Coping with the Physical Effects of Grief: How Are You Sleeping After Experiencing a Loss?

Marina Mails, NCC, LPC
HPCG Bereavement Counselor

Grief is a normal reaction to a loss. It affects us cognitively, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Sometimes, the emotional pain of grief can feel so intense that we feel it physically as a pain in our stomach, chest or elsewhere. The anxieties associated with loss can cause digestive difficulty, decreased appetite and even headaches.

Many people who are newly grieving complain of sleep disturbance. Our minds are often too busy to properly rest. We recommend that newly grieving people have a physical with their physician to be sure that everything is working as it should. Also, pay special care to your body during this time of stress. Rest, eat and sleep when you can, and exercise if possible. If you are having a hard time falling asleep, try some of the following ideas:

  • Try not to become overly upset about not sleeping, as this just perpetuates your inability to sleep.
  • Have confidence that eventually, you will fall asleep again.
  • Try to go to bed and get up about the same time every day. A regular routine helps keep your inner clock set.
  • Don’t try to force sleep. If you can’t get to sleep after 30 minutes, get up and do something unexciting or peaceful, such as playing solitaire, reading or knitting. Then, go back to bed.
  • Learn a relaxation technique, such as tensing and relaxing different muscle groups while lying in bed.
  • Avoid coffee and other caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
  • Don’t watch TV in bed – even boring shows may keep you awake.
  • Try mind games – counting sheep, recalling a nice day, plotting a novel, listing state capitals, etc.
  • You may find the repetition of prayers to be sleep-inducing.
  • Remember, grieving people often have difficulty sleeping, and this often diminishes after the initial months.
  • Try to keep an optimistic attitude about sleep.