Why is grief worse at night? It’s a question I hear often as I talk with those new to grief.
In that first year of grief, mornings were were particularly hard as I woke to the reality of one more day without Dan.
But grief was harder at night. Not just for me but for my children as well.
My six-year-old would play and seem almost carefree during the day, like other kids his age. But when I tucked him in at night with bedtime prayers, the tears inevitably came. We had some of our most raw conversations after the lights were off and I sat next to him, listening to his heart, answering his questions and wiping his tears as well as my own.
Night was often when my teens wanted to talk as well. It always seemed to happen just when I was fully exhausted and heading to bed. Can you talk, Mom? And I’d try my best to dig down to my last reserves to listen.
Nights for me brought the heaviest, most forlorn pain of grief. With the house quiet after dinner, my littles asleep and the olders upstairs, it was just me and the cavernous ache that felt like it would swallow me from the inside out.
I never felt such loneliness, such heartache, and at times, such despair.
Sleep wasn’t the problem for me. I slept surprisingly well, and I’m certain it’s because several faithful friends covered that in prayer for months.
Sleep was a sweet relief, the reward for having made it through one more day and enduring one more grueling night where I wished with everything in me Dan would walk in the back door from a long business trip.
Some nights, though, the tears spilled well into the night. Or I’d slip into sleep easily only to wake hours later and toss fitfully with my thoughts on overdrive before finally getting back to sleep.
The Bible speaks to this grueling grief at night. In Psalm 6, David lamented, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.” (Psalm 6:6)
Job described his difficulty with grief at night: “Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest.” (Job 30:17)
Both David and Job also suffered grief insomnia. In Psalm 22, David wrote that he cried out to God by night but found no rest. (Psalm 22:2) Job’s words sound like a page from a modern journal: “When I lie down I think, ‘How long before I get up?’ The night drags on, and I toss and turn until dawn.” (Job 7:4)
Why is grief so hard at night? These are a few contributing factors.
What makes grief worse at night?
Remember being scared of the dark when you were little? I vividly remember crazy fears of what lurked in the dark that felt fully reasonable at the time. As an adult, darkness can still magnify our anxiety and hopelessness.
By the evening, we’ve had a full day of triggers, hard emotions and hard tasks. We’re worn out and just don’t have as much grit to fight the lies that come in grief.
3. No distractions.
During the day, we can focus on a to-do list. We’re usually around other people, at work or over coffee with a friend. But at night, we don’t have those distractions which means the full weight of our grief is front and center.
Without distractions, our mind can cue a continuous loop of memories, regrets, or worries. Experts call these spiraling thoughts ruminating.
Help for Grief at Night
While we can’t avoid the grief, we can take steps to help us manage it.
1. Lean on God’s sustaining grace.
While grief may feel worse at night, that’s not all bad. As much as we don’t want to, we have to allow the hard emotions of grief to move through them and process grief. We won’t move forward if we constantly distract, escape or mask the pain.
But it’s too much, you say. Yes, it’s too much for us alone. The only way through is to lean on God’s sustaining grace. Lament all that’s lost, give God every unbearable ache and question and then choose to trust Him in it.
2. Find a healthy way to pass the hours.
Books, movies, worship music, phone calls with family or friends, crafting or hobby projects are healthy ways to “fill up” the empty hours before bed. While scrolling social media is an easy default (and I admittedly did my fair share of it), it almost always triggers more grief leaving us feeling worse.
3. Reassure yourself.
Remind yourself of two things: everything seems worse at night and it won’t always feel like this. When our emotions are screaming different, we need to realign our mind to the truth.
4. Don’t buy the enemy’s lies.
Scripture says the devil prowls around like a roaring lion waiting for an opportune time to devour us. He lies in grief to keep us defeated and disheartened with whispers like “You’re alone in this,” “You have no future,” “Everything good is gone,” and “God is withholding good from you.”
We have the spiritual armor not just to fight but to WIN over the enemy. (Eph 6:10-18) I wrote about how the enemy messes with us when life falls apart in Chapter 9 of Life Can Be Good Again.
5. Stay active.
Sleep experts tell us physical activity during the day helps us go to sleep more easily and experience better sleep.
6. Ask friends to pray for your nights.
When friends asked how they could help, I was ready with a specific prayer request – either the name of one of my children to pray for or a specific need to cover. I’m certain friends’ prayers helped me sleep.
7. Calm your bedroom.
One of my fellow widows had friends who redecorated her bedroom, transforming it from the space it had been when she was married to a calm, welcoming space for her in this next chapter. New pillows, a throw, candles or wall art can help you create a peaceful space that is comforting.
8. Set up white noise.
I slept with an oscillating fan in my room for years. Turning it on at night signaled my mind to settle and helped me fall and stay asleep. If the silence is brutal for you, white noise machines set to soft ocean waves or ambient static can calm your surroundings.
9. Ask God to help you sleep.
Sometimes the most powerful answer is the simplest. Ask God to help you sleep, to protect your sleep, to guard your thoughts and to calm your mind and body.
I’ve curated some of my favorite scriptures to help grief at night. Write them on notecards or pray them over your evenings.
Bible Verses to Help Grief at Night
You may think the night is owned by the enemy, but scripture shows example after example of God using the night for His purposes.
This shouldn’t surprise us! God is sovereign over the night as well as the day. Psalm 74:6 says “The day is yours and yours also the night.”
- God delivered the Hebrews from Egypt at night. (Ex. 12: 31)
- He divided the Red Sea and the Hebrews crossed all through the night. (Ex. 14:21)
- An angel of God opened prison doors and freed the apostles at night. (Acts 5:19)
- An angel free Peter from prison by angel during the night (Acts 12:6)
- God freed Paul and Silas from prison at night. (Acts 16: 33).
God often revealed Himself at night, protected at night, and brought clarity at night. What if instead of dreading the night, we expect God to use it for His purpose?
Scriptures to Help Grief at Night
1. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:11-12)
2. By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:8)
3. God . . . gives songs in the night. (Job 35:10)
4. When I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:6-8)
5. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of night… (Psalm 91:4-5)
6. It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night. (Psalm 92:1-2)
7. Weeping lasts for a night but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)
8. I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. (Psalm 16:7-8)
9. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. (Psalm 3:5)
10. In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8)
11. Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2)
12. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28)
13. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night (Josh. 1:8)
14. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb… and there will be no night there. (Rev. 21:23, 25)
15. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Rev. 22:4-5)
The grief we experience at night is excruciating. We wonder whether life will ever feel good again. It stretches us beyond what we think we can endure.
While you may see only shadow in this valley of grief right now, that is not the whole picture. No amount of deep missing or sadness can cloud you from the Son. He is with you and He is for you. Lean into Jesus and let Him be your light in grief.
David Hirlehey says
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on grief. I have lost my wife 2 years ago and nighttime is still the hardest. The only hope I have is the promise that it is only a temporary separation for those of us who belong to the Lord. Thank you so much for sharing these verses. And the scriptures.
This was so refreshing to read! Thank you for sharing your experience with grief with the world <3 I haven’t yet experienced grief like this but my postpartum anxiety was the worst at night and it felt all consuming, as I imagine grief does too (and even more so).
Lisa Appelo says
Thank you for sharing, Jenna. Knowing it’s normal is helpful. So often I was like, an I doing this right? Should I feel like this?
Jenny Leavitt says
What an amazing and helpful post, Lisa! I’m not a widow, but have lost a child in 2015 and can still struggle with nighttime grief sometimes. This is such a great resource–I will be sharing!
Thank you for all you do to help others
Lisa Appelo says
I’m so glad this resonates, Jenny. I haven’t walked your path, but I know we share many similarities.