Insomnia and Grief:

14 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.

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 yoga and hand stretches for sleep, before bed.

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.  Experiment with 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.

9.  Avoid caffeine at bedtime. Drink
herbal tea or juice, but not so much that you must get up and go 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. Alcohol and cigarettes may help you fall asleep, but as soon as they are out of your system you will probably wake up again. Limit their use at bedtime.

10. 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.

12. Spend some 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.

13. 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.  

14. 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 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 and Related Reading

Insomnia: Understand the causes of insomnia and how you can finally get a good night’s sleep.

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

Help Guide: How to Sleep Better Grief and Sleep: 7 Tips to Cope with Insomnia After Loss

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

Cup and Leaf: The Best Teas for Sleep and Anxiety

From the well-known chamomile to the lesser known passionflower, these eight teas can help you relax and fall asleep.

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.

Author's yellow and white cat Jimmy

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