Grief & Sleep: 7 Tips To Cope With Insomnia After Loss

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Updated: May 12, 2021

Posted: February 5, 2019

Coping with grief isn’t easy. In addition to the emotional toll, there are a myriad of physical side effects. Sleeplessness is perhaps one of the most frustrating symptoms – when you are sleepy and can’t sleep it just adds insult to injury. While insomnia is considered a common grief reaction, sleeplessness should not be ignored, but tended to mindfully.

When we don’t get enough sleep it impacts our immune system, our mood, and our ability to handle our day-to-day tasks. Simply put, a lack of sleep can make us feel worse.

If you are experiencing grief and sleep loss, there are many possible causes. If you have lost a spouse, your empty bed will no doubt be a reminder of your loss. In addition to losing your loved one, there are many secondary losses that contribute to additional stress, such as the loss of income, that can also keep you up at night. Even if your loved one did not share a bed with you, the loss can still impact your sleep.

Grief & Sleep Tips

Fortunately there are a number of things you can do to improve your “sleep hygiene” and invite slumber. It may take some time for restful sleep to return, but the actions below will get you there quicker. Your sleep is important to your healing, not only physically but emotionally too.

7 Tips To Cope With Insomnia After Loss

1. Exercise During the Day

Exercise can help with sleep disturbances. Your body may be tired, so choose an exercise that will not push your body pass its edge. Yoga for grief can help your body find its way back into equilibrium. A walk or hike will expose you to natural light, which will contribute to a healthy sleep cycle. Do not engage in vigorous exercise after 7 PM.

2. Avoid Caffeine & Alcohol After 3pm

The National Sleep Foundation points out that even though alcohol can act as a sleep aid shortly after consumed, it disrupts the second half of sleep once your body begins to metabolize the alcohol. Caffeine, of course, is the antidote to sleep. Try increasing your water intake during the day, but avoid it an hour before bed.

3. Receive Massage or Bodywork

Therapeutic bodywork, such as massage, reiki, acupuncture or Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, can help your body relax and bring your system back into balance which will in turn help you sleep better. Some people can feel the Relaxation Response kick in while receiving bodywork, and even report feeling like falling asleep on the table or mat. If you do schedule an appointment outside of your home, ask a friend to drive you to and from your appointment so you can relax completely.

4. Create a Sleep Sanctuary

Sleep experts agree that the bedroom should only be used for sleeping and sex. Always avoid watching television or using electronic devices in your bedroom. If possible, set your thermostat between 65° to 68°. De-cluttering your room and including relaxing artwork, scents, and comfortable bedding can go a long way to make your room sleep approved.

5. Turn Off Electronic Devices 1 Hour Before Bed

Avoid using the computer or watching TV one hour prior to going to sleep. Make sure your room is dark. Recent studies tell us that blue light is most likely to contribute to alertness, so pay attention to the color of your digital alarm clock.

6. Keep a Grief Journal

Journaling for grief allows you to externalize your thoughts and stories. It can be a way to give yourself permission to discontinue the thoughts. Try journaling at least 30 minutes before bed, and imagine you can put everything down on paper that you are holding in your mind. You may also want to keep a sleep journal and pen by your bed, and write down any thoughts or sensations that are keeping you awake.

7. Choose to Relax Before Bed

Schedule twenty minutes before you want to fall asleep to do some conscious relaxation. This can provide a bridge between wakefulness and sleep, which will help you relax your muscles and calm your mind so you can  rest, rather than toss and turn.

Relaxation Meditation

Your body has the natural ability to shift from stress to relaxation, you just have to know how to do it. The Relaxation Response or progressive muscle relaxation are two time-tested practices that can be done while you are lying in bed, so if you fall asleep you are already in place.


A gentle, restorative or PM yoga practice 30 minutes before bedtime can help you calm your mind and release physical tension.

Soothing Sounds

Listen to natural sounds, such as ocean waves, or guided imagery as you fall asleep.

Aromatherapy Meditation

Combine aromatherapy with counting your breath. Put a few drops of lavender essential oil on a cotton ball, and hold it under your nose or place it on the pillow beside you. Begin to count each exhale starting with one and ending with 20. Then reverse the process, starting at 20 and ending with one.

Water Rituals

Take a warm bath or drink hot herbal tea as a bedtime ritual to invite restful sleep.

Similar Articles:

Coping With Grief: A Mindfulness Approach

Coping With Difficult Emotions: A Guided Meditation for Grief

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Mindfulness & Grief. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She is on the Advisory Board for the highly regarded military family survivor organization Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and is a faculty member of the Portland Institute of Loss & Transition, founded by Dr. Robert A. Neimeyer. She is also the host of the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, founder of the Mindfulness & Grief Institute and the Frederick Meditation Center in Maryland.

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