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How Grieving Impacts Sleep

If we have the capacity to love then we have to face grief as well, along with how it manifests in our lives—particularly through sleep.
BY Lisa Smalls
PUBLISHED February 23, 2019
Losing a loved one is one of the most painful life events we endure, where grieving is a natural and recurrent phase of life for us all. If we have the capacity to love, then we have to face grief as well, along with how it manifests in our lives—particularly through sleep. Poor sleep can go hand in hand with grieving in a downwards spiral, where physical and emotional symptoms of grief can intensify when sleep issues are not addressed. Grief can be momentary or become complicated grief  over time, where advanced symptoms of grief can be emotional, physical, as well as cognitive.

Emotional Wellness

Grief alone can wreak havoc on your emotional wellbeing, causing depression and anxiety that makes it hard to sleep. Sleep is a fundamental part of the grieving process that helps heal your emotions, so a lack of sleep is particularly dangerous. Specific emotions are encountered at every stage of the grieving process, where quality sleep helps you process and navigate these feelings. So grieving makes sleeping hard, but you still need sleep to recover from grieving!

Physical Wellbeing

The physical symptoms of grief are less discussed but are highly significant, where proper sleep helps your body mend faster. In addition to poor sleep, symptoms include a weakened immune system, heart problems, alcohol and substance abuse and depression. Your physical symptoms of grief can cause sleep deprivation but will also worsen without sufficient sleep. If you are experiencing advanced symptoms of grief that must be addressed and healed by better sleep, take the steps within your power to improve sleep. For example, create an ideal sleep space. Eliminate noise and light pollution, invest in your sleeping structure, and stick to a regular bedtime. The quality of your waking life depends on how you invest in your sleep life.

Cognitive Ability

Grieving can cause you to experience hazy thinking as part of temporary cognitive impairment. Your mind and body are actually protecting you from experiencing too much at once, particularly when the loss of a loved one is sudden. In this state of mind, you can make snap decisions or act out in ways that are not like you. Sleep helps you restore a clear mind and act like yourself again.

Grieving doesn’t always mean you will experience insomnia or sleep deprivation though. Sometimes excessive sleeping is common as well. Every person faces their grief in different ways; however, the amount and quality of your sleep is commonly affected and is symptomatic of grief. Some people actually sleep more, where people who are facing overwhelming emotions are often reluctant to get out of bed and face the realities of everyday life. Retreating to bed can be an escape when you are working through so many exhausting emotions, but often in these cases, the quality of sleep is still low. Nightmares and dreams of your loved one can also be difficult to handle or process. When many of those grieving see their loved ones in their dreams or nightmares, it can be mostly unsettling where such dreams do not provide closure.

We even sometimes prepare for grief when someone we love is fighting cancer, which is a process that can be emotionally overwhelming and cause sleep issues as well. Thought leaders on grief are starting to recognize grief as both a process and a disease, where studies show that grieving can cause poor sleep that can become a chronic disturbance. Know when to ask for professional help in order to protect yourself and properly heal your mind, body and soul.
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