Why Can’t I Sleep? 10 Likely Reasons and What To Do

Most adults need about 7-9 hours of sleep every day. Being unable to fall asleep can be due to many reasons from having a lot on your mind to having a sleep disorder.

If this problem persists for more than a few days, it might be best to talk to your doctor. Below are possible reasons why you can’t sleep.

1. Worrying About Something

When you are worried about a problem, your brain is actively doing something. Thinking while trying to fall asleep is directly going against what your brain needs to be doing.

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Stress is also a major reason for tossing and turning. Stress makes you hyper-aroused which means that your brain can’t shut down. If you have high levels of stress in your life or work, it may be causing your insomnia.

What To Do

  • Do something relaxing for one hour before bed.  For example, take a warm bath with scented candles, listen to calming music, do some coloring or painting.
  • Set a time limit for brainstorming solutions to a problem. If bedtime is 10 pm, brainstorming should stop at 8 pm.
  • Solve the problem by getting help from friends, family or even professionally. The idea is that if the problem is eliminated, so should your insomnia!
  • Do not be tempted to think while laying in bed if sleep doesn’t come immediately.
  • Meditation has also been proven to decrease stress levels and push worry away.

2. Daytime Naps

Getting some shut-eye in the middle of the day works for most people and according to some sleep specialists, is indeed helpful. However, it may not be best when it starts to affect your night-time sleep.

A nap lasting longer than two hours in the middle of the day can disrupt your body’s natural sleep-wake rhythm. When this rhythm is disrupted you may end up with the unwanted effects of difficulty sleeping, especially at night.

What To Do

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  • As much as possible, limit daytime naps to no longer than an hour. With this limit, your body’s natural rhythm should not be disrupted. Taking power naps is beneficial which means you don’t have to eliminate your daytime naps entirely. It just means you have to put a one hour cap on the length.

3. Eating Habits

Having an empty belly keeps most people from doing anything, and that includes sleep. When you are hungry, your body sends signals to your brain which in turn lets you know you need to eat.

Going to bed hungry means you haven’t responded to your body’s request for a meal.  Your body then keeps letting your brain know that you are hungry. This keeps disrupting your sleep cycle because your brain has to pull you away from sleep so you could get something to eat.

On the other hand, going to bed just after eating a large quantity of food could have the same effect on your sleep. Digestion is a highly complicated, energy-consuming process that requires the full functionality of your brain. Even though you may fall asleep on a full tummy, your sleep cycle may not run smoothly because of the digestive process.

What To Do

  • Avoid going to sleep hungry.
  • Have dinner about three hours before bedtime.
  • If dinner is not possible or was missed, having a light snack before going to bed may help you sleep through the night without being awakened by a growling belly.
  • Large meals with high protein content are particularly noted to require a lot of energy to digest. If you are going to bed soon after your meal, ensure you have a light carbohydrate meal. This will keep you from being too full to sleep.

4. Uncomfortable Room

There are so many things that can make your room too uncomfortable for a good night’s sleep.

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Some of the things that could be wrong are:

  • The temperature is too high or low – being too hot or too cold will make you too uncomfortable to sleep.
  • It’s too bright – light tricks your brain into thinking it’s not time to sleep yet.
  • The bed is uncomfortable.
  • You sleep next to a snorer.
  • It’s too loud or eerily quiet- If you are used to sleeping in a noisy environment, suddenly switching to a quiet room might keep you from sleeping. The same goes for the reverse. Sleeping in a noisy environment when you are accustomed to sleeping in a quiet room may keep you from sleeping soundly.

What To Do

  • Sleeping well requires a cozy environment which includes a comfortable bed in a dimly lit room at the right temperature of about 60 – 67 F (16 – 20°C).
  • If you need to sleep with sounds, you can leave the radio at a low volume
  • If your bed partner is a snorer, they could get devices that help with snoring or seek medical advice on the cause of the snoring especially if it is really bad.

5. Too Much Screentime

Watching T.V or using phones or laptops just before bed or while in bed can make it difficult for you to fall asleep.

The bright light that these devices emit tricks our brain into thinking that it’s still daytime, suppressing the release of the body’s natural sleep hormone- melatonin. This is why trying to fall asleep right after working on your laptop is difficult for a lot of people.

In addition to the effect of the bright light from these devices, the stimulation the devices give our brains is also a factor in keeping us awake.

What To Do

  • If you have a specific bedtime, try to stay away from television, laptops, and phones about one hour before bedtime. Switch to some light reading, listen to soft music or even meditate.

6. Taking A Lot Of Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake. It has a half-life of about five hours. Simply put, it takes five hours for your body to get rid of half the caffeine you have consumed which means you have about half left in your body.

Taking coffee or soda a few hours before bed means you still have a substantial quantity in your blood keeping you awake and alert by the time its bedtime.

What To Do

  • Try to avoid caffeinated drinks and food, including chocolate, about three hours before bed. Coffee has a large amount of caffeine, therefore, limiting its consumption to no later than lunchtime might help you sleep better.
  • It’s also important to note that caffeine has varied effects on people. If you have noticed you are particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine, it might be best to avoid coffee altogether.

7. Exercising Too Late

You might be one to exercise at night. The thing is, there is an adrenaline rush that comes with exercising which tends to keep you excited and alert. This feeling so close to bedtime might keep you from getting to sleep or staying asleep.

What To Do

  • Daily exercise is highly recommended and has been proven to do the body great good. The timing for exercise is important so the feel-good high that comes with exercising does not steal your sleep. It’s best not to exercise about three hours before going to sleep.

8. Watching The Clock

Nocturnal time monitoring behavior is the medical term for ‘clock watching’. It’s a very common phenomenon where you wake up in the middle of the night and check the time, repeatedly. After a while, you find out that you wake up at about the same time every day.

Generally, waking up to check the time has a negative effect of inducing anxiety especially if you are an insomniac. This behavior causes you to calculate how long you’ve been in bed trying to fall asleep and how long you have left to try to get some sleep.

What To Do

  • Avoid checking the time when you do wake up in the middle of the night
  • If it’s your alarm clock, cover the face of the alarm or turn it away from you. This will reduce your anxiety about sleep.

9. Alcohol and Nicotine Intake

The effect of alcohol is not so much seen in keeping you from sleeping, but in affecting the quality of your sleep. It disrupts your sleep cycle meaning that your sleep isn’t as restful.

On the other hand, nicotine, found in cigarettes, acts like caffeine. It stimulates you and keeps you alert and awake. Nicotine has been directly linked to causing insomnia.

The combination of alcohol and nicotine has a deleterious effect on sleep. Cigarettes keep you from sleeping while alcohol keeps you from having a good night’s sleep.

What To Do

  • Limiting alcohol consumption and quitting cigarette smoking may improve your sleep.
  • If you need help quitting alcohol or cigarettes, please see your doctor for a possible referral or prescription to help you.

10. Sleep Disorders

If nothing above explains why you may have difficulty sleeping, you may need to consider a sleep disorder. There are various sleep disorders that can affect your sleep and have other effects on your body. Sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome are examples of sleep disorders.

What To Do

  • For this, you have to seek medical attention. Your doctor may ask multiple questions, run several tests and request that you sleepover in a sleep lab. All these may be needed to get to the bottom of your sleeplessness.
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