Grief and Sleep Deprivation: Finding Ways to Cope


This exclusive article was written for Regency Nursing Centers, by Sara Bailey of

Sara will soon be releasing her new book entitled “Hope and Help After Loss.”

Coping with loss.

After losing a loved one, people manifest grief in many different ways. Crying, disorientation, distractedness, a lack of focus, and outward signs of anger are some of the more usual symptoms. One result that’s often overlooked is the inability to sleep, even though it’s a fairly common result of profound grief, residual feelings of guilt and anger, and uncontrolled thoughts at bedtime.

People often dismiss the seriousness of lack of sleep, especially those who are accustomed to feeling tired due to busy schedules and heavy responsibilities. But when insomnia persists, it can cause serious mental and physical problems, and could even do lasting damage. If you, or someone you know, have suffered a deep personal loss and can’t overcome insomnia, be aware that it’s a situation which must be addressed.


Medical science has documented the effects of sleep deprivation for decades, having concluded that it is a serious medical condition. People who have insomnia suffer from loss of appetite, less resistance to illness, depression, anxiety, and a tendency to become frustrated easily. It can also lead to a loss of concentration during the day, which hampers one’s ability to perform well at work or in school. If you’re getting less than six hours of sleep a night, it’s probably time to try some new sleep strategies or seek the help of a medical professional.


Sleep environment

A poorly arranged bedroom is often a factor in sleep deprivation. If you shared your bedroom for years, it’s probably a good time to redecorate and pay closer attention to some key factors that directly impact your ability to get healthy, restful sleep. Try adding some new artwork and repainting walls and the ceiling, opting for soothing and restful shades which are conducive to sleep.

If it helps, remove reminders of the person you’ve lost until you’re emotionally ready to reintroduce them to your sleep environment. Install blackout shades on the windows to ensure no light gets in at night or early in the morning before you’re ready to rise. Your bedroom should be totally dark, quiet, and kept below 70 degrees to keep your body temperature down at night. If there are barking dogs nearby, or the neighbor tends to rev his engine, consider using a sound device to help mask it all, such as a white noise app on your smartphone or the FitSleep tracking device, which emits alpha waves that help induce deep sleep. As you redecorate, consider incorporating a Feng Shui layout to create a more balanced energy flow. This ancient Chinese philosophy is used to create a more harmonious space and bring positive energies into a home. If you want to take it to the next level, consider hiring a consultant to help you get the maximum benefits of this philosophy, but take care to avoid scam artists or people who claim they’re certified.

Sleep routine

Sometimes, getting your body used to a regular nighttime routine can help you overcome insomnia. Your body is attuned to the natural rhythms of day and night, so tapping into that affinity can only help. Make a point of hitting the sack at the same time every evening. During the hour leading up to bedtime, try taking a hot bath, meditate while listening to soothing music, read a favorite book, or do some grief journaling to empty your mind before bed.

Sometimes, meditating and relaxing your body one part at a time while lying still in bed can help speed up the process. Avoid naps late in the afternoon or after dinner, don’t ingest caffeine or other stimulants (this includes alcohol) in the evening, and be certain that all screens are turned off in the bedroom, including TVs, computers, and handheld devices.

If it doesn’t work …

If these strategies don’t help, don’t fight it. Get up and sit in a darkened room for a half-hour or so while you read a book or focus on some deep-breathing exercises. Don’t lay there getting more and more frustrated, which only worsens the situation.

Grief and the body’s reactions to it are natural responses, part of a mental and emotional healing process that everyone goes through after the loss of someone close. For the most part, lack of sleep is a normal reaction to grief. But, if it begins to impact other parts of your life and you’re unable to resolve the problem, consult a doctor or seek grief counseling.

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