When a relationship with a romantic partner comes ends, you might feel off for a while. Whether you were the one that chose to end the relationship or not, you're likely to be affected. Your heart might feel heavy in your chest, you might find yourself distracted often, and you'll probably feel sluggish. In addition, you might find that you can't sleep after a breakup.
Many people experience insomnia after letting go of a relationship. If this sounds familiar, you might have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. And when you don't get enough sleep or when you get poor-quality sleep, it can take a toll on your health, making it even more challenging to heal.
Why You Can't Sleep After a Breakup
Breakups can be extremely tough. They can shake up your routines and daily schedules, impact your sense of social support, and even change the way you feel about yourself or the future.
For all these reasons and many more, breakups can impact your sleep. You might find yourself up late scrolling through your old social media posts (and maybe even checking your ex's) or stay up at night talking to your loved ones to feel a sense of comfort. Or, you might find yourself flicking through endless profiles on a dating app to get back out there and try to move on.
At the end of the day, many people find it difficult to get a good night's rest after a breakup. And, the reduced amount of sleep time and quality you may find yourself facing might not be due to late-night scrolling or TV binge-watching. In fact, research shows that breakups themselves can impact sleep quality for many reasons. If you are experiencing a change in sleep habits after the end of a romantic relationship, you can look to the research below to learn more about what might be contributing to your sleep difficulties.
Physical Aches and Pains
When you experience a breakup, it might feel like you have been pushed in the stomach or like there's a hole in your chest. People often use the words heartache and heartbreak to describe the end of romantic relationships, and according to research, there's a good reason for it.
Studies show that there is a link between feelings of sadness and physical pain in the body. In psychology, this is referred to as the sadness-pain concept. It states that people can feel physical pain after they experience some sort of social pain, such as going through a breakup and losing connection with someone they were close with.
If you are feeling physically or emotionally uncomfortable, it can be difficult to get a good night's rest. Stomach aches or chest pains can keep you up at night, or wake you up in the midst of sleep. It might be difficult to sit with or explore these sensations, but take a few moments when you settle into bed to check in with your body and notice how you are feeling. If you feel achy or even just off, physical pain might be keeping you up at night.
It may not come as a surprise, but after a breakup, people can experience a wide variety of depressive-like symptoms. Even if they haven't been previously diagnosed with a mental health condition.
According to a study from the Public Library of Science, people that have recently gone through a breakup experience more symptoms of mild, moderate, and even severe depression than people who have not experienced an end to their romantic relationships. The study included over 100 participants, 71 of which had gone through a breakup in the past six months and 46 who were currently in committed romantic relationships. Both groups of participants were given a comprehensive questionnaire to determine their rate of depressive symptoms.
The results showed that participants who had recently experienced a breakup were significantly more likely to experience depressive-like symptoms. There are various signs and symptoms of depression, such as body aches and pains and feelings of restlessness. In addition, many people who experience depression also experience changes to their sleep habits, such as difficulty sleeping.
Have you ever laid down to go to sleep at night and found that your thoughts wouldn't stop wandering to memories from the past? If you're like most people, you have probably experienced this on numerous occasions. And, if you have recently gone through a breakup, you might experience these thoughts of rumination more often, which can make it more difficult for you to fall asleep.
Rumination is defined as a repetitive pattern of negative thinking. For example, it's when people replay an incident over and over again in their mind and think about all of the things they wish they had done differently. It's a yearning and questioning for all of the "what ifs?"
Research shows that people who are prone to rumination have a more difficult time coping with the mental and emotional challenges of a breakup. In addition, rumination can prolong feelings of negative mood and make it more difficult for people to sleep. After a breakup, you might wonder where things went wrong or if you could have changed the outcome in one way or another. For this reason, it's important to monitor your thoughts to discover if rumination might be affecting your sleep habits.
What emotions come to mind when you think about breakups? You probably thought of sadness right off the bat. However, breakups can also cause people a lot of stress.
Depending on the dynamics of the relationship there might be financial and social consequences that follow a breakup, such as changes to joint income. Breakups can even change the living situations of some individuals that might share a living space with their ex-partner. And, all of this is pilled on top of the emotional weight a breakup can put on someone's shoulders.
Research shows that stress can negatively impact a person's sleep, and make it more difficult for someone to fall or stay asleep throughout the night. In addition, studies also show that poor-quality sleep is associated with increased stress levels. This means that you might not be getting a good night's rest because you're stressed, and then, in turn, you can become even more stressed each night you don't sleep well. This creates a vicious cycle that can keep you at elevated stress levels and decreased sleep levels for a prolonged period of time.
How to Sleep After a Breakup
Sleep is an important part of being human. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), when you close your eyes at night, you help your brain process and store memories. In addition, it gives specialized immune cells in your body time to fight off sicknesses and allows your circulatory system to rest. It can also help give your brain the restorative time it needs to keep you focused and ready to take on the day when you wake up.
When you don't get enough sleep, you aren't able to function at your best. For example, a lack of sleep can make it more difficult for a person to learn, focus, and manage their own emotions. Not to mention that it can make you feel cranky or groggy throughout the day.
Sleep deficiency has also been linked to various negative health consequences. For example, people with low or poor-quality sleep are more prone to injury, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even stroke. If you have been through a breakup and are experiencing difficulty sleeping, you can look to the resources below to help you care for both your mental and physical health.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
One way to promote better sleep habits and combat insomnia after a breakup is to make your sleep a priority. Similarly to how there are important steps in good personal hygiene, there are also things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene is all about the steps you take to protect your sleep and set yourself up for a good night's rest. For example, this might look like canceling late-night plans after a long day at work or staying off of your phone for at least 30 minutes before bed.
Some additional ways to proactive healthy sleep hygiene include:
- Avoid drinking alcohol before you go to sleep
- Create a healthy sleep environment free of screens, bright lights, or sounds that might keep you up
- Develop a sleep schedule and do your best to stick to it
- Exercise for 30 minutes a day whenever you can, but get moving at least 2-3 hours before bedtime
- Get out of bed and try a relaxing activity, like reading or cleaning, if you don't fall asleep after 20 minutes
- Practice meditation or mindfulness exercises to help you relax before bed
- Skip caffeine and naps after 3 pm
- Unwind before bed by giving yourself some extra time to relax beforehand
Don't worry, you don't have to practice every strategy of sleep hygiene. Choose a few that sound like they might be the most helpful for you, and try them out. You can remove, add, or swap different strategies to find a nighttime routine that suits your needs.
Find Support From Loved Ones
Never underestimate the healing power of love and comfort. If you've recently gone through a breakup, it might be helpful for you to talk to someone that knows you and loves you. This can help you work through questions that might be causing you to feel down and bring you a safe space to vent any stress or frustrations you might be feeling.
Nearly everyone has experienced a breakup in their lifetime, and your friends and family might have the exact words that you need to hear to alleviate some of the heightened emotions you might be experiencing. In addition, they might be able to share some tips they use to help them fall asleep. And you might be able to recruit them to exercise with you or start a meditation practice. This way, you can have a friend to help keep you accountable for your sleep hygiene.
Talk to a Mental Health Professional
If you don't feel like you can take your emotions or struggles to your inner circle post-breakup, that's okay. You can always reach out to a mental health professional to help you navigate through this difficult time. In addition, you and your mental health professional can work together to find coping strategies that can help improve your sleep.
There are a variety of therapists and counselors that specialize in life changes and sleep struggles that can help you process and cope with whatever you are experiencing. Over time with a little bit of work and some vulnerability, you will be able to move forward with your life in the way that you have always hoped.
You can also experience the support of a mental health professional through support groups. You can join a support group with others who have experienced a breakup or significant life change or even people that experience difficulty sleeping. These groups can help reinforce the idea that you are not the only one struggling with whatever stressor you are facing. And it can be helpful to hear stories from others that have been in the same situation.
Prioritize Your Healing
Breakups are difficult life changes to go through, and experiencing insomnia along with one can be even more frustrating. Take time to process your emotions and prioritize your sleep hygiene as much as you can. Remind yourself that you can reach out to others if you need to. And, most importantly, know that things will get better with time. Just be patient with yourself and allow yourself to heal.