After a breakup, you might find yourself crying on the subway and checking your ex’s social media five times a day. Breakups absolutely affect us emotionally. So when you spend a few nights tossing and turning, you can blame your ex (or, more specifically, the breakup itself) for your inability to fall asleep. But sometimes, post-breakup insomnia can be a little more complicated than just post-split stress.
Yes — various studies have found that stress is connected to insomnia, and breakups can be very stressful. A 2011 review of studies found similarities between mourning a relationship and grieving the death of a loved one: Both can lead to insomnia, intrusive thoughts, immune dysfunction, and even physical pain.
Although you might wish you could cure your insomnia with some chamomile tea, unfortunately, the best medicine here is time. “There’s nothing to do other than wait it out, though I wish I could tell you to do something like drink a gallon of water,” sex & relationships therapist and TENGA brand ambassador Shan Boodram tells Refinery29. “The best thing you can do is try to feed your dopamine [the 'feel-good chemical'] receptors in other ways: Go out, meet new people, and try to distract yourself as much as possible. But ultimately, the withdrawal process sucks for everyone.”
Post-breakup insomnia is usually a type of acute insomnia — a brief period of sleeplessness that happens because of life circumstances. According to the National Sleep Foundation, this type of insomnia usually resolves itself on its own within a few days or weeks. During this period, you can make some simple lifestyle changes to fall asleep easier — try to go to bed at the same time every day, cut down on your caffeine intake, and develop a routine to relax before bed, such as taking a bath or reading a book. You can also try practice calming your thoughts, for example by doing guided meditation or breathing exercises.
But although most of us are sad after a breakup, for some, breakups can trigger depressive episodes. And changes in your sleeping habits are one sign that your post-breakup blues may have tipped from "just sadness" into something more serious. (Other signs are changes in appetite, hygiene, and concentration, as well as feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, or hopelessness.)
After a breakup, "the first 30 days or so is just part of the natural grieving process," Chloe Carmichael, PhD, a psychologist in New York City, previously told Refinery29. But if you’re still experiencing these symptoms after that, she added, it’s a time to seek professional support. And hey, going to therapy after a breakup is almost always a good idea, anyway.