How To Sleep When You’re Grieving? Update 05/2022

Loss is an unavoidable aspect of the human experience. Each year, the United States loses about 2.5 million people1 to preventable causes, and that number rises to reach over 60 million. An average of five close friends and family members are left behind to mourn the death of each individual who passes away.
Grief is a universal sensation, but the way in which each person deals with it is distinct. Each person’s grief process is unique; it takes time and varies from person to person. Nevertheless, sleep deprivation affects 2.5 million widowed individuals2. Depression, anxiety, and insomnia are all symptoms of the loss of a close friend or family member, and they are all linked to each other.

What Is Grief?

Disbelief, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance are the most common stages in the grieving process. The stages of grief don’t necessarily follow a chronological order, and it’s normal to go through them in varying degrees of intensity4 throughout the course of time. Most people are able to accept and integrate the loss into their life after around six months when their grief begins to subside.

When Does Grief Become Complicated Grief?

However, for 10 to 15 percent of those who are grieving, the depth of their sadness remains constant. Even six months after their loss, these people are still struggling with profound grieving symptoms. In the medical community, this is classified as a complicated grieving condition, long-term grief disorder, or trauma-related grief disorder. The following are signs and symptoms:

  • Emotional discomfort is recurrent and persistent.
  • Persistent yearning for those who have passed away.
  • Anger upon the death of the deceased.
  • Avoid situations or objects that evoke memories of a lost loved one.
  • Detachment from others or a loss of faith in them.
  • Emotional paralysis.
  • Loneliness.
  • Survivor’s guilt
  • A feeling that a portion of one’s self has been gone.
Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder can coexist with complicated sorrow, but they are not the same thing (PTSD).
Complicated grieving is more common in people who have just lost a loved one who was very close to them, such as a child or spouse. Complicated grieving is more common among women and those with a lower income, as well as those who have lost a loved one to cancer.

Not All Grief Is Created Equal

Everyone grieves differently, and this varies greatly based on the type of relationship you had with the person you lost. Even while there is no one correct method to grieve, recognizing the individual circumstances of your loss can assist guide your recovery process.

Grief after Suicide

People who have lost a loved one to suicide may experience more intense grief than those who have lost a loved one to any other kind of death. Grieving following a suicide has been likened to the signs and symptoms of PTSD in several studies.
It’s possible that those who are dealing with this type of sadness will experience certain difficulties. Suicide has a stigma attached to it, which could make it more difficult for those in need to seek help. In other cases, this may be exacerbated by local, cultural, or religious ideas about suicide.
Tips for Taking Care of Yourself
  • Grief should be handled in a way that works for you, according to grief counselors.
  • Having a network of friends and family to lean on is essential. If relatives and friends are unable to assist, counseling sessions and support groups may be a viable alternative.
  • Healing takes time, so it’s natural to experience a few setbacks along the way. In the face of triggers like anniversary dates and reminders of the loss of a loved one, some experts recommend avoiding feelings of condemnation or shame. This can be lessened by taking a break from or altering long-standing customs.

Loss of a Spouse

Losing a spouse is one of the most common causes of sleep problems, and it may even be the most common cause of insomnia and restless sleep. For the most part, theories imply that this gap is due to a change in sleeping arrangements (no longer sharing a bed).
In the first two years after the death of a spouse, 28% of people may face an increased risk of serious depression.
Rice and Northwestern universities conducted studies that showed people who had recently been widowed were three times more likely to suffer from inflammation as a result of sleep disruptions. Inflammation may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or mortality.

Loss of Parents

Any child, young or old, will feel the pain of losing a parent. However, research has shown that younger children are more likely to suffer from depression and other side effects of grieving following the death of a parent. This is not surprising.
After the death of a parent, one in twenty children under the age of 15 is likely to suffer from mental health concerns.
Some experts believe that gender has a factor in a child’s ability to cope with the loss of a parent. Men, according to some, have a more difficult time grieving the death of their fathers than women do. [3] Healing Recommendations
To avoid feeling helpless or lost, it is advised that those who have lost a loved one focus on their own personal skills and abilities. The loss of a parent may force individuals to revisit unpleasant childhood memories, and counseling may enable them to heal from these scars.

Children and Grief

Children, as previously said, are prone to having a particularly difficult time grieving. Compared to a control group of children, children who had recently lost a loved one exhibited less interest in their prior favorite pastimes and expressed fewer happy emotions in general. In contrast, children with serious depressive symptoms showed signals that bereaved children did not – feelings of worthlessness and guilt.
Bereaved children were reported to have suicidal tendencies in 37% of the study participants.
In general, parents have a hard time recognizing when their children are in the grips of despair or grief. When compared to depressive parents, parents of bereaved children were able to observe more signs than those of their children who were depressed.

Physical Symptoms of Grief

Grief manifests in more ways than simply mental and emotional symptoms, as some individuals may not realize. While mental symptoms like nightmares and boredom are common, this illness is also associated with a wide range of physical symptoms.
It is common for people to suffer from aches and pains or an overall feeling of exhaustion due to a lack of sleep. Dry mouth, trouble in breathing, and soreness or tightness in the chest are all possible side effects of anesthesia. Some people’s eating habits shift, while others have an increased sensitivity to noise.
Sleep deprivation causes all of these symptoms, but they also exacerbate the difficulty of falling asleep. Grief can lead to sleeplessness, the most prevalent side effect of grief on sleep.

Complicated Grief Syndrome -What Is It?

After a traumatic event, most people believe that their feelings of grief will pass within six months. Grieving beyond the six-month mark may be classified as Complicated Grief and may necessitate expert assistance.
Doctors believe that a person is more likely to suffer from Complicated Bereavement if they exhibit certain characteristics. It’s common for people who rely on the emotional or mental benefit of seeing a loved one grow emotionally connected to this experience, making it difficult for them to move forward. In the same way, people who have previously struggled to cope with other losses in their lives may need further support in dealing with grieving in the future.

How Grief Affects Sleep

Grieving people often complain about not getting enough sleep. People who are suffering from more grieving symptoms have a more difficult time going asleep, are more likely to wake up frequently after falling asleep, and spend more time awake in bed than asleep.
When someone is grieving, they are more likely to suffer from middle insomnia8, which is difficulty returning to sleep following a nighttime awakening.8 They can’t sleep since they’re thinking about their loved ones. They have problems falling asleep, and then have trouble staying asleep because they keep having dreams about the person who has died.
The Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI)9 is frequently used to measure sleep quality in studies of people who have difficulty sleeping. In this self-administered quiz, the lower the score, the better one’s sleep. Preferred Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) of 5 or above implies “inadequate sleep.” Complicated bereavement sufferers have a PSQI score of 9.4410 on average.

Sleep and Grief: A Bidirectional Relationship

However, poor sleep quality does not necessarily indicate the presence of complicated grief; rather, it may be a risk factor for acquiring it. Many research has shown that sleep disturbances accompany grief and that sleep and grieving have a reciprocal link.
As many as 91% of people who have experienced complex sorrow have difficulty sleeping. Forty-six percent say they have difficulty sleeping at least three times a week because of their bereavement.
Bereaved people who have sleep issues, such as a hard time falling asleep or waking up throughout the night, are more likely to experience complicated grief. To put it another way, grieving not only interferes with sleep, but bad sleep itself can exacerbate the difficulty of grieving.
There is some evidence that persons who have lost loved ones are more likely to suffer from sleeplessness than their non-bereaved friends. Moreover, one in five students who had lost a loved one reported insomnia, compared to one in six students who had not. Pupils who suffered sleeplessness had more severe symptoms of complicated mourning than students whose sleep had not been disturbed.

Spousal Bereavement and Sleep

Every year, over 800,000 Americans over the age of 65 experience the death of a spouse or companion. These people are prone to restless sleep of poor quality. Their sleep deteriorated as their anguish worsened.
The loss of a spouse or life partner can have a significant influence on a person’s ability to sleep, especially if they shared a bed for many years. For those who have lost a partner, the act of falling asleep, from the evening routine to the actual bed itself, can become strange, empty, and unsafe. As a result, getting to sleep and staying asleep are more difficult tasks.
Nursing home placement and medication use are two more consequences of a spouse’s death. A widow’s usage of hypnotics for sleep is nearly two times more than a married woman’s use. In the two years following the death of a spouse, those who suffer from difficult grieving are more likely to acquire cancer or high blood pressure.
At any age, a lack of quality sleep is linked to a plethora of health problems11. Poor sleep can double the risk of death among the elderly.

Additional Comorbidities and Sleep

When a partner dies, one in four people has serious depression, which may linger for up to two years. People who are dealing with a lot of loss and are also depressed are more likely to have sleep problems. Poor sleep can be predicted by a person’s level of despair and their level of grieving on their own.
As a result, sleep disturbances may exacerbate the grieving process and make it even more difficult. For example, 43% of people12 report that they lose their appetite when they are grieving. At the time of the loss, poor physical health might raise the chance of developing complicated sorrow and significant depression, as well as related sleep difficulties.
Because of the trauma of losing a loved one, people who have lost a spouse are more likely to have elevated levels of inflammation13 than those who haven’t lost a spouse but have had trouble sleeping. They may be at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease as a result of this sort of inflammation.
In the wake of a loved one’s death, a person’s lifestyle can change significantly, resulting in a decrease in their quality of sleep. People who are grieving may be less active and social, which might have a negative impact on their sleep quality. Poor sleep is linked to sedentary behavior14 and loneliness alone can indicate it.

Dangers of Letting Insomnia Continue

Everyone has experienced sleep loss at some point in their lives—especially in times of significant emotional strain or sorrow—but this does not mitigate the devastating effect it has on the body. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and anxiety may all be exacerbated if a person gets less than 7 hours of sleep every night. The circadian rhythm and hormonal and immune system alterations that may occur as a result of persistent sleeplessness have been linked to an increased risk of certain malignancies.
To cure chronic insomnia, some people may turn to sleep aids like sleeping tablets or alcohol. This is not suggested by doctors and could lead to addiction and additional sleep deprivation, which is harmful. Instead, cognitive-behavioral treatment is recommended by experts.

The effects of grieving might be exacerbated by a lack of sleep. In the same way, getting enough sleep helps ease the burden of sorrow. Symptoms can be alleviated with the use of both grievings and sleep therapy treatments.

Therapeutic Treatments for Grief

Psychotherapy and medicine are two options for dealing with grief. Hypnotic medicines are prescribed to many persons who have just lost a loved one to help alleviate the symptoms of sleep deprivation and difficult mourning. This method, however, can increase the risk of nocturnal falls and injuries among mourning older persons.
Complicated grieving therapy (CGT)16 can be used in conjunction with antidepressants as another successful treatment option. During CGT, an individual learns how to control their sorrow via the use of certain strategies taught by a therapist. Sleep is better for individuals who combine CGT with antidepressants than for those who take antidepressants alone. Their sleep issues don’t go away, but they do get a lot better. Grief-related insomnia decreased from 49 percent to 15 percent in a study, according to a press release from the National Institutes of Health.
Complicated grief symptoms can be alleviated by both cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy, according to research17. While these treatments may help with the symptoms of complicated grieving, some research shows that they don’t necessarily improve one’s ability to fall asleep at night. After undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of difficult bereavement, one Dutch study18 found that participants had fewer sleep complaints. Moreover half of the participants reported having more problems sleeping than the average person.
CBT for insomnia may be prescribed as an extra treatment to help alleviate sleep issues caused by sorrow.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia

CBT-I, or cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, is widely accepted as a treatment that is both safe and effective. To get the most benefit from this therapy, patients usually have up to eight one-hour sessions each week with an expert therapist who helps them examine their sleep-related habits and beliefs in order to develop healthier ones. Improved sleep hygiene may be one of the things they learn, such as:

  • Making the bedroom as dark, cold, and silent as possible.
  • At the very least, refrain from using electronic devices for at least an hour before going to bed.
  • Restriction of daytime naps.
  • After the early afternoon, it’s best to steer clear of alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
  • Keeping a regular exercise schedule.

Stimulus control and sleep limitation are two more components of CBT-I that have proven to be especially effective:

  • Stimulus control aims to make a person’s bedroom synonymous with rest and relaxation. The person is only allowed to use the bed for sleeping, and if they are awake for more than ten minutes, they must get out of bed and leave the room.
  • The goal of sleep restriction is to adhere to a rigid daily schedule based on the average amount of time spent sleeping by the individual, plus or minus 30 minutes. You can only lie in bed for six hours before you have to get up and get dressed. As a result, the person is able to establish a regular sleep schedule and establish the bed as the sole area where they can sleep.

It takes time to process the loss of a loved one, but there are individuals out there who can assist. Speak to your doctor if your mourning symptoms are getting worse and interfering with your sleep.

How To Sleep When You’re Grieving?

Despite our best efforts, Litsa and I have come up with a simple list of tips for getting a better night’s sleep. A doctor or therapist may be able to help you if all of the suggestions on this page don’t work for you. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you may want to seek the advice of a medical professional who can help you discover new ways to help you sleep better.

Sleep Environment:

To ensure that you get the rest you need, you must create an environment that is conducive to sleep. I can think of a few things in my own bedroom that lead to bad sleep, including buzzing phones, glaring street lights, and children sleeping in my bed. I’m doing it all wrong, and I don’t know why. It’s a good idea to get rid of the things that keep you awake and arrange your sleeping area in a way that encourages restful sleep. There are several ways in which you could go about this:

  • Do everything you can to keep out as much natural light as possible.
  • If necessary, wear earplugs and/or an eye mask.
  • Avoid waking up every time you get an email by putting your phone in another room.
  • Sleep in a room with plenty of fresh air.
  • The ideal temperature range is 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Each person should have their own blanket in case there is ever a fight over it. As well as potentially increasing your body’s temperature, sharing a blanket might heighten your awareness of your bed partner’s every motion.
  • Comfortable bedding is essential. Good bedding includes a high-quality mattress, pillows, and comforters.
  • Take a look at this manual.
  • Find a source of white noise if you don’t already have one. The whirr of a box fan, familiar to those of us who grew up without central air conditioning, will never allow us to sleep without it again. Sudden changes in sound, which many people are programmed to hear while sleeping, are drowned out by white noise (like mothers of newborns).
  • It’s best to avoid doing anything stimulating, irritating, or anxiety-inducing while you’re lying in bed. When you sleep, you want your body and mind to associate the bed and your bedroom with that.

When There’s An Empty Side of the Bed…

People who have lost loved ones may find themselves haunted by terrible memories and tough feelings when they see their partner’s empty bed. Rearranging the room, purchasing an entirely new bed, or sleeping elsewhere in the house are all viable options. For some, this may be helpful, but for others, the feeling of sleeping next to someone transcends their bedding and the configuration of their room.
Losing a partner comes with a host of new challenges, and sleeping alone is only one of them. In the meanwhile, if the dog swears not to slobber or get a body cushion, you can let him sleep on the bed. I know it sounds corny, but sometimes the most unlikely places provide the most welcome respite. For some widows and widowers, resting on their late partner’s side of the bed can help them feel closer to them.

Routine and Ritual:

Routine is something I despise, therefore I attempt to make it seem like it doesn’t exist. According to a survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, nine out of ten experts believe that creating a nighttime routine can help notify the brain it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep.
Some examples of rituals are dimming the lights an hour before bedtime so that you may read a chapter in a book, cuddling up with your partner or furry companion, taking a warm bath, journaling while you listen to relaxing music, and meditating. Keeping a regular bedtime and wake-up time can also be beneficial for insomniacs.

The Dos and Don’ts of a Good Night’s Sleep

Do

  • When you’re tired, go to bed.
  • Get some light activity in during the day if you can. While exercising in the hours leading up to bedtime is fine, it is best to avoid doing so.
  • Before going to bed, have a cup of caffeine-free herbal tea.
  • Meditate! YouTube is a great place to get step-by-step tutorials.
  • In the last hour before you go to bed, do something calming and restorative.

Don’t

  • Late in the day is the best time to take asleep. In fact, it’s possible that you should stay away from them entirely.
  • Be creative and use the bed for something other than sleeping.
  • Consume caffeinated beverages at night or even during the day. Caffeine’s impact on sleep can be found in these two articles.
  • Before going to sleep, light up a cigarette (or at all).
  • Tobacco is a stimulant, and it can disrupt sleep.
  • Having a few drinks before going to bed will help you sleep better. As the body struggles to break down the alcohol in the wine, you end up having a disturbed night’s sleep, even if the wine helps you fall asleep.
  • Before going to bed, expose yourself to bright indoor lights and technological devices for at least two hours.
  • It’s possible to fool the brain into believing it’s earlier in the day and thus block the body’s natural sleep chemical, melatonin, by shining strong lights in the room.

When You Can’t Sleep…

  • Try a deep breathing exercise or some other form of stress reduction.
    30-60 minutes in a darker environment will help. Whatever it is you’re feeling or dealing with, take some time to read a book or write in a notebook about it.
  • You’ve probably heard the saying, “Never go to bed a madman.” There may be some truth to the idea of trying to address the problems that keep you awake at night, but it’s not without its risks. Many people’s minds turn to the things they haven’t finished, fixed, or settled as they lie in bed.
  • Do you have nightmares or worry that you will? It’s important to take into account the degree of anxiety, concern, and trauma you’re now experiencing. Your grief will ease as you deal with it… You may also wish to see a counselor or read this book if you continue to have nightmares.
  • When your mind races or you’re plagued by intrusive, depressing ideas, try focusing on something intellectual or soothing. Think up a girl’s name for every letter of the alphabet, or count backward from 1000 by threes. An unverified piece of advice that works for me every time is: A daydream sort of scenario that is so far-fetched that it doesn’t connect to any areas of concern, stress, or thrill in my real life is what I conjure up when I can’t sleep. Even though I’m 33 years old and a Broadway star, I find myself dozing asleep even before the show’s opening act. That may sound ridiculous, but a lot of coping is like that.
  • Check out sleepfoundation.org for more information.
  • You might want to take into account CBT.
  • Your doctor can help you.
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