Why Is It Hard to Sleep After a Breakup?

Only after you understand why can you address the root cause and finally get a good night’s rest.

By Nicole Gleichmann

Breakups are rarely easy. Whether you saw the end coming or were taken by surprise, coping with a broken heart and new life circumstances can lead to difficulties falling asleep or sleeping through the night. In essence, it’s common to experience post-breakup insomnia.

This lack of sleep can make moving on challenging. When you don’t get enough rest, your emotional wellbeing suffers, leading to increased feelings of anxiety and depression for some. Additionally, your performance can suffer when you don’t get enough sleep, negatively impacting your work life, school performance, and more.

After a breakup, it can be particularly important to get everything else in your life going well. You might need to find a new place to live, friends that aren’t shared by both of you, or a way to make more money. Sleep is critical at such an important juncture as it allows you to perform at your best and shape your life the way that you need it.

Why Is It Hard to Sleep After a Breakup?

Stress

Stress is one of the leading causes of insomnia worldwide. When we experience stress, our minds and bodies are in a state of hyperarousal. After a breakup, stress tends to come from two things: processing your feelings and making lifestyle changes. You might notice your mind running in circles as you try to fall asleep or financial stressors causing you to worry.

Why does stress make it hard to fall asleep? Much of its effect is believed to be due to increases in cortisol production. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, and it plays an important role in prepping our bodies to face a threat. Evolutionarily, however, this stress response was meant to help us escape physical danger. Because of this, stress leads to hypervigilance, during which it’s almost impossible to sleep. You wouldn’t want to sleep if there was a lion right outside of your living quarters!

Pain and Withdrawal

During particularly challenging breakups, especially following long-term relationships, the emotional turmoil can present itself as physical pain. Studies have found that this feeling is similar to that of going through drug withdrawal. Some of the symptoms of breakup withdrawal include:

  • A need to call, text, or see your ex
  • Feeling isolated, lonely, or numb
  • Experiencing life as if through a lens, with the outside world less vibrant and enjoyable as it once was
  • Tightening in your chest or body
  • Bouts of intense emotions
  • Stomach pain and nausea
  • Depression

Why does this happen? It all has to do with the chemical soup swimming around our brains. After a breakup, the composition of these brain chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, change. Oxytocin, for example, is a feel-good neurotransmitter involved in bonding with others. Less oxytocin following a breakup can lead to emotional cravings for it, and the resultant feelings of loneliness or depression.

How to Get Better Sleep After a Breakup

In order to heal, you need proper sleep. Yet, getting enough sleep can be challenging before you’ve finished your emotional healing journey. Try these 5 tips to help improve your sleep.

1. Meditate

Meditation can help in multiple ways post-breakup. The most obvious one is that it can help to quiet your mind. When you slow your thoughts and learn to create inner-quiet, it can help you put your worries aside and prepare for sleep. Additionally, certain forms of meditation can help to promote gratitude and positive feelings. Try loving kindness meditation to help you work through negative thought patterns.

2. Exercise

Exercise releases feel-good chemicals in the body known as endorphins. This can help to improve your mood and relieve feelings of stress. Plus, exercise gives you something to be proud of. Instead of dwelling on the past, you can focus on personal growth that you can measure. This can give you a sense of purpose and pride.

3. Talk to Someone

It’s helpful to be able to speak about your feelings honestly. This can be with someone close to you or even a therapist. Talking through how you feel can help you move through the stages of grief more quickly than if you try to deal with everything yourself.

4. Gratitude

It can be hard to be grateful for anything after a breakup. However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have things to be grateful for. A daily gratitude practice can help to change negative thought patterns into positive ones. Instead of ruminating over the past, you are practicing positive thinking in the present. Try starting a gratitude journal, where you write down five things you’re grateful for first thing in the morning and shortly before bed.


Closing Thoughts

Struggling with breakup-related insomnia is normal, but that doesn’t mean that sleepless nights are inevitable. For your own wellbeing, try to work on your inner happiness and calm so that you can slowly clock more hours of peaceful slumber each night. Better quality sleep can help you along your healing journey.


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