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Grief Insomnia: Tips for Rebalancing Your Sleep After Loss

TW: This article contains mentions of depression and suicide. 

Sleep disturbances tend to occur more frequently for individuals who are stressed, fatigued, not exercising regularly, and have difficulty relaxing before bed. For those who have just experienced the loss of a close friend or family member, you are likely experiencing all of the above. Troubled sleep with grief is common. You are not alone! Here is what you need to know about grief insomnia, who might be affected, what sleeplessness does to the body, and tips to rebalance your sleep.  

“Grief not only disrupts sleep, but poor sleep can make the grieving process harder.” – The Sleep Foundation 

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a type of sleep disorder that affects over 50% of adults. You might be suffering from insomnia if you experience any of the following symptoms: 

  • You can fall asleep but wake up a few hours later multiple times a week.
  • You get less than 6 hours of sleep at night. 
  • You lie awake at night worrying about sleep, or you worry about sleep before getting into bed. 
  • You have trouble falling asleep in general. 
  • You have a consistent pattern of broken sleep that leaves you feeling exhausted. 

While insomnia affects many individuals, when it comes to experiencing sleeplessness during grief, there are two types of losses that might make you more prone to losing sleep: loss of a spouse and loss of a loved one to suicide. 

Who Might be More Likely to Experience Grief Insomnia?

Anyone experiencing grief can suffer from sleepless nights. Loss of a spouse or loss of a loved one to suicide are particularly difficult experiences to process, and often lead to more physical manifestations of grief, including insomnia. Studies have shown that grief after a loss to suicide “has been compared to the symptoms and effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” and can lead to developing depression and complicated grief. 

It is important to note that complicated grief (CG) can develop after any type of loss. CG is defined as acute and long-lasting grief (6-plus months) that can include feelings of worthlessness, suicide, and depression. Insomnia is also common with this type of grief, with studies showing “46% have trouble sleeping, specifically due to their grief, at least three times per week.” 

Loss of a partner is similarly challenging for different reasons, and “may be the most likely to cause insomnia and sleep loss.” After someone’s significant other passes, the surviving partner must relearn their bedroom routine, and going to bed alone each night can feel empty, less secure, and lonely. This major sleep shift often leads to difficulties falling or staying asleep at night.  

How Does Grief Insomnia Affect the Body? 

Insomnia has significant short-term and long-term effects on the body. You are likely to immediately experience fatigue, mood swings, irritability, and difficulty concentrating within the first few weeks of sleepless nights. 

Experiencing long bouts of insomnia, though, can wreak havoc on your health. If you sleep less than 50 hours a week, you are at an increased risk of suffering from: 

  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Obesity
  • Anxiety 
  • Strokes
  • Increased levels of inflammation
  • Dementia

Studies have also shown that in older adults, lack of sleep or constantly interrupted sleep can double the risk of death.

Tips for Rebalancing Your Sleep

Sleep is clearly vital for both your physical and mental health, but once you start experiencing insomnia, it can be difficult to break the fatigue cycle. Listed below are five tips to start rebalancing your sleep naturally.  

  1. Exercise: Physical activity releases endorphins in the body for a natural mood boost and is a great, natural way to induce relaxation and sleep. 
  2. Journaling:  When your mind feels like it is spiraling out of control, writing puts those anxious thoughts on paper, helping the mind to stop obsessing over them. Check out our blog on grief journaling.
  3. Establish a bedtime routine: Going to bed at the same time every night can help your body get into the habit of feeling sleepy more consistently. 
  4. Establish good eating and drinking habits: Fueling your body each day with the right balance of nutrients and staying hydrated can help your body to naturally start getting a better night’s sleep. 


Seek Professional Help: If you are experiencing complicated grief, Complicated Grief Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or speaking with a personal therapist can all help you to start unpacking your grief experience, and behaviors around sleep.