There is an actual name for a broken heart: Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy. This long-winded word means extreme stress from heartbreak, and it is a very real experience some people have to go through.
Heartbreak is a living, breathing personal torment that most of us encounter at one point or another in our lives. The loss of love can present itself in a form so severe, the grief can leave room for many other serious conditions such as insomnia, loss of appetite, depression, anxiety and even suicide or death.
“It has been concluded that rejection and emotional and physical pain are all processed in the same regions of the brain,” says Aimee Barr, LCSW. “The experience of heartbreak is so potent that researchers have concluded that those who have recently been through a breakup display similar brain activity when shown photos of their loved one as they do when in physical pain.”
She continues, “I believe that heartbreak is one of the most emotionally grueling experiences anyone can go through.”
Such severe emotions no doubt have a profound effect on your sleep, when memories of happier times can creep into your mind and invade your thoughts when you’re trying to fall asleep at night. When you are moving on from heartbreak, sleep can feel like the enemy.
For some, getting the sleep needed to heal is easier said than done, so we have some tips to help.
Why Heartbreaks Make It Difficult To Sleep
There is a science-backed reason for why love is so addictive. Love increases the feel-good hormones of dopamine and oxytocin, but when we experience heartbreak, these hormones decrease, and we receive more of the stress hormone cortisol.
“Love can be addictive, like a drug, because of the hormones our brain releases when we become really attached to someone or something,” says Queensland Health.
Cortisol is the stress hormone produced by an area of the body called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. It is most commonly associated with the body’s fight-or-flight response.
It all has to do with your circadian rhythm. This is a 24-hour cycle based on periods of day and night when you are awake and at rest. Your body’s cortisol production is lowest around midnight and usually peaks in the morning, around 9 am or an hour after you wake up. You will still receive small boosts of cortisol throughout the day but nothing too prominent.
When you have too much cortisol over an extended period of time, it can lead to some unpleasant symptoms. Cortisol could be to blame for the anxiety and nausea you feel during a breakup, as well as any acne and weight gain.
|Short-term effects||Temporary effects||Long-term effects|
|• Rapid heart rate|
• Spike in blood sugar
• Rapid breathing
• Sharpened senses
|• Mood changes|
• Digestion and metabolism changes
• Improved immune system
• Weight gain
• Memory problems
• Heart disease
For many nursing a broken heart, high cortisol levels are a leading reason why it’s so difficult to find sleep.
Research shows that when there is too much activity in the HPA axis, it can cause you to suffer from fragmented sleep, shortened sleep, or even insomnia. Sleep apnea is another example of conditions triggered by increased cortisol production.
Stress and trauma are common causes of cortisol, but research shows that some extreme traumas can actually cause your cortisol levels to drop. To counteract an imbalance in cortisol, experts recommend a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables. Fish oil and ashwagandha supplements can also help, along with moderate exercise, meditation and deep breathing.
Insomnia and the stages of heartbreak
Heartbreak can pertain to two different types of insomnia: sleep-onset insomnia, which means trouble falling asleep, and sleep maintenance insomnia, which is when you have trouble staying asleep.
This can impact your sleep in different ways as you progress through these stages.
Sometimes, relationships end without giving us the understanding we feel we need to process and move on. Many a restless night has been spent trying to find answers to the nagging question of, Why? It is an answer you may never receive, but it’s still reason enough to keep you up at night with rising anxiety.
The absence of answers can lead to an overall feeling of apathy where you feel numb. It may be hard to feel anything at all, and you may feel like you are moving on auto-pilot. It is hard to get excited or muster up a ton of care about things, often because you are over-extended emotionally, and it can affect your ability to fall and remain asleep. Don’t worry, however, as this will pass.
The next stage is anger. It’s only natural to feel more than a little mad as you work out the reasons why your relationship ended. You may feel angry at yourself, angry at your partner or just angry at the overall situation. Either way, the bristling anger and biting frustration can keep you up at night when you ought to be resting.
At the end of it all comes the grief. Regardless of whether your relationship ended on good terms, it marks the end of a period in your life. It can be especially difficult to deal with when your ex moves on quickly with someone new. Social media may also prove to be a torment as you sacrifice sleep to follow the latest in your ex’s life via Facebook or Instagram.
While you mourn your loss, it’s very likely that you may experience insomnia or nightmares.
How To Get Better Sleep While Experiencing These Feelings
A heartbreak is a difficult thing most of us will experience in our lifetime, but it becomes a little more manageable with some strategic help.
These are some things you can do to help you find rest easier each night so you don’t have to sacrifice your sleep while you are mending a broken heart.
- Leave your phone in another room.
Blue light from your phone and other devices can make it very hard for you to fall asleep at night. To keep yourself from reaching for the phone, and keep it in another room instead. This will also help you resist the urge to check up on your ex or walk down memory lane with old photos or messages.
- Schedule time to be sad.
In today’s busy world, it’s easy to feel like you don’t have time to be sad, but at the same time, you have to allow yourself to grieve. A breakup is a major loss that requires time and space in order to heal, but well-intentioned friends, family, and colleagues may make that difficult to attain. Instead, schedule some time for yourself, so you have a chance to deal with your emotions privately before you continue about your day or night.
- Take time for self-care.
When you’re going through a breakup, you’re not usually feeling at your very best. That is why it is so important to give yourself extra care and attention during this period. The better rested and taken care of you are, the better able you will be to defeat this heartbreak. Consider using some of our many self-care tips before bed to help you fall asleep and rest better.
- Mind your exercise and nutrition.
When we go through a breakup, we tend to reach for items of comfort, and foods like ice cream, chocolate and fast food aren’t necessarily friendly on the caloric scale. Your exercise and nutrition can be one of the first things you stop worrying about after a breakup, but this is when they are more important than ever. By maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise, you not only protect your physical health but your mental health, too. In addition to that, a healthy lifestyle can also improve your sleep health.
- Sleep aids
There are several types of non-addictive sleep aids that you can use for improved sleep.
This is a natural hormone produced by your body that tells your brain when it is time to rest. You can naturally increase levels through a melatonin supplement, which can work as a sleeping aid to help you sleep better. It has also been proven to improve the quality and duration of daytime sleep.
Lavender can be used in several forms to improve your sleep. You can use it as an oil to put on your pillow, or you can choose a lavender tea to sip on before bed. It has been shown not only to help you fall asleep, but also stay asleep longer with improved sleep quality.
Magnesium is a natural mineral that has been shown to help improve both brain function and heart health. It can also help quiet errant thoughts and relax your body, so you can fall asleep easier. Studies show that when you do not have enough magnesium in your body, you are at a higher risk for insomnia.
- Valerian root
This natural herb can help several different issues, such as anxiety, depression and menopause. You can use this herbal supplement to help improve the quality of sleep. Scientists continue to study the long-term effects, but it has been successful in helping many with insomnia.
Journaling before bed can be an extremely therapeutic way to record your thoughts and clear your brain before bed. It allows you a private place where you can safely express your thoughts about your breakup without fear of reprisal or judgment. Journaling is a fantastic way to purge your thoughts in a healthy way, so they do not interfere with your sleep. Some people actually find it very therapeutic to write a breakup letter but never send it, using the experience as an outlet to say all the things they wished that they had the opportunity to say.
- Reclaiming your space
After sharing a space with someone for so long, it can be very difficult to suddenly find yourself sleeping alone. The bed can feel too big, too cold, and too crowded from memories long past. Use this opportunity as a chance to redecorate and make your bedroom your own. Buy new bedding, or splurge on an all-new bed altogether! Some of the best mattresses can improve your sleep without breaking the bank.
With a little creativity, you can turn your heartbreak into a celebration of self.
There is no denying that the pain of heartache is very real. It can prevent you from finding the sleep that you so desperately need to heal from such a significant loss. Your body’s natural circadian rhythm can fall off course, and suddenly, you can find yourself battling insomnia while you also struggle to mend a broken heart.
“When you’re suffering from a broken heart, it can be very difficult to quiet down your mind, shut it down and get some rest,” says Ronald A. Alexander.
Sleep is an integral part of recovering from a heartbreak, but finding rest can be hard when the mind and heart weigh so heavy from a recent loss. The most important part is to establish a regular routine with healthy habits that will reinforce rest and relaxation.