorials and meditation videos on YouTube. Or you can use a mindfulness app like Headspace or Smiling Mind to guide you.

If you have a virtual assistant, like an Amazon Alexa, you can ask it to play Sleep Sounds while you rest. Similar devices like Google Home also offer relaxation sounds to help you wind down. Alternatively, choose some relaxing music from a Spotify playlist, to play softly as you sleep.

5 ways to promote a good sleep while grieving.

A great place to start is by eliminating elements that contribute to wakefulness. Take for example, these ways to promote good sleep:

  1. Make sure your bed, mattress and pillows are comfortable, and that your bedding provides a comfortable temperature.
  2. Block out as much light as possible. Blockout curtains work a treat, or an eye mask can be especially helpful.
  3. Put your mobile phone on silent and switch off the vibrate notifications, or turn it off completely. Better yet, leave it in another room so you’re not tempted to check messages in the middle of the night.
  4. Use earplugs to help block out noise, or find a source for white noise or relaxation sounds.
  5. Avoid napping too late in the afternoon, as you probably won’t be tired enough to sleep through the night.
An eye mask can be especially helpful when trying to sleep while grieving.
An eye mask can be especially helpful when trying to sleep while grieving.

If you’ve given these tips a go and you’re still having trouble sleeping, make an appointment to see your GP.

Having someone you can call.

Although everyone will grieve differently, one thing we have in common is our need for human connection and good, healthy conversations about grief. Reach out to a family member or close friend. You’d be surprised how comforting it can be to talk through your feelings with another human, over a cup of coffee.

No matter your situation, you’re never alone as you navigate your grief journey. There are specialist bereavement services available, including the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement. Our list of grief counselling and support services across Australia includes more contacts that might help. Or for more immediate help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Here are some further resources to help you along your grief journey:

About Claire.

Claire Hoffman is a certified Compassionate Bereavement Care Provider and Bare’s bereavement guide.

She is also a widowed mum who knows all too well how easily life can flip you into unfamiliar and sometimes terrifying territory. Having endured her own gut-wrenching loss, Claire's goal is to help navigate change in how our society approaches death and grief.  

"I encourage you to turn towards grief and not away from it," she says. "I am committed to helping people when they are suddenly thrust into these transitioning hallways of life."

You can learn more about Claire's personal grief journey in her article 'Time is not a guarantee': Navigating life as a widowed mum.