Grief can cause disruptions to normal sleep patterns, resulting in being unable to sleep. Tiredness from lack of sleep adds to the stress and hardship of coping with bereavement. Plus, it can lead to health problems in the long run.
But when it comes to sleep problems after the death of a loved one, counting sheep probably isn’t going to cut it. You may find yourself lying awake in bed with nothing but your thoughts, and these thoughts can be hard to deal with. Being relaxed enough to fall asleep can feel impossible and the more you worry about not getting to sleep, the less likely it is to happen.
So how can you help yourself get some much needed rest while you are grieving? Here are 10 tips that could make it a little easier to drift off:
1. Do some exercise
Exercising is probably the last thing you want to do while you are grieving for your loved one, but if you do feel able to go for a short walk or do some physical activity, it could help you sleep better at night. If you’re really feeling sluggish, try some simple stretches before bed to relax your body.
You might be sceptical about meditation, but it really does help your body and mind relax. If you’re new to meditation, try guided meditation for sleep. There are hundreds of free audio recordings on the internet that will talk you through breathing deeply and relaxing, with a specific focus on preparing to fall asleep.
3. Breathe deeply and regularly
As you are lying in bed, focus on your breathing. Something known as the 4-7-8 method is known to work well; breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, then exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. This will increase oxygen levels in your blood, making you feel drowsy.
4. Don’t drink alcohol
You may think that a glass of wine or a nip of whiskey will help you sleep, but that drowsiness you’re feeling is just the result of alcohol being a depressant – it won’t lead to the restful, natural sleep you need. In fact, sleep after drinking heavily is often more disrupted. Try to avoid alcohol before bed for better sleep.
5. Stick to a routine
A sleep routine can let your mind and body know that it is time to start winding down for the day. Try going to bed at the same time every day, if possible. Performing the same tasks in the same order can also help, for example, having a warm bath, then doing some stretches, then brushing your teeth, then reading in bed.
6. Try natural sleep remedies
If you’re unable to sleep, natural sleep remedies could help you drift off. Lavender oil can be added to a warm bath for relaxation, or valerian tablets can be bought from pharmacies and health food stores, for more restful sleep. Chamomile tea also has a mild sedative effect – use two or three teabags in a pot for the best effect.
7. Avoid all electronic screens an hour before bed
That means no TV, computer, tablet or phone. The unnatural light that comes from these screens will trick your mind into thinking it is still daytime and keep you awake. Try reading or listening to music instead.
8. Have a snack before bed
Nutritionists say that certain types of food can make you feel sleepy. Try nuts, avocado, bananas or lean protein like turkey or chicken about an hour before bed. Avoid sugary carbohydrates and fatty dairy – these can make your blood sugar spike and won’t help you feel restful.
9. Listen to white noise
White noise, a sound that comes out across all hearable frequencies, can actually help you sleep. It masks any sudden or jarring noises that can wake you up and is calming and consistent. There are many YouTube channels with white noise playlists available for free. If you don’t find it relaxing, try pink noise instead – it is slightly less high-pitched and can be better for some people.
10. Take a break from trying
Sometimes it’s best to admit when sleep isn’t happening. Get up and do 10 minutes of stretches, meditation, or reading before trying again. Avoid switching on the TV, though it might be tempting. When the 10 minutes is up, be sure to go back to bed and try again.
Remember that grief can have a significant impact on you, physically and emotionally, and that experiencing some sleeplessness is common. However, if you are unable to sleep well for several weeks and it makes you unable to perform daily tasks like cooking and cleaning, see your doctor for further advice. They will be able to rule out any more serious problems such as insomnia and other sleep disorders.
For more help and advice on coping with grief, visit our bereavement support page.