What Should I Do If I Can’t Sleep?

Falling asleep is something that’s simple and automatic, until it’s not. Sometimes, even when you feel tired it can be hard to drift off and relax or stay asleep. Not getting enough rest can be a big deal between its effects on hormones, stress, concentration, health, and performance, and worrying about sleeping usually serves to further compound issues. If you suffer from occasional bouts of restlessness, the following list may help pinpoint the cause, with simple solutions to help get you back on track.

10 Top Reasons You Can’t Sleep and Solutions

If you are experiencing an issue, consider your routine, habits and environment to see what might be affecting your rest. It is important to make adequate rest a priority, as it has a strong influence on every aspect of life including your mental state, health, and safety. One of the worst things you can do when feeling restless is to lie in bed thinking about the fact that you can’t fall asleep, as this just serves to generate anxiety and will have you feeling tired the next day. Review these common sleep stealers and simple tricks for getting back on track so you can start sleeping better and feeling better.

Note: this is not intended to replace medical advice! If you are experiencing sleep issues lasting longer than one month or suspect a condition like sleep apnea or GERD, always consult with your physician.

1. Eating Too Late

A large supper late at night can wreak havoc with sleep, particularly if it contains known sleep stealing items such as high protein, high fats and spicy foods. Your body has to work hard to digest these foods, and they are also some of the culprits that can cause acid reflux (along with acidic foods). If you feel uncomfortably full, have indigestion, or other problems, sleep can be uncomfortable. Beverages like coffee, tea, and pop can make it hard to fall asleep and influence sleep quality. Caffeine in the afternoon or evening can make it difficult to settle in to bed.

Solution: Eat dinner at least 3 hours before bed, and stop drinking caffeine 6 hours before bed. If you need to eat a snack, WebMD recommends a light, carbohydrate-rich bite. Stick with simple foods like an apple or toast with peanut butter, crackers with a little cheese, a small cup of oatmeal, or a small bowl of cereal, a banana with a couple nuts, etc.

2. Too Much or Too Little Light

Lights can interfere with your natural circadian rhythms and melatonin preventing your body from getting sleepy. Televisions, laptops, tablets and phones are leading culprits, but even small lights on appliances, the alarm clock and from street lights can disturb your rest.

Solution: Dim lights in the evening, and turn off the TV and electronics before bed. Use blackout drapes if you live in a brightly-lit area, cover small lights with tape, or use an eye mask.

Although light can disrupt rest, the opposite can also create problems. Many people, although they may hate to admit it, are afraid of the dark. This condition was studied in sleepers who had difficulty falling asleep and the increased difficulty and anxiety they experienced once it was dark.

Solution: Adding a dim night light in a hall or adjoining bathroom can help ease anxiety without disrupting rest.

3. Too Much or Too Little Noise

Some people need dead quiet to sleep peacefully, and the slightest noises can disrupt rest. Noise can come from streets, pipes, vents, partners and several other sources.

Solution: Many noises can be out of your control. If you find this to be your issue, consider earplugs, noise eliminating earphones, or a sound conditioner. Certain types of curtains also dampen sounds, which can help for outdoor noises.

4. Wrong Temperature

Room temperature can greatly impact whether you are able to fall asleep and stay asleep. For most people the ideal temperature for sleeping is 60-67 degrees according to sleep researchers, although older people and babies often require warmer temperatures.  Going below 54 degrees or warmer than 75 is typically detrimental to sleep. If you are too cold, your body will be spending too much energy keeping warm and sleep cycles can get disrupted. If you are too hot, you can wake feeling sweaty or toss and turn to get cool.

Solution: Adjust the thermostat. If you are too hot, use breathable, moisture wicking bedding and pajamas in cool cotton, wool, or silk. If you are too cold, layer up on blankets and wear warmer pajamas. Heated blankets or heating and cooling pads like the ChiliPad can also help you get comfortable in bed.

5. Cold Feet

While the rest of your body may feel best when the room temperature is cool, researchers have found that feet and hands are particularly sensitive to cold. Warm hands and feet improve sleep and help your body relax and get ready for rest.

Solution: Place a hot water bottle by your feet to keep them cozy, or wear warm socks especially if you like the room temperature cool. Keep you hands under the covers.

6. Seasonal Changes

Seasonal and lunar changes affect people more than is often recognized. Whether the light from a full moon is the cause of disrupted sleep, or something more primal, it is associated with less overall sleep, extra time to fall asleep, and lower quality of sleep. Different seasons also affect sleep, with longer days in summer, and more hours of dark in winter. In addition, winter months often keep people indoors which limits sun exposure and may reduce activity levels.

Solution: Light blocking shades will block extra light that is shining in the windows during the night or when the sun rises early. During the winter, be sure to get natural sunlight exposure daily as this helps keep your circadian rhythms in balance. Doing light exercise or keeping with your normal routine can also help make sure you are tired when bedtime rolls around.

7. Inconsistent Schedule

Sleeping in on weekends or days off can help you feel refreshed; however your internal body clock is thrown off kilter by doing so. It creates a situation similar to jet lag, where the biological rhythms are out of balance, making the return to your weekday schedule a harrowing experience. One study of young women also tied inconsistent sleep-wake schedules to higher body weight, adding another reason to keep sleep regular.

Solution: The simplest solution is to establish fairly fixed sleep and wake times that you will be able to stick to on the weekends and weekdays which allow at least 7 hours of rest per night.

8. Sleep Disturbances

Many people cuddle with a partner or pet at night, but either one can interfere with sleep, especially if your partner snores or moves around during the night. The mind registers these minor annoyances if you don’t fully wake up, and it can disturb your sleep cycles. Some reports indicate that couples may suffer from 50% more sleep disturbances than when they sleep separately, which may be why significant percent of couples report having separate beds. If it happens often enough, it can create pretty big disturbances and leave you feeling less than well-rested in the morning and can create resentment.

Solution: Get Fido and Fluffy their own beds. Use separate blankets if you or a partner moves around or “cocoons” in the covers at night. If you are your partner are uncomfortable, it may be time for a new mattress. Beds that reduce motion transfer, like memory foam, latex and pocketed coil spring mattresses, can help reduce partner disturbances. If your partner is snoring extremely loud or it seems like they stop breathing, let them know so they can discuss symptoms with their doctor.

9. Stress

Stress can come from many sources between work, kids, relationships, money, health, news and other responsibilities. Emotional turmoil can leave you feeling totally exhausted at the end of the day, only to lie in bed looking at cracks in the ceiling. Serious exhaustion and sleep are not always compatible. Your body may be stiff, sore and exhausted, while your mind is still reeling, often adding more anxiety by not being able to fall asleep. Stress is one of the top causes of short-term disturbed sleep, so knowing a few relaxation techniques can be helpful.

Solution: For personal stress, try talking out issues well before bedtime, or keeping a journal where you can unload your thoughts and clear your mind. If work or responsibilities is what keeps you up, try listing out everything you need to do and employing effective time management strategies so you aren’t making mental checklists before bed, and don’t work in bed. A warm bath, light stretching, and mindful breathing are other effective ways to unwind and destress before bed.

10. Uncomfortable Bed

If you find yourself tossing and turning at night due to pain or pressure points, or preferring your recliner or couch, your sleep problems may be tied to your mattress. Waking in the morning with back pain can also be a sign that your bed no longer provides enough support. If your bed is new and you feel pain, it could be too firm (pressure points), too soft (lacks back support), or your body may be in the process of adjusting which can take up to a month, especially when changing mattress types.

Solution: Mattresses have average life spans between 7-10 years depending on material and quality, so if your bed is older than this or has noticeable sagging, chances are it is time for a new mattress. Sagging over 1 inch deep is linked to increased pain. If your bed is in good condition but too firm, a mattress topper can help provide pressure point relief. Walking on a new firm bed can also help break it in. If your bed is too soft, you can try using a firmer foundation or a firm latex topper to provide greater support.

Falling asleep and staying asleep are common problems, and knowing what to look for and what to do about it can help you get back to sleep faster. Adequate rest is important in our daily lives, affecting work, school, relationships and more, but don’t get too stressed if you find yourself tossing and turning. Simple solutions above combined with healthy sleep hygiene practices can help you beat sleep stealers and get back to normal in no time. Next time you have difficulty falling asleep, examine your environment, diet, life, stress levels, and seasons for possible causes, then make necessary adjustments.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

2 thoughts on “What Should I Do If I Can’t Sleep?”

  1. Malatonin, especially suguanglil (under the tongue), is very effective with any sleep issue. It can be found in the vitamine/mineral section of any grocery store, pharmacy or health food store. It will help you fall asleep and sleep well. Melatonin is a natural substance secreted by the pituitary gland, and it regulates sleep. Darkness starts melatonin release, and light hitting the retina stops it. That is why we get sleepy at night, and morning light wakes us up. At age eight it is at 100%. It declines steadily after that. Using a 1-3 mg tablet each night is recommended. A bit of experimenting with the dose will help find just the right amount. You want to sleep well but not feel groggy in the morning. Sublingual melatonin is absorbed quickly, so it should be placed under the tongue when going right to bed. Other types (not sublingual) should be taken 1/2-1 hour before bedtime.

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