Why am I tired after crying?

Crying can leave people feeling drained and exhausted. This is a common experience that many people can relate to. But what causes the tired feeling after shedding tears? There are a few key reasons why crying often leads to fatigue.

The Physical Act of Crying

First, the physical act of crying itself is tiring for the body. The tears come from the lacrimal glands located above the eyes. These glands produce tears when stimulated by emotions, irritants, or other factors. The tears then drain down the lacrimal ducts on the inner corners of the eyelids.

Crying activates the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary body functions like breathing, heartbeat, and metabolism. Autonomic arousal prepares the body to respond to emotional or physical stressors. This includes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension.

Sobbing also requires forceful contraction of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles between the ribs. These are the main muscles involved in breathing. Repetitive contraction of these muscles during crying can lead to muscle fatigue.

Furthermore, crying often goes hand in hand with a runny nose. This stimulates a reflex called the nasal vasoconstrictor response. The blood vessels in the nose constrict to prevent fluids from draining down the back of the throat. This takes effort and can tire out the nasal muscles.

Hormonal Changes

In addition to the physical exertion, crying triggers the release of various hormones that can contribute to feeling drained.


One of the main players is prolactin. This hormone has many functions, one of which is stimulating the production of tears when the body is under stress. Prolactin levels surge during crying episodes. Elevated prolactin induces feelings of fatigue and moodiness, similar to the hormonal crashes that can follow excitement or orgasm.

Adrenocorticotrophic Hormone

Another hormone affected by crying is adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH). This hormone triggers the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Both ACTH and cortisol levels rise sharply when someone cries.

Cortisol helps regulate blood pressure, metabolism, and immune functioning. But prolonged high cortisol takes a toll on the body and contributes to fatigue. This is due to its catabolic effects – cortisol breaks down tissues and depletes energy stores as part of the stress response.


Crying also causes an increase in substances called prostaglandins. These hormone-like compounds are produced when tears saturate the eyes. Prostaglandins induce inflammation, dilate blood vessels, and constrict bronchial airways. These effects can exacerbate the feeling of tiredness after crying.


Losing a significant amount of fluid through tears can also lead to dehydration. Studies show that crying episodes lasting 30 minutes or more can decrease the body’s total fluid volume. Mild dehydration reduces blood volume and flow, which makes the heart work harder. This added cardiovascular strain can contribute to tiredness.

Dehydration also causes electrolyte imbalances since tears contain sodium and other minerals. Sodium is necessary for muscle contraction and nerve impulse transmission. Low sodium levels after crying can induce fatigue, lethargy, and weakness.

Emotional Release

Finally, the act of crying provides emotional release. This serves an adaptive purpose, allowing the body to process and vent difficult feelings. But expressing emotions requires effort and energy expenditure by the brain.

Crying is controlled by areas of the brain including:

  • The hypothalamus – activates the lacrimal glands
  • The brainstem – controls reflexive crying behaviors
  • The limbic system – processes emotions
  • The cerebral cortex – interprets reasons for crying

Coordinating this neurologic activity during crying takes its toll. It leaves people feeling mentally and physically drained afterward.

In particular, sobbing triggers a massive shift in brain chemistry. Neurotransmitter activity changes dramatically as the brain manages this emotional response. Shifting levels of serotonin, endorphins, and other neurotransmitters can lead to subsequent fatigue and depression.

Other Factors that Contribute to Post-Crying Fatigue

In addition to the mechanisms described above, other factors can play a role in tiredness after crying:

  • Stress hormones – Cortisol and epinephrine surge while crying under stress.
  • Hyperventilation – Occurs during intense crying and can alter blood chemistry.
  • Sleep loss – Crying from sadness often coincides with lack of sleep.
  • Low blood sugar – Glycogen stores get depleted rapidly during crying.
  • Depleted neurotransmitters – Such as dopamine and serotonin.
  • Metabolic changes – Increases in carbon dioxide and lactic acid.

Does Crying Make Your Eyes Tired?

Your eyes can definitely feel fatigued after a bout of crying. Here’s why:

  • Tears wash away protective oils from the surface of the eyes, causing irritation and dryness.
  • Rapid tear production strains the lacrimal glands.
  • Forceful blinking during crying tires the orbicularis oculi muscles surrounding the eyes.
  • Eyes redden due to burst blood vessels on the sclera, the white outer layer.
  • Eyestrain and discomfort result from sustained activation of nerves controlling lacrimation.

These effects are compounded if crying also triggers sinus congestion and eyelid swelling around the eyes. Overall, the eyes feel overworked and fatigued after pumping out tears for any length of time.

Does Crying Make Your Head Hurt or Cause a Headache?

Yes, headache is another common side effect of crying. Several factors can contribute to headache pain after or during prolonged crying, including:

  • Dehydration – Due to fluid loss from tears.
  • Eye strain – Overworked eye muscles.
  • Sinus pressure – From nasal congestion.
  • Hypertension – Spikes in blood pressure.
  • Muscle tension – Carried in the face, neck, and shoulders.
  • Changes in hormonal activity – Involving serotonin, endorphins, and others.
  • Altered brain blood flow – Different areas activated and deactivated.

Headaches after crying are often described as throbbing, sinus, or tension type headaches. The pain tends to build up on the front, sides, or back of the head. Episodes can last for several hours after crying stops.

When to See a Doctor

Occasional tiredness and headaches after crying are normal and not a cause for concern. However, seek medical evaluation if:

  • Fatigue or headaches persist longer than 12 hours after crying.
  • Symptoms interfere with work, school, or relationships.
  • You routinely feel exhausted after minor crying episodes.
  • Crying occurs frequently and involuntarily.
  • Other concerning symptoms arise like severe pain, nausea, vision issues, or loss of consciousness.

This can indicate an underlying physical or mental health condition requiring attention. Ongoing fatigue and headaches after crying are not normal.

Tips to Prevent Fatigue After Crying

Here are some methods to help minimize tiredness after shedding emotional tears:

  • Hydrate – Drink water before, during and after crying.
  • Get electrolytes – Consume sports drinks or bouillon for sodium.
  • Soothe eyes – Use chilled eye masks or cucumber slices.
  • Treat headaches – Take over-the-counter pain relievers as needed.
  • Practice relaxation techniques – Try deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.
  • Take a nap – Get some rest to restore energy levels.
  • Eat a snack – Replenish blood glucose levels with some quick carbohydrates.

With some self-care, you can bounce back more quickly after an emotional crying episode. However, frequent crying spells may be a sign of an underlying issue requiring medical or mental health treatment.


Crying can make you feel suddenly and profoundly exhausted. This is due to a combination of physical, hormonal, and neurological factors activated by emotional tears. Key contributors include muscle fatigue, shifts in brain chemistry, release of prolactin and cortisol, and depletion of energy stores.

While crying serves the useful purpose of releasing emotions, the process takes work. This leads to tiredness of the eyes, headaches, and general fatigue. With adequate rest and recovery, the body can rebound after crying. But frequent or long-lasting fatigue after tearful episodes deserves medical evaluation. Understanding why we cry and why it exhausts us can help to handle this complex biological response.

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