Published
on
March 23, 2021

The Disturbing Duo of Nighttime and Grief

Lorna Hering

Some things naturally belong together; the combination just feels right. Like Shoes and Socks, Rhythm and Blues, Wine and Cheese. These twosomes produce a vibrant harmony.  But not all things that pair up are harmonious or beneficial. In fact, some duos are brutal and relentless. Such is the case with nighttime and grief. This daunting duo causes added stress and anxiety for people who are already struggling from the loss of a loved one. 

For people who are grieving, nighttime is often the most difficult time of day. They are exhausted from trying to hold it together, and darkness tends to lower mood and usher in intense feelings of anxiety and despair. Things like cooking dinner for four instead of five or longing for the companionship of someone who is no longer around can trigger intense emotions. The brain begins replaying, ruminating, and overthinking as it tries to make sense of devastation and loss.

As the day winds down, there are fewer distractions to keep the brain occupied so thoughts of grief begin to consume the mind. Grief is the body and mind’s natural response to profound loss, and it can take a toll on a person’s ability to experience peace and rest. Often the bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep; unfortunately, sleep disturbances are common in bereavement. Grief often initiates sleep problems, and a lack of sleep tends to make grief worse. This creates a vicious cycle that makes it both difficult to get a good night’s sleep and difficult to effectively manage grief. 

But for people who are struggling with nighttime and grief, there is hope. Getting a better night’s sleep may be possible by following one or more of the recommendations listed below.  Everyone’s grief journey is different, but these suggestions might be worth the effort to help the mind and body get proper rest. 

  • First and foremost, be realistic. It is normal to experience sleep disturbances when grieving because the mind is struggling to make sense of what has happened. 
  • Do not get discouraged and think that sleep disturbances are abnormal. Nighttime grief issues are common and usually part of the normal bereavement process. 
  • Exercise is a great way to naturally elevate mood and release stress. A body that has expended some energy will often sleep better at night. An outdoor walk might lift the spirits and help relieve tension and stress.
  • Some people plan an activity every night to keep the mind busy and give their brain a temporary break from the heaviness of grief. 
  • As nighttime falls, loneliness and heartache often begin to feel overwhelming. For some people, journalling is helpful. Others may find comfort by reaching out to talk to family or friends and sharing their emotions.
  • Each person should realistically assess whether social media is helpful or painful for their heart. Sometimes taking a social media break is the best choice, and sometimes connecting with others who have experienced loss can be helpful.
  • Purposefully, create good sleeping habits.  This means finding a routine that works and sticking with it. Some important things to consider include avoiding caffeine or alcohol and limiting screen time prior to your designated sleep time. 
  • Another important thing to consider is not going to bed too early. Going to bed early may feel like a good idea, but if you are retiring too early, your mind and body may not be ready to wind down, which opens the door for the mind to become consumed with disturbing and heartbreaking thoughts of loss.
  • Eliminate daytime napping if you are not feeling tired when night time arrives. 
  • You will most likely need to reteach yourself how to fall asleep. Loss is traumatic and it can completely rewire the brain. 
  • Don’t be afraid to spend some time and money creating a good sleep space. The comfort of a cool, dark bedroom can help someone achieve a good night’s sleep.  Investing in a good mattress and comfortable bedding can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. 
  • Make an appointment to see a physician and get blood work done.  This will provide peace of mind or help pinpoint any underlying issue that might be contributing to sleep problems. Talk openly with your doctor about any grief and/or sleep issues that you may be experiencing.
  • Considering therapy or talking to a counselor. Loss is extremely hard and a trained professional can help you develop pathways to replace terrible thoughts with healthier ones. 

Above all else, be kind to yourself and remember that there is no easy way around grief. Grief is hard work, especially at night. Listen to your heart, your mind and your body, and be willing to explore some of the tips listed above.  Everyone’s grief is different, so find what works best for you when the sun goes down.  Remind yourself that when dealing with grief, there are two other things that will eventually pair up. Those things are healing and hope. 

                                                                 Works Cited

Haley, Eleanor. “Why Is My Grief Worse at Night?” What's Your Grief, 25 Nov. 2019, whatsyourgrief.com/why-is-my-grief-worse-at-night/.

Hugstad, Kristi. “Not-So-Goodnight? Why Grief Is Leaving You Sleep-Deprived.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 8 May 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/not-so-goodnight-why-grief-is-leaving-you-sleep-deprived_b_590fba40e4b046ea176aecb3. 

Smalls, Lisa. “How Grieving Impacts Sleep.” Patient Empowerment Network, 12 Feb. 2019, powerfulpatients.org/2019/02/12/how-grieving-impacts-sleep/.