Monday, January 9, 2012

Tips for Coping with Sleeplessness in Grief

[Reviewed and updated: May 27, 2024] 

The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep. ~ E. Joseph Lossman

A reader writes
, “I  can't seem to get to sleep until after 3:00. I am tired all day, but I don't seem to be tired enough when everyone else is going to bed. I was having problems before my husband died, but now it is a LOT worse. Benedryl makes me sleepy but it has not helped at all. How long should I let this go on before being concerned?”

My response: Disruptions in normal sleep patterns are very common in the first weeks and months of grief. If you're having trouble sleeping, you might try some of the simple methods recommended by experts in accredited sleep centers:
  • Cut back on your caffeine and nicotine intake several hours before going to sleep.
    • Exercise regularly (for 20 minutes at least, three times a week).
    • Avoid self medicating and alcohol which can offer only temporary escape, have serious side effects, can affect motor coordination and mental acuity, may lead to dependency, can magnify feelings of depression and can disrupt patterns of sleep.
    • Use sleeping aids only as prescribed by your doctor, and only as a temporary way to break the cycle of sleeplessness.
    • Avoid going to bed hungry, or after a heavy meal late in the evening.
    • Drink a cup of warm water at bedtime.
    • Sleep with something warm, such as a pet, a heating pad or hot water bottle.
    • Separate yourself from the stresses, worries and distractions of the day. Wind down by reading, or taking a relaxing bath or warm shower before bed.
    • If your spouse is the one who died, sleep on your spouse’s side of the bed; it’s easier if your own side is empty.
    • Put on a night light, but keep your bedroom as cool, quiet, and as dark as possible.
    • Maintain a consistent sleep-wake cycle. Stick to a regular routine; retire and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends.
    • Avoid naps lasting longer than 30 minutes, especially after 3:00 p.m.
    • Establish a bedtime ritual. Cue your body to slow down and relax by preparing for bed the same way each night, and go to bed when you are sleepy.
    • Follow a deep relaxation routine; perform deep breathing exercises in bed.
    • Listen to music that soothes your soul and decreases tension.
    • Visualize being in your most favorite and pleasant place.
    • Associate your bed only with relaxing, sleeping and sexual pleasure – don’t use it for other activities that can initiate or stimulate worries and concerns.
    Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here.

    Related Articles and Resources:
    Image by 鹈鹂 夏 from Pixabay
    © by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH


    1. A lot of helpful ideas! I use self-hypnosis CDs.

    2. One may also try hypnosis. It's an efficient method in abolishing negative energy, thoughts and feelings.
      Grief Counselling Gold Coast and brisbane

    3. Thanks for a useful post. I think that a lot of the reason for insomnia is not wanting to wake up to what I call 'the dawning.' Ways to counter this are to organise yourself to do something that you enjoy ~ ,maybe have a long bath or go for a walk in a calming place, or read a poem ~ on waking so that the 'dread of waking' can be mitigated some bit.


    Your comments are welcome!