Can't Sleep During Divorce? How to Handle the 3 a.m. Divorce Demons

By: Kat Forsythe MSW
Last Update: March 05, 2018

Insomnia and divorce often go together. Here's advice to help you go to sleep during divorce, stay asleep, and wake up rested rather than exhausted. 

It’s 3 a.m. The whole world is asleep – except you and all the other thousands of individuals ripping their lives apart during divorce. Misery loves company, but you can feel like you're alone on a deserted island when you're awake in the middle of the night.

When you are most vulnerable, when there’s no one around to comfort you, when you feel the most alone, the 3 a.m. divorce demons march in. They sit at the end of the bed and begin their divorce devilishness. Scary divorce scripts abound: Where is he/she hiding the money? If I go back to work, how can I afford child care for both kids? How will I ever be happy again? What if she/he shows up in court? How could he/she do this?

The middle of the night is not the time to answer these dramatic queries. That’s step one to getting back to sleep. Nonetheless, when divorce uproots our world, irrational thinking and scared-to-hell fear tends to show up in the dead of night. At night, our brains express our deepest fears in ways that we could never imagine during the day. We’re tempted to find solutions. That’s a recipe for circular thinking and hand wringing. Insomnia is not a solid foundation for rational reasoning. Save solutions for the daylight.

That's not much consolation when you're alone and trembling in the wee small hours – and it feels as though the whole world has collapsed on your shoulders. Here’s a list of tips to lessen the likelihood of middle-of-the-night woes and help you sleep during divorce.

8 Tips to Ward Off 3 a.m. Demons and Sleep During Divorce

1. No coffee, nicotine, alcohol or sugary food within three hours of bedtime.

They inhibit those warm, fuzzy sleep patterns we need and encourage the demons of dark dreams. During the night, your body repairs itself. In fact, Chinese medicine correlates gremlin timing to body parts that need nourishment. The liver seems to be the culprit around 3 a.m. 

2. Don't watch or listen to the news after 7 p.m.

And put away your smartphone an hour before bed. News about war, political havoc, disease and unrest are sure to deliver frightmares, especially when you’re stressed. Also, research shows that looking at a smartphone, laptop computer or any gadget with an LED screen within 60 minutes of bedtime inhibits a good night's rest. Do you watch TV shows laced with violence? Record them and watch them over the weekend.

3. Empty out your worries before you turn out the light.

Write in a journal. Add a few gratitudes if fear is gripping you. Then, scrunch down in bed and tell yourself you feel safe, that everything will work out. Read something funny or inspiring.

4. Allow yourself at least eight hours of sleep during divorce.

Don’t cheat. If you wake up frequently during the night, make it nine hours. Sleep deprivation leads to exhaustion, anxiety, a direct route to nightmares, and lessens your ability to think rationally. Your divorce navigation requires clear thinking.

5. If a nightmare wakes you up, know this: What just happened is a nightmare, not reality!

Don't read anything into it. Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t deliver it to a dream coach (unless it recurs). Your bad dream is your mind clearing out garbage. It's purely fiction.

6. Take a slow, deep breath.

Then sit up. Get out of bed. Get a drink of water. Change the energy.

7. If your mind races, you can stop your mind!

Author Eckhart Tolle suggests we focus on a part of our body to stop focusing on scary thoughts. For instance, think about your hands until you feel them tingle. Or, say the words “I’m safe and peaceful” over and over for about 20 minutes. Create self-messages to reassure yourself.

8. Join the 1AMClub

This website offers comfort, reality checks, and a place to share in the middle of the night.

4 Messages to Tell Yourself at 3 a.m.

  1. Brain, I’m not going to think about that now. I know you want to go there, but I can’t let you. Instead, we’re thinking about this: (fill in a pleasing subject you have decided upon before you go to bed).
  2. Everything seems worse at night. (Don’t try to solve your divorce dilemmas when the world seems bleak and lonely.)
  3. I can take a vacation from that concern because I can’t do a darn thing about it right now. So, if I were on vacation, how would I feel right now?
  4. Repeat a phrase that’s comforting over and over. I’ve used the words “I’m safe and peaceful.” If you enjoy meditating, use a mantrum, such as a prayer, or the name of a deity. If you’re interested in knowing more, here’s a great book about passage meditation from the guru Eknath Easwaran.

If all else fails, consider speaking to a medical professional about sleeping aids. Don’t condemn yourself for it. Occasional use may allow your brain to stop the monkey chatter and fall back to sleep. Please note: this is occasional use only. I’m not suggesting reliance on sleeping pills every night.

Divorce and insomnia seem to go together, unfortunately. It’s not limited to folks severing a marriage. Even famous celebrities experience insomnia (see the list here). Most important to get past those 3 a.m. demons is to know that this phase will pass. When your life settles down (and it will), so will your sleep.

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