Years ago, when I was still a men’s dating coach, I had a client who struggled with insomnia because of an airstrike of intrusive thoughts about his ex. He couldn’t sleep regardless of the remedy he took.
And we couldn’t continue with our coaching if he kept falling asleep at almost every bar I took him to practice approaching women. So my number one priority was to get this guy’s ex out of his head so he could sleep better after his recent breakup.
After weeks of coaching, while reviewing his results on one of our sessions, he told me about a recent dream. He dreamt of calling his ex in the middle of the night, professing his love, and begging her to come back, only to later realize that the person on the line was her new boyfriend telling him he was going to snap his neck.
I chuckled when he told me this story. Thank god that didn’t happen, I thought.
Well. Turns out it did happen. My client assured me of it a few days after telling me the story. He was so sleep-deprived that he overlooked the fact that the entire sequence of events was real.
In retrospect, I get how many people can’t sleep after a breakup. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort to researching the domain of how we can sleep better. Below are 7 of the best discoveries I’ve made until now.
Why You Can’t Sleep After A Breakup
If there’s one factor that influences your ability or inability to sleep, it’s stress. In fact, studies show that stress is one of the leading causes of insomnia worldwide. When we feel stress, our body is in emotional or physical tension, often refereed to as hyperarousal. (1)
Stress comes in two flavors:
Acute stress: an intermittent form of stress. Sometimes it’s there; other times, it subsides or goes away completely. Most of us feel it, and most overcome it.
Chronic stress: a form of stress that lasts for a more extended period. The danger of this stress-form is that you can become so accustomed to it that you become unaware you even have it. Even worse, if you don’t find a way to manage it, it may lead to severe health problems like depression, obesity, anxiety, diabetes, and heart disease. (2)
Chances are that you’re suffering from one or both forms of stress at this moment. But luckily, the solutions below will not only help you when you can’t sleep after your breakup, they’ll also help when you’re dealing with stress.
In fact, stress and sleep have a pretty intermingled relationship. Once you decrease stress, sleep quality increases. Once you increase sleep quality, your stress decreases.
Solutions For When You Can’t Sleep After A Breakup
The following is not an exhaustive list. There are countless other solutions for better sleep out there: energy tapping, essential oils, chiropractic care, Bowens therapy, proper sleep hygiene, etc. If those things work for you, great. They didn’t work for me and the majority of my readers. I also think they’re, for the most part, total bullshit. Therefore I’ll be only reporting on sleep solutions that I know bring results firsthand.
1. Exercise Before Bed
It’s been proven numerous times that exercising before bed improves one’s overall sleep quality. In fact, exercising before bed does more than just improve sleep. It lifts your mood, makes you more productive, less anxious, and over a span of months and years, even enhances your entire quality of life. (3) (4) (5)
The best part is that your evening exercises don’t need to be anything fancy. Jogging, long walks in the woods, lifting light weights, aerobic exercises will all help when you can’t sleep after a breakup.
If you’re someone who is already regularly active, don’t shy away from amping up the frequency or the difficulty of your exercises. In fact, I encourage you to do it. People way smarter than me proved that the more rigorous your evening exercise, the better quality sleep you’ll get.
As a side note, if you’ve tried exercising before bed and still can’t fall asleep, try taking 10mg of melatonin after your workout. It’s supposed to improve sleep quality. (6)
2. Breathing Techniques (4-7-8 Version)
While there are many different breathing techniques, the one that works best when you can’t sleep after a breakup is the 4-7-8 technique. While it is true that it was developed to lessen anxiety, it works just as well for lessening wake time in the middle of the night.
Here’s how to do it:
- Sit down somewhere comfy. Keep your back straight, letting the air flow naturally.
- Inhale through your mouth for 4 seconds. Make sure you gently place your tongue at the top of your mouth, right in front of your teeth, while you do this. Also, keep your belly in check. It should be your belly that expands, not your chest.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- Exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Make sure you pucker your lips while you do this. And as with inhaling, it’s your belly that should be contracting here, not the chest.
Repeat the exercise 3 to 10 times a couple of minutes before you go to bed.
Meditation is the practice of observing oneself in silence and stillness. You can do it practically anywhere, at any time, and you don’t need any fancy gear or software to pull it off.
While there are many ways you can start, I prefer the no-bullshit zen way. Sit down, back straight, eyes closed, focus on the breath. Inhale, at your normal pace, through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Remember your name before you were born.
When a thought comes to disrupt your stillness, don’t judge or cling to it. Just let it be there and gently bring your focus back to your breath. And above all, don’t be hard on yourself. Meditation is difficult. You probably won’t last two breaths the first time before a thought interrupts your process, and that’s okay. Let it go and try again.
If you’re new to meditation, I recommend checking out a blogger named Jeff Warren. I love the guy. He seems very relatable and down-to-earth. I found him through doing one of the meditation courses on Calm.com.
Qi-gong is another gem to try out when you can’t sleep after a breakup. It’s is an ancient Chinese system of physical exercises and breathing control. Think of it as meditation, but with movement.
Here’s a video of how to do it (Warning: highly spiritual — at least too much for my taste):
I won’t go into the spiritual background of qi-gong, mainly because I don’t buy into it. But I will explain the science behind the practice. Surprisingly, there’s a lot of it.
I’ve found studies ranging from 1964 to recent years, all reporting qi-gong’s numerous physical, mental, and emotional health benefits. The most commonly mentioned are lowered stress, lower blood pressure, lower anxiety, and of course, better sleep.
However, despite the ginormous piles of studies on the positive effects of qi-gong, note that most of them were done with small test groups. Therefore, they are probably somewhat inaccurate.
If you’d like to do the research yourself, start with the Qigong Institute. And if you’d like to learn how to actually perform qi-gong, obviously Youtube’s your friend, but I also recommend picking up a book titled The Way of Qigong by Ken Cohen.
5. Sleep music
Sleep music is a genre of songs with a slow tempo and a relaxing vibe. They’re often filled with ambient noise, static, binaural beats, and sounds of nature.
Inversely to the other solution for when you can’t sleep after a breakup we covered, sleep music is the least backed up by science. So take it with a grain of salt. Then again, it works very well for most of my readers. In fact, I still use sleep music to ease my sleep after a difficult day in business. And I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel more relaxed after listening to it.
My recommendation: try listening to falling asleep with sleep music in the background for about two to three weeks, then analyze whether it helps you deal with your breakup or not.
And if you’re feeling experimental, add sleep stories to your sleep music sessions. These are essentially your average story narrations but with a very soothing theme, voices and sounds. You can find a lot of great ones on the Calm if you have a few bucks to spare, but Youtube will also suffice.
6. Diet Changes
Another way many people deal with the inability to sleep after a breakup is by cutting high-fat, high-sugar, and wheat-based products out of their diet. So goodies like milk chocolate, bread, pasta are off their menu.
The effects of this lifestyle change go beyond breakups. Cutting shit food out of your diet is proven to help you build a more stable emotional foundation. This means that you won’t have extreme slumps into negative emotions nor extreme jumps into positive ones. You’ll be a more balanced person, less susceptible to tamper tantrums or fits of rage. (7)
What a lot of people also do when they change their diet adds supplements for that extra dose of health. I personally take one pill of vitamin E, C, and B and two pills of fish oil pills along with every breakfast.
Since we’re on the topic of pills, let’s talk sleep medication. If you have trouble falling asleep after a breakup or are beginning to see signs of insomnia, it may be a good idea to take sleep medication. According to a study comprised of 2000+ individuals, it does help. (8)
Sleep Hacks For When You Can’t Sleep After A Breakup
Apart from the sleep solutions, here are some popular hacks to incorporate into your sleep routine, rapid fire style:
Have a sleep schedule. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. It’s crazy how much this little habit helps when you can’t sleep after a breakup.
Get enough sleep. At least 8 hours per night. Practicing this was probably one of the best decisions I made this year.
Sleep at low temperatures. Set your room temperature to below 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit).
Buy blackout curtains. Blackout curtains do exactly what you would think. They block most of the sunlight that could make its way into your bedroom and disrupt your sleep.
Buy a whitenoise machine. This little device was a lifesaver when I couldn’t sleep after my breakups. In fact, I still use it to this day. It’s essentially a little box that exudes static noises that then, supposedly improve sleep.
Take magnesium supplements. Magnesium is a mineral that plays a crucial role in nearly every aspect of your health, including sleep. Most health professionals and experts recommend using it to aid sleep disorders.
Avoid synthetic sheets and blanket/pillow covers. Opt-in for linen or full-cotton ones. And when it comes to pillows, I recommend grabbing goose-down feather pillows.
The Dangers Of Trying To Sleep Better After A Breakup
The more you force yourself to fall asleep, the less likely it is that you’ll actually fall asleep. So if you worry too much or tend to overwhelm yourself with sleep and ways to improve, you really need to learn how to take it slow and easy first.
For one, don’t try to implement all the solutions and hacks in this article at once. I get it; sometimes, you just can’t fall asleep after your breakup, but you have to approach the issue tactfully.
Pick one or two solutions for now. Forget the rest. When you’ve got some practice, perhaps even some results with them, consider adding a new solution to the mix. Or switch out one of the old ones for a new one.
When I couldn’t sleep after my breakups, all I did to remedy the issue was began exercising in the evenings/before bed. That’s it. Only after weeks of starting the activity have I added supplements, a white noise machine, and meditation. And funnily enough, I never needed the rest of the solutions. And that’s perfectly fine too.
You don’t need to stick with every sleep solution and hack on this list. Simplicity is key.
If you need more more help healing from your breakup, check out my Radical Recovery Course. With over 5h of video, 200 pages of writing, and personalized 1-on-1 coaching, I'll walk you through every step of the recovery process from start to finish.
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