Articles > Coping with Insomnia When Grieving: Top Strategies to Start Sleeping Well

Coping with Insomnia When Grieving: Top Strategies to Start Sleeping Well

Alex Savy is the founder and CEO of Sleeping Ocean, a blog dedicated to helping people sleep better. Alex is also a certified sleep coach, so he knows how readers can achieve healthy slumber regardless of the situation. Alex uses his knowledge and experience to share both the best sleep products and effective sleep-regulating tools.

Feeling tired but not being able to sleep is exhausting for one day, let alone for weeks, months, or even years.

When you lose a loved one, it’s common to feel overwhelmed at bedtime. Thoughts and strong emotions can make it difficult to sleep. But if this becomes long-term insomnia or your day-to-day life is being impacted, it is important to consider making some lifestyle changes and to seek professional support.

Here are some helpful points to think about when dealing with insomnia:

Losing sleep during the grieving process

Sleep disruptions are very common for those who are experiencing the loss of a loved one. Grief can cause considerable stress on the body and mind, which in turn can often lead to bouts of insomnia. In fact, 91 per cent of people dealing with grief report sleep disturbances[1]

Research also suggests that sleep issues and grief have a bidirectional relationship. Thus, people who experience persistent sleep problems before losing a loved one are likelier to go into a more complex grieving process, which is known as complicated grief.[2]

Achieving a healthier sleep cycle after loss

‘Sleep hygiene’ is a phrase that is used to describe healthy sleep habits. One way to begin practising good sleep hygiene is to try some meditation, as it is proven to be effective in reducing stress, alleviating anxiety, and increasing focus. There are several guided mediation apps and resources online that can help you get started.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and are finding it difficult to sleep, try scheduling a dedicated “worrying time”. Set aside some time in the morning or afternoon where you can process your feelings, address your worries, and cope with the thoughts that are keeping you awake.[3]  You can spend this time in silent reflection, journaling, or even having a deep conversation with a loved one who can help you process your thoughts.

Other helpful sleep hygiene practises:

  • Exercising, eating a well-balanced diet, and spending a good amount of energy throughout the day to promote natural tiredness.
  • Limiting stimulants that increase alertness, in particular caffeine.
  • Establishing a regular routine by waking up at the same time, as well as going to bed at the same time each day.
  • Limiting screen time, including mobile devices, for at least an hour before going to sleep.[4]
  • Exposure to natural sunlight can positively affect your circadian rhythm, so spending 30 to 45 minutes outside each day can help achieve this effect.[5]
  • Going for a morning walk can help you receive a good amount of sunlight, and generally the mornings are less bright and hot.

Insomnia and depression

It is worth noting that ongoing episodes of insomnia can increase the risk of developing depression[6]. So, turning to a professional who can assist with coping strategies such as cognitive-behavioural therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy can help to lessen grief induced disturbances, leading to improved sleep quality and fewer depressive episodes.

Attachment styles and insomnia

World renowned psychiatrist John Bowlby, known for his pioneering work in attachment theory, has identified four adult attachment styles: 1. anxious-preoccupied, 2. avoidant-dismissive, 3. disorganized / fearful-avoidant, and 4. secure. These attachment styles start developing in early childhood [7].

It has been found that bereaved individuals with insecure attachment styles are at an increased risk of grief-based symptoms, including insomnia. Insecure attachment styles have also been found to put spouses of terminally ill patients at greater risk of experiencing traumatic grief symptoms.[8] Similarly, Individuals with an anxious attachment style who lost a close friend or family member in the previous year were found to experience greater levels of grief and depression.

On the other hand, individuals with an avoidant attachment style experienced greater somatic symptoms in comparison to individuals with secure attachment styles.[9] So when coping with bereavement it’s entirely normal for individuals to differ in the type or intensity of symptoms, because everybody develops differently based on their physiological, psychological and social environment.

Healthy alternatives to alcohol

People who are grieving can sometimes resort to alcohol as a remedy for insomnia. However, while a nightcap can bring on that pleasant drowsiness and a few moments of distraction, it can also play a cruel trick on one’s sleep. Alcohol typically has a negative effect on overall sleep quality, causing frequent night-time disruptions and reducing sleep duration.[10] Therefore, it is better to practise other methods of relaxation instead such as journaling, reading, yoga or drinking chamomile tea.


While grief can cause anyone to become sleep-deprived, and prolonged sleep deprivation can lead to a number of subsequent complications, there are plenty of lifestyle changes and strategies that can help. Research suggests that addressing sleep irregularity assists people in recovering from their grief more easily.[11] So if we focus on sleep hygiene and implement a few changes we can not only ensure a better night’s sleep, but benefit from long term positive health outcomes.

[1] Medscape. 2021. Disturbed Sleeps Derails Therapy for Complicated Grief. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 21 October 2021].

[2] Blue, A., 2021. Sleep Troubles May Complicate the Grieving Process. University of Arizona News, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 21 October 2021].

[3] Sherrie Hurd, A., 2020. Worry Time: How to Schedule Your Anxieties – Learning Mind. [online] Learning Mind. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 October 2021].

[4] 2021. Sleep | Circadin Australia. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 21 October 2021].

[5] Peters, B., 2020. How Morning Sunlight Can Improve Your Sleep. [online] Verywell Health. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 October 2021].

[6] Nutt, D, et al, 2008. Sleep disorders as core symptoms of depression. [online] National Center for Biotechnology Information Search database. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 October 2021].

[7] Attachment Styles and Their Role in Adult Relationships. Attachment Project. (2022). Retrieved 7 January 2022, from

[8] Doorn, V. (1998). The influence of marital quality and attachment styles on traumatic grief and depressive symptoms. Pub Med. Retrieved 11 November 2021, from

[9] Heidi A. Wayment. (2006) Attachment style, empathy, and helping following a collective loss: Evidence from the September 11 terrorist attacks. Attachment & Human Development 8:1, pages 1-9.

[10] Gaines, J., 2013. A night cap may get you to sleep, but studies show it will also make you sleep less well. The Washington Post, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 21 October 2021].

[11] H. Monk, T., 2008. Sleep Disturbance in Bereavement. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). Available at: <> [Accessed 21 October 2021].

The information on this website is for general information only and are not (and nor are they intended to be) a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice, nor is it used for diagnosis and treatment. You, or anyone you are concerned about, are encouraged to seek professional medical or mental health advice and treatment from suitably qualified medical and clinical practitioners and providers. 

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If you are in crisis or think you may have an emergency, immediately call Emergency 000. If you're having thoughts of self-harm or harm to others call Lifeline on 13 11 23 to talk to a skilled, trained counsellor. If you are located outside Australia, contact your local emergency line directly.


Grief & Loss Healing Life After Loss Strategies

Alex Savy is the founder and CEO of Sleeping Ocean, a blog dedicated to helping people sleep better. Alex is also a certified sleep coach, so he knows how readers can achieve healthy slumber regardless of the situation. Alex uses his knowledge and experience to share both the best sleep products and effective sleep-regulating tools.

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