Tips to help your sleep routine after bereavement

Categories: Care.

After your bereavement, you might find that it becomes difficult to settle into a consistent sleep routine. But whether you’re sleeping too much, or not sleeping at all, we’re (Sue Ryder) here with suggestions to help you improve how you sleep.

Having difficulty sticking to a sleep routine is a common experience among people who are bereaved, and it’s OK if your sleep isn’t normal. Coping with a bereavement means coping with a lot of change in your life, so try not to put too much pressure on yourself.

Grief is hard work, and processing what has happened in your life can be both exhausting and draining. Some people may find that sleeping is all they can do, while for others, it can become harder as they lie awake, thinking about the person they are missing.

With sleep comes a lot of quiet and silence, and this can leave room for lots of noisy and intense thoughts. Nightmares and flashbacks are also common, and this can be unsettling to cope with.

To help, we’re sharing advice and suggestions for improving your sleep routine. Although some of our tips and examples refer to sleeping in the evening, we know that some people may have jobs or responsibilities that mean they sleep at different times of the day. We hope that you can take our advice and use it in a way that suits you and your lifestyle.

If you can’t sleep

Change what you do before bed

Creating a night-time routine can help you to set aside the time you need to relax before bed. It can involve as many or as few steps as you like, but it’s important that you try to stick to it as often as you can.

Here are some ideas that you might want to incorporate into your night-time routine:

  • have a decaffeinated drink
  • reduce your screen time by switching off your phone, computer, iPad, or TV
  • read a book
  • write in your journal
  • do crosswords or puzzles
  • have a warm shower or bath
  • introduce relaxing oils, such as lavender, into your shower or bath routine
  • meditate
  • do a mindfulness exercise.

And here is an example routine that you may want to change or alter to suit you:

  • 8:30pm: reduce screen time and write in my journal
  • 9:00pm: have a warm bath
  • 9:45pm: read my book until feeling sleepy.

You may also want to include extra steps to prepare for any nights when you still struggle to fall asleep, or if your sleep is disturbed by nightmares or flashbacks.

For example, if you’re still feeling awake when you’re reading, you might want to stop after a set period of time and focus on some mindfulness activities instead. Or, if you wake up from a nightmare, you might want to try writing in your journal about the thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing. This can be a good way to empty your head before trying to sleep again.

It’s also important to remember that grief is unpredictable, and some days will feel harder than others. But by following the same steps every night, or having routines in place for when you wake up through the night, you can help your mind and body feel prepared to get through the hours ahead.

Listen to something as you fall asleep

Silence can be overwhelming during grief, particularly at night. If you find that your mind is racing as it hits the pillow, or that you can’t stop your brain from going to places you don’t want it to, you might want to try listening to something as you sleep. This could be:

  • a podcast
  • a sleep playlist
  • white noise
  • rain
  • sounds from the ocean, jungle, or rainforest
  • sleeping with the TV or radio on.

With so much to choose from, you might need to try a few different sounds before you find what works for you. Some people find that they need something playing throughout the night, whilst others find that they just need something to help them drift off initially.

Change your surroundings

Changing your bedroom around can be a big change, so this might not feel like an option for everyone. Some people prefer to keep things as they are, particularly if the person they’re grieving for played a part in decorating the space, or if they spent a lot of time there.

But others may feel like they need a change, such as those who witnessed the death of their family member or friend in their room, or those who cared for them there.

This change could be something small, such as trying to sleep in a different room if you have one. Sometimes, new surroundings can help you create new routines, and after you’re able to sleep a bit better, you may want to gradually move back to your existing room.

Bigger changes might include moving the furniture around to create a new layout for your room or repainting the walls in new colours. Or, you might decide that you need a complete refresh. This can be scary, especially if you shared your room with the person who died. But it’s important to remember that your connection to them will continue to stay with you, no matter how different your surroundings are.

If you’re sleeping too much and are not taking sleeping pills

Keep a sleep diary

Grieving can bring up uncomfortable feelings which are difficult to deal with. This can leave your body feeling like its energy levels are low, and that’s why it’s common for people who have been bereaved to turn to sleep to cope.

However, if you find that you are relying on sleep to get through tough days or moments, you might want to try keeping a sleep diary. This can help you to keep track of how much sleeping you’re doing and potentially identify whether certain moments or feelings prompt you to turn to sleep.

Although feeling tired is expected during grief, sleeping too much may be a sign that you’re trying to escape or ignore what has happened – particularly if you feel like it’s the only thing you can do. A sleep diary can help you to recognise this, and from there you can start to introduce changes to help your sleeping routine.

See morning light

If you’re trying to sleep less, letting in the morning light through your windows can help to regulate your body clock. This might mean you leave your curtains or blinds open when you go to sleep or that you use a sheerer fabric instead.

If you live on a ground floor or don’t feel comfortable leaving your windows bare, you may want to try using a sunrise light-up alarm clock instead. Rather than just relying on a sound to wake you up, these devices can mimic natural morning light in line with when you set your alarm, so your brain is encouraged to believe the day has started.

Try to move your body

Getting your body moving is another great way to wake your body up from its sleep. This doesn’t have to be anything as big as going for a run or doing an exercise class. Instead, it can simply mean walking to the other side of the room where you have plugged in your phone or alarm clock. This gentle movement can slowly start to awaken the different areas of your brain and body, meaning you’re less likely to fall back asleep.

If things still aren’t improving

If, after trying some of the methods above, you find that your sleep routine still isn’t improving, you may want to try to speak to your GP about how you’re feeling.

Sleeping too much or not enough can leave you feeling groggy and disoriented, and this can be really difficult to cope with alongside your grief.

Letting your GP know what has been happening can help them support you in a way that’s right for you, and hopefully, you will be able to find a solution together.

If you’re taking sleeping pills

If you have already visited your GP to talk about your grief and how you’re sleeping, you may have been prescribed medication to help. This can come in different forms, such as pills, tablets liquids, or injections, however, we will use the term ‘sleeping pills’ to refer to this type of medication.

If you are taking sleeping pills, it’s really important that you are aware of the type of pill you are taking and how it can affect you. Mind have a really useful article explaining this medication, and we would recommend taking the time to read through it.

Sleeping pills should only be taken for a short period of time, but sometimes people can find that they rely on them to get through the days and nights. If you’re struggling with this, it’s important to go back to your GP.


This article is republished from Sue Ryder with permission.

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