Does Grief Make You Tired?

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Eleanor Haley


“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.”

~ Friedrich Nietzche

A common question about grief that we often hear asked is: Does grief make you tired?

The simple answer is, yes, it’s perfectly normal to feel exhausted after experiencing significant loss. Grief and loss can cause mind-body mayhem, which comes as a surprise to those who thought grief would be a purely emotional experience (read about physical grief symptoms here). 

So if you found us after Googling something like, “why is grief so exhausting?” you’re not alone. Because many people experience unanticipated physical grief responses and then, naturally, search online to make sure they’re not a sign that something is wrong. 

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to address reasons why grief might be making you tired. You’ll notice that we don’t offer many suggestions for dealing with fatigue. That isn’t because options for coping don’t exist. It’s merely because discussing these outlets is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, the purpose of this article is to normalize the experience of being tired in grief and provide some rationale as to why you might feel this way.

Finally, it’s important for us to add the disclaimer that we aren’t doctors. We do recommend you speak to your physician if you’re experiencing fatigue that you find concerning. Especially if it persists for a long period of time, and despite efforts to rest, etc. 


What kind of tired are you?

The first thing to consider is that there is more than one way to feel tired. For example, there’s physical exhaustion, which might result from being on your feet all day, intense exercise, or a sheer lack of sleep. Next, there’s being emotionally and/or mentally exhausted where your body might have what it needs to function, but your brain just feels weary or overloaded. Finally, there’s a general sense of fatigue that can be caused by a wide range of lifestyle, physical, or mental health factors and feels like a chronic lack of motivation or energy. 

Knowing there’s more than one kind of tired can help normalize the many reasons you might feel exhausted in grief. Also, if you can step back and notice the type of tired you’re feeling, it might help you identify ways to cope. For example, being physically tired might require you to give your body a rest, while being emotionally exhausted might mean finding ways to calm your mind. 


Why does grief make you tired?: 10 Possible Explanations


You’re experiencing insomnia:

We should get insomnia out of the way because it’s a problem many people struggle with (approximately 30%-40% of adults in the US report insomnia symptoms in a given year) and can obviously wreak havoc on a person’s ability to sleep and feel rested. There are also many risk factors for experiencing insomnia, some of which could be linked to loss-related stress and changes.

Though people often think insomnia means having difficultly falling asleep, there are actually three different types of insomnia (1) difficulty falling asleep (2) difficulty remaining asleep and (3) persistent early-morning awakening. To read more about insomnia, try the Sleep Foundation’s website.


You’re sleeping too much:

When you’re grieving, the thought of getting out of bed can seem overwhelming. Your bed is safe and warm, and the world that’s waiting for you seems filled with pain, sorrow, and other unpleasant things. However, as counterintuitive as it may seem, sometimes getting more sleep than you need can make you feel less energetic. What’s up with that? 

According to Harvard Health Publishing, “Research bears out the connection between too much sleep and too little energy. It appears that any significant deviation from normal sleep patterns can upset the body’s rhythms and increase daytime fatigue.”


Changes in routine:

If you’ve ever researched good sleep habits, you’ve likely noticed that establishing a routine is one of the top recommendations for sleeping well. So, it stands to reason that not having a routine, or changes in habit, can have the opposite impact. And indeed, changes in routine can throw off your biological clock and circadian rhythms.

Life can be chaotic in the immediate aftermath of loss, and changes related to the loss can completely alter your general day-to-day routine. For example, changes like no longer having a job to report to or suddenly working from home, staying up too late, or new childcare responsibilities that get you out of bed early.


Your mind is on overdrive:

One reason why grief makes you tired is because it’s just plain overwhelming. Dealing with emotional, complex, and stressful things may leave you emotionally exhausted. Period. Full stop. On one end of the spectrum, the absence of thoughts and emotions, i.e., feeling numb or grief fog, can make you feel exhausted. But, conversely, racing, cyclical, or intrusive thoughts can leave you wishing you could get a break from yourself.

Not only might these thoughts wear you out during the day, but they also keep you up at night. It seems like all the world is slumbering while you lay awake, staring into the darkness, trying not to follow your most anxious and upsetting thoughts down the rabbit hole. It can be a very lonely feeling.

Even those who don’t typically tend to lay awake with thoughts might find themselves struggling to quiet their mind. Perhaps you tend to stay so busy during the day that nighttime is the first time there’s enough silence for your grief to speak. Maybe your loss has created a lot of new stress for you to manage. Or perhaps you’re struggling with thoughts about your own existential existence.


Frequent exposure to reminders of the loss are making you emotionally exhausted:

Early on in your grief, it may seem like new and painful reminders are everywhere. Learning how to handle grief triggers takes practice and patience. And worrying what fright might be waiting for you around the next corner can leave you in a constant state of fear (i.e., hypervigilance).


Hypervigilance:

Speaking of hypervigilance, it can really wear you out. Hypervigilance is when a person remains in a state of increased alertness, ready to fight or run from any threat. This is a helpful response when danger is truly near, but when it exists in the absence of any real threat to your safety, it can disrupt your daily functioning. Someone who’s experienced a traumatic loss may be particularly vulnerable to experiencing hypervigilance. However, it can impact anyone, especially if they perceive elements of their grief as threatening.

Hypervigilance is another experience that can deplete you during the day and keep you up at night. Someone who doesn’t feel safe in their own bed and who’s sensitive to every sound will undoubtedly struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. If you’re experiencing hypervigilance for weeks after your loss, or longer than you’re comfortable with, we recommend consulting with a licensed mental health professional.


Bad Dreams:

Bad dreams can impact sleep for two main reasons. First, bad dreams may wake you up and, once up, there’s no guarantee you can quickly get back to sleep. Second, someone who regularly experiences nightmares may have anxiety about falling asleep in the first place.


Psychological Disorders:

Sometimes fatigue is a symptom of an underlying psychological disorder like depression or anxiety. Of course, some physical disorders can also cause fatigue. But we specifically mention psychological disorders because loss and grief, though not disorders themselves, can contribute to developing or exacerbating mental health conditions like anxiety or depression. If you’re worried you might be experiencing a psychological disorder or struggling to cope with a preexisting condition, we recommend speaking to a licensed mental health professional.


You’re choosing harmful coping over constructive coping:

When you are really stressed, your bandwidth for choosing healthy coping and making healthy lifestyle choices is limited. Good diet, regular exercise, drinking plenty of water and less caffeine and alcohol are all things that help boost energy. But when you’re grieving, they can also feel incredibly aspirational.

Grieving people may not feel they have the time or mindset to keep up with healthy habits. While simultaneously being more at risk of choosing harmful coping like isolation and substance use (1) because it’s easier and (2) because it helps numb the pain. Unfortunately, many things that fall under the “quick, easy, and numbing” category of coping can also compound feelings of fatigue.


Stress:

We’ve written about stress in grief in the past, and suffice it to say, it’s a big topic. Stress puts an enormous tax on the body, and, unfortunately, there is a better than good chance that your loss has created more stress in your life. If you’re facing chronic stress that can’t necessarily be overcome (like grief), your mental, emotional, and physical resources may quickly become depleted.


We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

Let’s be grief friends.

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15 Comments on "Does Grief Make You Tired?"

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  1. Teresa Bell  June 18, 2022 at 7:11 pm Reply

    I lost my husband suddenly on April 3rd. He was mu Soulmate, and we never spent a single night away from each other. He was only 58. I am so emotionally and physically exhausted to the point it scares me

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  2. Brothergrimm  May 10, 2022 at 8:51 pm Reply

    I lost my mother on 2014 to a super virus, then on 2021 I lost my father to shingles in his brain! Then about 3 weeks ago lost my Godson to his addiction problems! It’s been a constant battle, & I don’t know if it’s ever going to end! Sometimes I go two to three days without eating! Everytime I do eat I feel sick, unable to sleep ( I toss & turn, & still hardly sleeping) sometimes I feel like I hear my parents talking to me at night! This is starting to interfere with my life, especially my job; where I’ve called on sick to many times…

    Regards, lost

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    • Litsa  June 8, 2022 at 4:26 pm Reply

      I am so sorry for your losses and how deeply it is impacting your daily life. This is exactly what a grief counselor can be incredibly helpful with – have you spoken with a therapist? Your employer may even have an EAP that would provide you with someone to speak with if you speak with HR. If not, calling a local hospice to inquire about counseling options is always a good option.

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    • Laurie Janes  July 16, 2022 at 5:11 pm Reply

      I’m so sorry to hear of your multiple losses. I have had a similar experience, including losing my dear husband. I don’t really have any answers because I think we just have to go through the grief, but I am making use of a grief counselor, who is of limited benefit, a grief group called Griefshare that I found online that meets on zoom that sometimes makes me feel better and sometimes makes me sad, and I have reached out to a local church that I used to attend and found a metaphysical discussion group on zoom on Sunday afternoons, which I enjoy a lot. Unfortunately, with Covid in the picture, I’m very isolated and lonely. I imagine you are, too. If you can find anything creative that you like to do or anything that brings you joy, that helps me also. Just be kind to yourself! I get angry with myself for sleeping so much and not getting out of bed until two in the afternoon, but I just don’t have anything to look forward to. I’m trying to treat myself as if I’m fragile right now because that’s the way I feel. People say that it gets easier; let’s hope that’s true. I really feel for you and I hope that you will be OK. Life is not easy these days and I’m hoping that we will build up some kind of a resilience within us because as we get older we experience more and more loss and must be prepared for that. I’m trying to be grateful for what I have left rather than dwell on what I have lost, but it’s not easy. Sending you love and light! 💕

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  3. ahna  January 22, 2022 at 10:14 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for this article. I’m healing complex ptsd and healing can come with so much grief. I’m deeply loving and accepting myself even when I really don’t want to. I’m sending so much love to everyone here. I know how it goes…. it’s just so much.

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  4. Tom Engler  October 5, 2021 at 9:37 pm Reply

    I lost my wife in July 2021 after a year-long bout with cancer. She was my entire life for 56 years. I’ve been in a fog since July. Exhaustion is certainly part of my grief. Oddly enough I have found walking early in the morning and early in the evening helps me feel not so exhausted. Walking seems to calm my anxiety somewhat. I just want to leave this life and be with her again.

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    • Laurie Janes  July 16, 2022 at 5:18 pm Reply

      My husband and I were only married for 23 years before he passed, but I, too, feel like I don’t want to be here without him. I can’t imagine being married to someone for 56 years and then losing them. No wonder you feel in a fog. I can’t think straight either. I’m having trouble getting out of bed when I wake up because there’s nothing to look forward to and I can’t bear the sadness. I hope you have some other loved ones around you to support you, but I totally understand the feeling of not wanting to go on. I have an older sister who has Alzheimer’s and I love her very much and I need to be here for her even though I don’t get to see her very often. So that keeps me going. Do you have any pets? I feel for you, truly, and I hope that your pain lessens and you can find some happiness somehow. I know it doesn’t seem possible right now. My husband passed at the end of September 2021. But he had been ill with Lewy body dementia and Parkinson’s for four years before that, so I really lost him in 2017. Just know that you will see your beloved wife again. That helps me a lot. I was lucky to have had several experiences of seeing and speaking with my mother after she passed which I believe were given to me so that I would be able to bear the loss of losing my husband. I always believed in an afterlife, but now, having had the experience of seeing what awaits us, I am much less afraid of dying and also I know I will see my dear Bob again. The wait is tough though! Please take care of yourself and I’m sending you love and light. Remember, love never dies and you will see her again. 💕

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  5. Debbie  October 2, 2021 at 11:17 am Reply

    I get the fatigue, and the reasons, my grief comes not from the loss of someone who died but from the loss of someone who is diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. It seems the grief regenerates every time we go through another episode of increased symptoms , a grief that doesn’t seem to end the person is still there but not and it continues thanks for the discussion on fatigue, I am exhausted 🥱

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  6. lucille pepper  October 1, 2021 at 11:58 am Reply

    thanks

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  7. Nancy  October 1, 2021 at 9:48 am Reply

    I really appreciate this article. I lost my sister in June 2021 after a year long fight with cancer. In the last 2 months, have been experiencing just extreme fatigue and what seems like extreme emotions/irritiability/stress. Took 3 weeks off in Sept and yet still feeling tired and irritable, I really didn’t think I could feel this exhausted. It’s okay to not feel okay is my mantra (when I remember) and that I can’t keep the bar high for work,kids, life, and self care. Yes….the letting go of self care is one thing and the basics of self care (ex: sleep) just seems so insurmountable. Thank you for the article. I’ve bookmarked it so to remind myself that this is all a process.

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  8. Karen Coe  October 1, 2021 at 8:49 am Reply

    I can’t believe it happened. I relied so much on him. Now I am afraid I won’t like my own company as well as he did.

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  9. Grace J. Espino  October 1, 2021 at 4:21 am Reply

    I am currently experiencing complicated grief (as termed by my therapist/counselor) after my husband died of COVID last year, March 25, 2020 – the first wave of COVID.

    His infidelity and betrayal (other woman) made my grief and mourning complicated until the time he got infected with covid, and prior to his intubation, he did not admit his wrongdoings and did not make an extra effort to say he was sorry for all his misbehaviors. The very act of him not being remorseful and did not admit his faults and I was not even sure if he still loved me til the end made the grieving for me very unbearable and I really hated him for that.
    Until now, I cannot forgive him yet…

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    • Sydney  October 3, 2021 at 10:19 pm Reply

      That is so tough and makes it all the more painful. What I can offer is what has been helping me: because he is gone there will not be any further opportunity for remorse or changes in behavior/ attitude. So, for my own sake and well being I must resolve to let it go and give forgiveness so that I can be ok , well, and move forward. What is the alternative- continuing pain and anger which only hurts me. Please accept this in the spirit of understanding and empathy with which it is shared. It is so hard. You deserve to be healed from all the pain. Some things we cannot change no matter how desperately we want and need to change them. God bless and keep you-

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  10. Patricia Young  September 30, 2021 at 10:38 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for all you do. I wrote a short time ago and after reading more of your work, I still can’t focus very well. I really don’t have anyone to talk to. My husband has been gone for four years and I am still working so hard emotionally to override my thoughts, but can’t. Can you offer anything for me to do? Sincerely, PY

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    • Darcel Fode  October 30, 2021 at 3:06 pm Reply

      Dear Patricia,
      I have been a seminary and graduate student, researcher, professional and myself experienced grief for five years Over my Mother and presently over a lifelong best friend.
      Please respect my advise given in love;
      I believe God wants us to grieve deeply for one year.. then smile again and remember without the gut wrenching pain.
      You have over grieved. I can relate. Please contact a trusted pastor with another Godly Godly woman. Ask for help from a Deliverance ministry. You have a spirit of grief that has attached itself to you. You need to be prayed over… as this happens you will naturally open your mouth to yawn. After many yawns over the course of time, this spirit will be released.
      This worked for me and is quite Biblical. Christ released spirits from people many times.
      Then do all the self care things you know to do… and get on with your LIFE! You are here for a reason. It is not your time. YOU are not the one that DIED!
      Look up Insight for Living, Focus on the Family and Family Talk for inspiration and redirection.
      God Bless you!
      Darcel

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