Why Is My Grief Worse At Night?

When we wrote about why, for some, grief feels worse in the morning, we knew that we would immediately have some people telling us their grief is worse at night. We did. And then, no surprise, we had some saying their grief is worse in the morning AND at night. Like so much in grief, there are no universals. A huge part of grief is figuring our your own grief and your own coping. So if you happen to be one of the people who find their grief to be worse at night, read on. If you’re not, don’t worry, you’re normal too.

As to why grief is worse at night for some people, there is no single answer. We have our ideas. We asked this WYG social community, you all had ideas. We’ve checked the research, even more ideas. We can’t cover them all, but here are some of the most common themes. 

(Oh, and if grief makes the thought of reading feel like an insurmountable barrier, just watch the video below. It gives a full summary of this post).

 

Reasons Grief Can Feel Worse At Night

  1. Insomia or other sleep disturbances. This is pretty obvious – grief impacts sleep for many people. Whether it is having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, when your sleep is disrupted it can create anxiety, time for rumination, and just general discomfort. Grief is physically and emotionally draining, so this inability to sleep can then cause extreme frustration and distress at night. This study of 815 bereaved college students found that they were far more likely to experience insomnia than their non-bereaved counterparts. 
  2. There are no distractions. During the day, work and errand might keep your brain consumed and busy. It certainly doesn’t mean you aren’t being impacted by grief during the day. It just means you might experience breaks while your brain is forced to focus on other things. The night, for many, brings long hours of empty or unstructured time for your brain to focus on the thoughts and emotions of grief. 
  3. You’ve lost a nighttime companion. Be it a spouse, child, roommate, parent, or anyone else who lived with you, if you lost a person who you often spent your evenings with, evenings and nights might make you especially aware of their absence. When they aren’t there to cook a meal together or to watch a favorite show or talk about your day or fill the spot on the other side of the bed, it can create a pit of nighttime loneliness that feels bottomless.
  4. It’s dark. I know, this sounds dumb. But it is real. For many people, darkness has an impact on mood and motivation to do things. At times of year when it gets dark earlier in the evening, it can zap motivation to participate in evening activities and it can lower overall mood. 
  5. Rumination. Never heard of it? It is when our brains go over and over things going on in our lives. The brain tries to make sense of them, often obsessing. Now, don’t get me wrong, rumination can happen at any time. It just happens to be especially common at night. Often when people get into bed, their brain starts ruminating over their loss and just can’t stop. With no one and nothing around to break up the rumination, it can continue to cycle. 
  6. You’re spent by the end of the day. Often people grieving have spent a lot of time and energy holding it together. By the time night rolls around, there just isn’t any more energy. 

So, the million-dollar question: what do you do if your grief feels worse at night?

Tips if your grief is worse at night

    1. Plan some evening and nighttime activities. This doesn’t have to mean going out and being social if you aren’t up to it or ready. It might mean some crafts, house projects, video games, books, puzzles, art, or other activities to busy your brain in the evenings. We don’t suggest avoiding and distracting all the time, but your brain needs breaks (one of our favorite grief theories, The Dual Process Model of Grief, talks all about that). Whether it be in or out of the house, having some things to break up your time and distract your brain can help. 
    2. Follow the tenants of good sleep hygiene. We have a whole post on grief and getting a good night’s sleep here, so check it out for more details. But some quick reminders:
      1. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time. 
      2. No screens in your bedroom.
      3. No screens for at least an hour before bedtime.
      4. Create a bedtime routine, so your brain knows you are winding down. 
      5. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
    3. Don’t go to bed too early. The reality in grief is that sometimes people start sleeping to much. It is a nice way to avoid all those difficult feelings that come with loss. If you find yourself trying to sleep your evenings away, just to avoid the pain of loss, this can develop into a risky cycle. Set a regular bedtime and keep check on how many hours you’re sleeping. We don’t want you to suffer with insomnia, but we also don’t want you sleeping 14 hours a day. Sleeping too much can actually make you feel worse over time, and when we sleep to avoid we don’t learn how to cope with and manage our grief in healthier ways. 
    4. Keep your substance use in check. While we’re on the topic of avoidance, let’s keep an eye on substances too. If you aren’t sleeping to avoid, you might be using alcohol or another drug to numb some of those difficult feelings. If you are, this can feel good in the short term, but can quickly make you feel worse in the long term. We have a post about keeping substance use in check while grieving here.
 
  1. Remove stress from your evenings. If you are feeling depleted by the energy you are using all day to just survive, try to increase your relaxation time at night. If people have asked how they can help, take them up on it. Ask them to run kids to sports or help out with a meal. It can be hard to ask for help, we get it. But often people truly want to help us, and something that is small for them can feel huge for you. If cooking meals feels like it is creating too much stress after a draining day, consider a meal delivery service or meal-prepping for the week. 
  2. Do some writing. Journaling in the evenings has been shown to help people sleep and reduce. In this study, even just 5 minutes a night helped people feel better able to sleep at night. There are tons of benefits of journaling in grief you can read here. If you need some help and direction with your journaling, you can take our self-paced journaling ecourse to get you started. It includes thirty grief journaling prompts, along with educational lessons to better help you explore your grief. 
  3. Enlist friends. If you used to talk with your loved one regularly in the evenings and now you have no one to talk with, reach out to others. This is never going to replace talking with your loved one, but it can be nice to have someone to catch up with and process the highs and lows of your day. Having a little connection with someone you care about in the evenings can make them feel a little easier. 
  4. Assess your evening social media use. Social media can be the best and the worst. If you find a connection in online spaces at night, they might be a good support (as long as you still quit that screen-time an hour or two before bed). But if you realize that social media is triggering you in the evenings, you might want to save it to use as a morning or lunchtime activity. Often checking social has become a mindless habit, so try to be aware of how it is impacting your mood. 
  5. Consider counseling. If thoughts like guilt and regret, or anxiety about the future, are keeping you up at night, counseling can help. A good therapist can help you process some of those emotions and also learn tools to better manage those tricky thoughts and feelings that might have you stuck or ruminating at night. 
  6. Make an evening commitment. If you wish you were getting out in the evenings, sometimes commitment helps. Sign up for or commit to with a friend can be the boost you need. Sign up for a weekly class. Join a book club, rec sports team, volunteer job, or find an accountability buddy to go to the gym with. You don’t want to keep so busy that you are avoiding. But having a confirmed activity a couple of nights a week can offer some distraction if nights are tough. 

Share your suggestions! We know you probably have tips too, so leave a comment to share your experience and what works for you. 

 

 

 

November 30, 2019

8 responses on "Why Is My Grief Worse At Night?"

  1. Its been 3 years since my dad died (on New Years eve). My mom died in January. Last year my son spent 1 year in hospital after being severely burned. (He made it through). The last few years have been awful. This holiday season leaves me feeling just awful.

  2. These are some great ideas. I do tend to sleep better when I have activities and don’t go to bed too early. But it still pushes it’s way in during the wee hours of the night, even when I do everything right. Just need to take it easy on myself and let it be what it is.

  3. I don’t understand. It’s been about 5 months. I thought I was making headway – getting paperwork and other legal stuff taken care of, making decisions on insurance, healthcare, selling extra car, doing volunteer work and staying engaged… Then around Thanksgiving, its like I fell in that hold this article described and can’t lift myself out. Every night, its torture. Heaving and crying like I did months ago. How could I have taken such big steps backwards, what is wrong with me? I feel like such a weak loser. I’m also scared that I’m spiraling downward. I don’t know what to do to lift myself out of this blackness. He was my world, the one person who knew me and accepted me for who I am, who loved and cared for me. It’s so quiet in the house now. all the calls from friends and family have stopped, I’m sure they expect I have adjusted and have moved forward. Can’t tell them how I feel as I don’t want them to worry or make a fuss. But I’m just going through the motions each day. Please can someone tell me it gets better and how they pushed through this?

  4. Can relate to what others posted here. As it grows ark, I can feel my mood drop, the loss seems worse at night when I am alone in the house, our house. I keep thinking of that tragic night when he died, wondering if he might still be here if we did something differently. Thinking of what I would say to him, ask him, if I could. Feeling such regret, guilt and loss for him and what we hoped to do together. I don’t know if I will ever be able to fully reconcile and accept how he died so suddenly. I know he would not want me to be like this, but I can’t seem to move myself forward. Life is so tedious right now. It’s been almost 5 months. Shouldn’t I be further along? I thought I was making headway, but I seem to be taking backward steps lately. I can feel myself sinking inward, and I am not sure what to do about it. It gets tiresome putting on that face of calm and strength to everyone because that’s what’s expected. When underneath I just want to scream . I know this will lessen over time, I just have to push through it, no going around it.

  5. I’m new to this site and grief. I lost my husband almost 3-1/2 mos ago. Can’t believe it’s been that long. Seems like yesterday. We had just retired (3 days after retirement) when he was diagnosed with oral cancer through no fault or cause by him. We fought it for almost 7 yrs. Finally, the treatment of immunotherapy (Keytruda) did him in after only one treatment. He developed pneumonitis. Unbelievable. He was tired and worn out. He passed when we left the room . I’m glad his journey is done, but I ache for him. We had built our dream home in another state. I now have gone to it to live in by myself. Am extremely lonely. Try to stay busy each day taking care of house. Bedtime is the worse. I can’t tell anyone how empty dead inside I feel. I’ve started walking the beach each day. It seems to help. No one knows what grief feels like until they actually experience it. I did drive 8-1/2 hrs to two of my daughters for Thanksgiving and also spent time with his family members. I cannot let my daughters know how much I’m grieving, cause I’m trying to be strong for them, who are grieving their father. Everyone thinks I’m so strong, when actually I’m dead inside. I feel like I’m just going through the motions of living. I make myself get up, make the bed each morning, take my shower, and drive to the local diner for breakfast (lovely staff). I know no one personally. I go to library or walk the beach. I really try to be physical every day – seems to help. When my mind wonders to start thinking about him, I quickly or purposely think of something else. When will all the pain cease?

    • Theresa: I regret to inform you, the pain never ceases, never ends, and well for me hasn’t even changed. I’m coming up on two years this week and it was like it all happened just yesterday. I too relocated to where we were supposed to retire, and I while others think I am all alone… I am not, I am with him. I have found a place in the park that has become my sanctuary, a place we can call our own. You may or may not believe in a spirit world, but I believe he is there every day. I stopped trying to outrun my own emotions or “put things out of my mind” because it didn’t work for me. While I feel I died too that day, I have found solace in embracing the fact that I wouldn’t be in so much pain if he wasn’t truly my soulmate.

      As for the perception of “being strong”… well welcome to the double life you now live. The eternal masquerade many of us live everyday. At first it’s because we are trying to be ‘strong’ for everyone else, then it’ll quickly turn due to society’s ignorance of thinking grief has a timeline and everyone thinks you should be over it – so you dare not bring it up, and finally, the worst, when everyone asks if you have met someone else!

      So everyday, I meet him in the park, share all that is going on in my life, remember all the little moments we had, and continue to honor our life together. I’m free to be me here in my little sanctuary and I am free to think and feel without judgement.

      … Good, bad, or otherwise – I have found my way of being with him everyday. What can I say, I didn’t get dumped, he died! and I am still in love with him today as much as the day we met and our 15 years wonderful years together. My twin flame, my soul mate, my everything… hasn’t perished, just the body he was in. This is why I sleep through the night! Good luck to you my grieving friend.

  6. …He was the last person I spoke to at night and the first one to receive a good morning greeting from…
    since he left both times were a struggle but night was always worst…after all; my last words to him were I love you, see you tomorrow…our breakfast date never arrived…he was here then and suddenly I was sobbing over his dead cold body inside a white body bag…everything happened within less than 5 hrs…his existence was still here, it just had to!!! I just spoke to him !!! I kept sobbing….
    since then I sobbed at the gym at night but I lost motivation quickly after…(imagine the body I would have by now had I not quit…) but I did, then since social media was out of the question I focused on tv shows…they were over too soon or didn’t keep my mind occupied enough…finally I got Netflix, I know its silly, maybe even dumb, but Netflix helped me cope with the difficult nights…endless shows to keep my mind busy or put me to sleep without notice…after quitting tv for years before his passing (because duh I was too busy living and loving life by his side…) going back helped me cope. Journaling also made it to the list of things I continue doing…I got enough journaling to publish a book by now…the book of grief… nights are different, “better” somedays…grief never leaves it just changes over time…

  7. I find listening to an audiobook overnight quite helpful. Waking up in the middle of the night and ruminating were occasional occurrences before my husband died unexpectedly 17 months ago today (wow….passing time is so strange), and they became nightly afterward. I’ve trained myself to concentrate on listening to the story (by now I know all 7 volumes of _Harry Potter_ really well), and it’s allowed me to stop ruminating and eventually fall back asleep, much more quickly now than when I first started. SleepPhones have worked great for this.

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