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

why can't I sleep

Every night you toss and turn in bed trying to fall asleep but you can’t. Just when you think you are finally drifting off, your alarm wakes you up. How can it already be morning? You barely even got to sleep! If you find yourself in this situation, there may be certain things you need to do or stop doing. This article explains some reasons why you can’t sleep at night and what you could do to solve this problem.

1. You Are Worrying About Something

One of the commonest reasons for poor sleep is in our heads. Laying in bed thinking about and trying to solve a problem is the easiest way to NOT fall asleep. When you are mulling over a problem, the brain is actively doing something. For you to fall asleep, the brain needs to shut down activities. So you thinking while trying to fall asleep is directly going against what your brain needs to be doing.

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

 

What To Do

It’s easy to say stop worrying and don’t stress; but … how? How does a person with genuinely worrisome life situations stop worrying? Here are some suggestions –

  1. Do something relaxing one hour before bed.  For example, take a warm bath with scented candles, listen to calming music, do some coloring or painting.
  2. Set a time limit for brainstorming solutions to the problem. If bedtime is 10 p.m., brainstorming should stop at 8 p.m.
  3. 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!
  4. Do not be tempted to think while laying in bed if sleep doesn’t come immediately.
  5. Meditation has also been proven to decrease stress levels and push worry away.

2. You Nap In The Daytime

Getting some shut-eye in the middle of the day works for most people and according to some sleep specialists, is indeed helpful. However, the benefits take a sharp nosedive when it starts to affect your night-time sleep.

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A nap lasting longer than two hours in the middle of the day is sure to 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

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.

Remember, some have said that taking power naps are 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. You Are Too Hungry Or Too Full

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. As you can imagine, this keeps disrupting your sleep cycle because your brain has to pull you away from sleep so you could get something to eat.

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On the other hand, going to bed just after leveling a mountain of food could have the same effect on your sleep. Digestion is a highly complicated, energy- consuming process which requires the full functionality of your brain. Even though you may fall asleep on a full tummy, your sleep cycle will 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. Your Room Is Not Comfortable

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

 

Some of the things that could be wrong are –

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  • 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 – 67F (16 – 200 C).

If you need to sleep with sounds, you can leave the radio on or just get a playlist of the sounds on New York.

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. As a last resort, you could change your sleep partner! (That’s a joke!)

5. You Are Glued To Your Screen(s)

Using our technological companions (i.e. phones, laptops, T.Vs and such) just before bed or worse, while in bed is a surefire way to keep us awake for most of the night.

 

The bright light that these devices emit tricks our brain into thinking that it’s still daytime and that sleep time is still a long ways away. 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.  Think about it. When you are in a boring meeting and you start to feel sleepy, what’s the one thing that can keep you from embarrassing yourself by nodding off? It’s your phone!

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, or listening to music or even meditation.

The basic idea is to decrease the stimulation of your brain to allow it move you into the sleep cycle without any hindrances.

6. You Are Caffeinated

Caffeine is a major part of our everyday diet which is why coffee shops make a lot of money.

Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it keeps you awake. One thing about caffeine is that is 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.

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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

Quite simply, try to avoid caffeinated drinks and food, including chocolate, about three hours before bed. Coffee has the greatest 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. The way it affects you may not be as severe as the way it affects me. If you have noticed you are particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine, it might be best to avoid coffee altogether.

7. You Exercise Too Late

 

You might be one of the rare humans who love 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. Experts have said that it’s best not to exercise about three hours before going to sleep. Exercise junkies! Take note.

8. You Watch The Clock

Nocturnal time monitoring behavior is the fifty dollar 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

Do not check the time! When you do wake up in the middle of the night, don’t do it! Remove the clock from your room if you have to.

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. Studies have also proven that patients who stopped clock watching slept better.

9. Your Alcohol And Nicotine Levels Are Too High

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, sometimes irreversibly.

From this, you can see that the common combination of alcohol and nicotine is 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. One glass of wine at dinner time is not likely to affect your sleep, but one bottle of vodka while in bed may not be the best idea.

If you need help quitting alcohol or cigarettes, please see your doctor for a possible referral or prescription to help you.

10. You May Have A Sleep Disorder

If nothing above explains why you may have difficulty sleeping, you may need to consider a sleep disorder. There are various sleep disorders which need to be treated because they have other effects on the body such as causing hypertension and obesity.

What To Do

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

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Dr. Oyinkansola Kolawole

Dr. Oyinkan has a degree in medicine and surgery. Her passion in life is to help people in all the ways she can including breaking down difficult to understand medical facts into simple and fun bits of information.
Dr. Oyinkansola Kolawole
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