Sleep problems following the death of a loved one are common. While grieving, you may experience intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and anxiety that prevent you from falling asleep or wake you during the night. This lack of sleep not only leaves you feeling fatigued, but it also affects your ability to cope with grief in a healthy manner.

Sleep and emotional health are intimately linked. When people don’t get enough sleep, they feel “more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted,” according to Harvard Medical School. Poor sleep also promotes negative thought patterns and prevents you from processing painful memories. As a result, you end up stuck in the acute stage of grief for longer than is healthy.

There are several things you can do to restore quality sleep after a loss. While these tips may not solve your sleep problems entirely, they’ll help you sleep better so you can begin to heal.

Maximize Bedroom Comfort

A good night’s sleep starts with your bedroom. These are the must-haves:

  • A comfortable bed, pillow, and bedding. Replace mattresses older than seven years. Angie’s List suggests making sure your mattress is big enough and recommends at least a queen or full for most solo sleepers.
  • Darkness. Avoid night lights and use an eye mask or blackout curtains.
  • Soothing colors. Decorate with colors you find relaxing. Many people prefer muted blues, grays, and greens for the bedroom.
  • Quiet. To keep from focusing on distracting noises, use a white noise machine, wear earplugs for sleeping, or install soundproofing.

If you experience sleep problems despite a comfortable bedroom, certain accessories may be a helpful. For the most part, the most effective sleep tools are the simplest ones. In addition to earplugs and white noise machines as mentioned above, you may benefit from an air purifier to promote better nighttime breathing. If you tend to sleep “hot,” a cooling mattress pad to prevent night sweating can help you ease into restful sleep. Avoid high-tech gadgets that promise to interpret your sleep patterns, as most of them are unlikely to solve temporary sleep problems associated with grief.

Tire Your Body

It’s a simple concept: When you’re physically tired, it’s easier to sleep. However, most people underestimate the effects of exercise on sleep. Not only does exercise use energy so you sleep better and longer each night, but it also relieves stress and anxiety so it’s easier to unwind. When planning a fitness routine, emphasize high-impact exercise for better sleep quality.

Quiet Your Mind

A racing mind is not compatible with restful sleep. Unfortunately, it’s hard to quiet your mind when it’s full of grief. To mentally wind down before bed, try these strategies:

  • Shut off electronics. The light emitted from cell phones, TVs, and other electronics keeps your mind alert and active. Stop using electronics at least one hour before bed.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Following the same routine each night tells your body it’s time for rest. In addition to your hygiene routine, listen to calming music, read, journal, stretch, take a warm bath, or do something else that relaxes you.
  • Focus on positive thoughts. If you can’t keep your mind from wandering to thoughts of your loved one, try to focus on positive memories.
  • Practice tapping. Emotional freedom techniques (EFT) is a popular tool used by mental health care providers everywhere. It’s a process that can help reduce stress, which may be keeping you awake at night. You can get started now or contact a certified practitioner for guidance.
  • Try progressive relaxation. When you still can’t relax, progressive muscle relaxation (instructions at No Sleepless Nights) or a similar relaxation exercise may help.

If your bedroom is filled with reminders of a deceased spouse, you may find it difficult to fall asleep. If you need to, remove photographs, clothing, and other reminders. You don’t need to hide them away, but taking them out of the bedroom can help you quiet intrusive thoughts.

Don’t expect these strategies to solve your sleep problems overnight. You may continue to experience sleep disruptions until the most intense phases of your grief have passed. However, by taking these steps, you can feel as well as possible during this difficult time.


After losing her husband Greg, Sara Bailey created to support her fellow widows and widowers.

Image via Unsplash