Sleep loss from a broken heart

Q:  I recently broke up with my girlfriend, and this is causing me terrible insomnia.  I previously had no sleep trouble and am otherwise healthy.  Can’t seem to stop thinking about her, and what I may have done wrong to cause this.  Problem is I need good sleep to perform well at my job.  Are there any OTC sleep aids I should try?  Any other suggestions or advice?

A:  Romantic love — whether falling in or out of it — is truly one of the most common causes for insomnia.  On the positive side, we meet someone we really like and become so excited we lose sleep.  Or, as in your case, a romantic relationship ends and we lose sleep about what we may or may not have done to cause it.

What you are describing could be described as acute — or short term — insomnia.  Acute insomnia generally refers to temporary sleeping problems, typically for a month or less, caused by some stressful event.  In your case, you’ve clearly identified the stressful event.

Acute insomnia happens to the vast majority of us at one time or another.  But rest assured, time heals.

Normal sleepers typically restore better sleep on their own simply as time goes by, usually in a matter of weeks.  The stressful situation is either resolved or we adapt to it in some way.  Then insomnia diminishes, and normal sleep naturally returns.  Considering you’re healthy and previously experienced no sleep problems, there’s a very good chance this will be the case with you.

Beware, however, of the possibility that insomnia can take on a life of its own.  This happens when we continue to worry about sleep loss even after the original stressful situation is resolved.  Then the idea of sleep itself becomes the stressor.  This is how acute insomnia morphs into chronic insomnia — a primary concern about sleep itself.

Before trying a sleep aid, consider using some drug-free stress management methods to help you cope in the short term.  Getting some good sweaty exercise every day will likely go a long way toward helping you sleep better at night.  Perhaps more importantly, you can learn to just let go of these stressful relationship thoughts.  You can remind yourself, even in the middle of the night, that these stressful thoughts are serving you no useful purpose if they are keeping you up.  By learning to release the negative thoughts, you are then attacking the stress response at it’s root.

So be reassured you’ll likely resolve this naturally on your own, over time, as millions and millions before you have done.  However, if you decide to try an OTC sleep aid,  two of the most often recommended are melatonin and valerian root.

Melatonin is a sleep-promoting neurotransmitter naturally produced by the pineal gland in the brain.  Supplemental melatonin is sometimes suggested to help people recover from jet lag, and to help regulate the circadian rhythm, particularly for those with blindness, who lack the ability to use light for this purpose.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is an herb that’s been used for centuries as a sleep aid, and is typically used over a period of several weeks before maximum effectiveness is reached.

Before using an OTC supplement, we suggest you see your doctor to either treat or rule out the possibility of any other underlying medical conditions causing your insomnia.  It’s also important to verify these or any supplements are OK for you to take.  Your doctor can also advise on proper dosage and timing, which especially with melatonin, are important.

In most cases like yours, a tincture of time is your best bet.  You will likely spontaneously resolve this on your own.  However, if you continue to experience insomnia over a period of a month or more, then consider a CBT-based sleep training program.  This will provide you with much more of a comprehensive drug-free strategy to address the underlying causes for primary insomnia.

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, Love and romance, sleep, stress

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