Experiencing grief can feel like a nightmare that never ends. It can come in fits and starts and in cascading waves that wash over us, making us feel like we’re drowning. When and how grief strikes are different for everyone. There simply is no pattern. For each person you question, you’ll receive a different answer. The morning can be the hardest for some, while others may report the night being the worst, and still, others may claim both morning and night are equally overwhelming. Nonetheless, a majority of people find themselves consumed with grief at night. Understanding why comes down to your own personal roots and causes for suffering. To help discover why grief is worse at night, Ecorial has created a comprehensive guide into the world of nighttime grief.
Reasons Why Your Grief Feels Worse at Night
The day has come to a close. Night has fallen, and now you are ready for bed. Grief begins to creep up and grow in the back of your mind until it consumes your thoughts and attempts to become a permanent resident. Here are 5 reasons why grief feels worse at night:
Aptly setting the scene, darkness represents a shift in mood. The brightness of day has passed, and the volume has begun to turn down on activity. Your mood may also be affected by the energy shifting from day to night. An eerie stillness can settle. An irrational but understandable fear of “things that go bump in the night” is never quite far from our subconscious.
The busyness of the day has afforded you no room to even think about facing your grief. Too many other pressing matters have evicted it momentarily from your mind. This may have lulled you into a false sense of security that you are not experiencing grief. The trauma you’ve encountered is simply expressing itself on a smaller level, giving you a break in the daytime.
Every night our minds begin to look back and process the events of the day. It’s the brain's way of tidying up clutter and making room for the next day. What events are worth filing away in our memory? Which are insignificant and worth deleting? This is why things become more precise in our thoughts by morning: the brain has done a sweep of the system. Because of the significance of the loss you’ve experienced, the trauma can play front and center in this process in our thoughts. This is known as rumination: the focused attention on one’s distress and its possible causes and consequences. This is grief at some of its worst. In the dark with nothing but your thoughts, it has you all to itself.
Lost a Nighttime Companion
One of the most significant causes of grief is losing a nighttime companion. This can be anyone you’ve spent your evening routine with. If it's a romantic partner, weathering the night can be particularly challenging because an empty bed is a glaring reminder of their absence. Additionally, other evening rituals are disrupted: talking about your day, having dinner together, or simply enjoying a favorite evening activity.
Insomnia offers the most significant contrast to grief in the daytime. In this instance, your mind and body are exhausted, but the brain will not shut down for the night. This leaves you with more time to face your thoughts on a continuous loop with no relief in sight. Being on this treadmill can leave you with a heightened level of anxiety which depletes you emotionally and physically.
What to Do if Your Grief Grows Worse at Night
As challenging as it is to face grief at night, there are several things you can do to subdue it. Here are some great approaches that can support you:
Create a Good Sleep Routine
It’s helpful to cultivate a bedroom space that encourages restful sleep.
- Add calming scents such as lavender
- Add a white noise machine
- Remove screen time from your bedroom
- Set a bedtime schedule that is consistent: go to bed at the same time and try to get up at the same time.
- Give yourself time to wind down 30 minutes before going to bed
Plan Self-Care in the Evening
Give yourself permission in the evening to take care of yourself and put your
obligations aside for a little while as you approach bedtime. The idea is to wind down and put your mind at ease. Consider some of these activities:
- Hot bath
- Soothing music
- Go for a walk
Nighttime can be lonely, which can make minimizing grief challenging. If you’re up for it,
talk with a friend. It doesn’t have to be anything heavy, just knowing you have someone to share thoughts and chit-chat with can be a soothing balm to your nervous system.
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed by your grief, consider counseling. A good counselor can help you process the emotions and ruminating thoughts you’re experiencing. Also, they can offer tools to manage and curb your nervous system safely.
What to Avoid if Your Grief Grows Worse at Night
Fear not if you find your stress and anxiety mount at night. There are several immediate adjustments you can make to find relief.
Avoid the following:
- Screen time: as tempting as tv, social media, or other interests on the screen may be, try to stay away from them. You want to calm your brain, not continue to heighten stimulation.
- Alcohol: This may appear to be an excellent way to dull your senses for the short term, but it could have dangerous effects down the road and create a bigger problem.
- Caffeine: Avoid over-stimulating your mind if your goal is to get to sleep
- Going to bed TOO early: You may just stay awake longer and longer
- Erratic Sleep Schedule: Without routine, your mind isn’t sure when and how it’s supposed to wind down. This makes for a very challenging night of sound sleep.
Nighttime can be scary, and processing grief is daunting. Know that there are several tools available to you and that you have the strength and ability to endure this. It’s always darkest before dawn.
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