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Insomnia and Grief:
15 Tips to Sleep Better

Grief is exhausting and going without sleep increases your risk of illness. Try a few of these practical suggestions to improve sleep.

stress and relax directional arrows

All these, however, were mere terrors of the night, phantoms of the mind that walk in darkness. 

~Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow


Troubled sleep is common in grief. You may have had a busy day and you feel tired, but your mind starts churning as soon as you lie down to sleep. As you toss and turn, you think about how much you miss your beloved pet and everything associated with your life together. Or, you may fall asleep quickly, only to awaken a few short hours later, wide awake, restless and unable to fall asleep again. Grief is exhausting and going without sleep increases your risk for illness.

If you are not sleeping well, here are a few suggestions that may help:

1.  Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Do not take naps so there is a greater chance that you will be sleepy at bedtime.

2.  Limit your exposure to the computer and phone screen at bedtime because they are stimulating.

3.  Experiment with exercise. Some people find it relaxing while others feel it interferes with sleep. If it relaxes you, establish a mild exercise routine, such as
gentle stretches for sleep, before bed. Note: Stop immediately if a pose or stretch feels uncomfortable.

4.  Try a hot bath, a good book or soothing music before bed to see if this relaxes you.

5. Does watching TV make you sleepy? You may believe that you can only fall asleep with the television on, but
watching TV can compromise the quality of your sleep. The blue light exposure delays the onset of REM sleep and causes morning drowsiness. In other words, if you use the TV to induce sleep, you are reducing the chances of getting the quality sleep that you need.

6.  If you feel anxious at night, experiment with leaving low wattage night lights on or install a security system for peace of mind. Take whatever steps you need to make you feel more secure, as this can help you sleep better. Keep in mind that
too much light inhibits sleep.

7.  Determine if sleeping in your own bed is comforting or a painful reminder of your pet’s absence. Sleep somewhere else if your own bed does not comfort you right now.

8.  Adjust the temperature in your home. Do you sleep better when it is warm or cool? Find the temperature for sleeping that is best for you.

Caffeine is a stimulant and causes insomnia in some people, so it is best to avoid it at bedtime if you are sensitive its effects. Studies show, however, that caffeine does not disrupt sleep patterns as much as alcohol and nicotine.


Alcohol and nicotine may help you fall asleep because of their calming effects, but as soon as they are out of your system, you will probably be awake again. Alcohol has a stimulant effect as it breaks down in your body, and nicotine withdrawal wakes you for a fix. This includes smoking cigarettes, vaping, dipping, and all the other ways nicotine is ingested.


Research suggests that it is the late-night smoke or vape, and the extra glass of wine after dinner that keeps you from sleep, not the 4 p.m. cup coffee that gets you through the late afternoon . Limit their use at bedtime because both alcohol and nicotine interfere with quality sleep.

10.  Drink herbal teas or juice, but not so much that you must empty your bladder several times during the night. Chamomile tea is calming and may have other health benefits as well. Warm milk contains tryptophan, a naturally occurring amino acid that induces sleep.

11. Try soothing music with the sound of the ocean and sea gulls, birds in the forest, rain on the roof or wind in the trees. You may also find that the white noise of an air conditioner or fan makes you sleepy.

Meditation and prayer help some people relax and fall asleep. Try a meditation tape if you are unfamiliar with the practice. Prayer is a form of meditation for some.

13. Spend time alone. Take the time to sit and think about what has happened. Friends and relatives may be uncomfortable about this, but you need the time to grieve. This is accomplished by devoting some real time to it. Active grieving may help you sleep better at night because you have allowed for the expression of sad feelings during the day.

14. Sleep cannot be forced. If you have been in bed for a half hour and cannot fall asleep, get up for a while. Use the time to read, listen to soft music, have a warm drink, or write about your insomniac thoughts.
Try to avoid your electronic devices. When thirty minutes to one hour have passed, try to sleep again.  

15. If all else fails, ask your doctor for a mild sleeping pill. This should be a last resort because dependency on sedatives can have the
rebound effect of causing more insomnia in the long run.


Take any of the ideas presented here and establish a your own bedtime ritual. If you do the same things every night before you get in bed, eventually the routine will signal your body and mind that it is time to sleep.

Herbal Remedies, Natural Sleep Aids and Aromatherapy

Natural sleep aids and aromatherapy, also called essential oil therapy, can relieve stress and promote sleep. Natural sleep aids include certain types of herbs, hormones, amino acids, plants and minerals and most often they are sold without prescription. Aromatherapy uses natural plant extracts to promote health and well-being.The lavender scent has long been noted for its restful effects.


The specific uses of natural sleep aids and scents for sleep fall outside the scope of this brief article but it is worth noting that natural remedies are not without risk. Some herbs have strong interactions with prescribed drugs and others can cause serious side effects. Even essential oils can cause skin irritations and allergic reactions. Always consult your physician before using natural supplements.  


Sources | Related Reading

Sleep Foundation: Healthy Sleep Habits: Quick Tips for Better Sleep


Insomnia: What it is, how it affects you, and how to help you get back your restful nights

Yale Medicine: How to Manage Insomnia

National Sleep Foundation: Sleep Health Topics

Articles on sleep health with tips for improving sleep. Includes information about sleep disorders.

Sleep Tips for Older Adults

In order to sleep better, it is important to understand the underlying causes of your sleep problems. These tips can help you get a good night’s rest and improve the quality of your waking life.

Help Guide: Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief

Verywell Mind: How to Cope With Zoom Fatigue

Mindfulness and Grief: Grief Insomnia: 8 Tips To Get More Sleep After Loss

Insomnia is common after loss, but sleeplessness should not be ignored. A holistic and natural approach to easing insomnia.

Six Bedtime Teas that Help You Sleep

Sleeping Pills and Natural Sleep Aids

Prescription and over-the-counter sleep medications, as well as effective insomnia treatments that don’t come in pill form.

Good Rx: 8 Tips for Choosing Safe Over-the-Counter Supplements

Over-the-counter (OTC) supplements are not regulated by the FDA the same way as prescription medications. It is hard to choose a quality product — and fraudulent supplements are on the rise. Learn how to tell the good ones from the bad ones.

Frequent or chronic headaches keeping you awake?

Migraine: A Neurological Condition (with video)

Migraine is more than a headache.

Chronic Migraines: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

How to Use Acupressure to Relieve Migraine Pain

Rebound Headaches (Medication Overuse): Symptoms, Management, Prevention

Does Sugar Consumption Cause Headaches?

Yes, ‘Tea Headaches’ Exist—These Are the Herbs That Are to Blame

Causes of a Caffeine Withdrawal Headache and How to Fix It

Does Caffeine Help or Cause Headaches?

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