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Why Insomnia is Common After a Breakup: (And How to Fix)

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Jan 31, 2022

A broken heart can affect everyone differently, but one of the most common side effects is sleep trouble.

The abrupt end of a relationship is one of the most stressful and potentially traumatic experiences that people experience, and can take months (or longer) to fully recover from.

While there’s no instant solution, there are steps someone can take after a breakup to get their sleep back on track.

How Common is Insomnia After a Breakup?

In a study of the causes of insomnia, it was found that (1):

The most common precipitants of insomnia were significant losses through separation, divorce, or the death of a loved one.

Other studies have found similar results.

In a study of just under 700 nursing assistants, who often have sleep trouble, it was found that those with a “breakup of a love relationship” were 3.32 times more likely to have insomnia symptoms (2).

That was the number one predictor, even more than having “severe financial problems,” which had an odds ratio of 2.38.

SummaryIn other words, a breakup is arguably the most common cause of developing insomnia symptoms, although it may vary among different demographics.

Other Causes of Sleep Trouble After a Breakup

The stress and mental anguish from a broken heart is the main cause of insomnia, but it can also cause other behavior that makes sleep problems even worse.

It’s fairly common for people after a breakup to:

  • Feel depressed - Depressive symptoms are highly linked to insomnia.
  • Eat poorly - Whether it’s not eating enough, or eating unhealthy food, which can both affect sleep quality.
  • Drink alcohol - Many people turn to alcohol to cope with breakups, but alcohol is generally terrible for sleep quality.
  • Not exercise - It’s easy for exercising habits to be stopped after a breakup. That’s a shame since moderate exercise is good for sleep.
  • Not drink enough water - There’s a clear link between dehydration and insomnia.

SummaryThe stress of a breakup alone can be enough to cause sleep problems. It can also cause people to do other things that only make insomnia symptoms worse.

How Can Insomnia After a Breakup Be Treated?

Most acute insomnia from a breakup will subside on its own eventually. However, it can develop into chronic insomnia in some cases, which will require assessment and treatment from a doctor.

In general, medication is a last resort for sleep problems. It’s not always effective, and comes with side effects that are often just as bad.

For a typical breakup, there are 2 main things that most people can do to improve sleep problems. Results will not always show immediately.

To Start With, Establish a Healthy Routine

We just looked at some common behaviors that worsen sleep.

Even if you have to force yourself to do them, it’s important to establish a routine to get you through the day that will maintain your physical health:

  • Eat well, and eat enough
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Exercise a bit, even if it’s just a short walk
  • Don’t turn to alcohol
  • Do some fun things (maybe that you couldn’t do in your relationship)

Doing those things will at least make you feel physically okay and allow you to at least know you can get by after your relationship ended.

Confront the Sources of Your Stress

Ultimately, sleep issues after a breakup will go away once the underlying stress, anxiety, and mental pain have been dealt with.

I realize that’s easier said than done.

A breakup often brings up several tough things to confront (e.g. personal flaws, worries about if you did something wrong, desperation over trying to reconcile, etc.).

It’s uncomfortable to confront these things, and they can be overwhelming, but that’s what’s needed to start healing.

There are a few ways you can start to do this if you are stuck:

  • Meditation - Will help you to clear your mind, and the things that are causing you the most stress will rise to the front for you to examine (and hopefully overcome).
  • Journaling - Keeping a journal is a good way to vent and think through problems that you are facing. It can also help you track your progress, which can be nice to look back at over time.
  • Therapy - If possible, getting therapy can accelerate your healing. A professional therapist can help you identify the things causing you the most stress and help you work through them.
  • Talking with friends - Friends can give you some support while talking through uncomfortable topics, and can also give you a more objective perspective.

Even if all the underlying issues that come from a breakup aren’t solved, even making some progress is often enough to return sleep quality to an acceptable level.

References

  1. Precipitating Factors of Insomnia
  2. Stressful life events and insomnia complaints among nursing assistants from a university hospital in Rio de Janeiro: the Pro-Saude study

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.