Sleep is critically important to our health; it can help reduce anxiety, inflammation, and brain fog, boost the immune system, and help maintain a healthy weight, among many other benefits. Plus, we have all felt the lack of energy and mental clarity that follow a poor night’s rest.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends that adults get at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night .
And when you dedicate a solid 7-8 hours to sleep, it can be incredibly frustrating when you can’t fall asleep or sleep through the night—a condition called insomnia. There’s not only one answer to why can’t I sleep? Or why can’t I sleep through the night? There could be an underlying health condition, a lifestyle factor, or a combination of reasons.
Here, we’ll share seven things that could be keeping you up at night. Hopefully, you can pinpoint one or two causes and remedy the problem to sleep soundly soon.
Why can’t I fall asleep?
There is no single answer to “why can’t I fall asleep” – insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can occur for a number of reasons.
It may result from a traumatic event or stress but it can also be due to a certain medication or eating and exercise habits. Here are a few common causes of restlessness when it comes to falling asleep.
1. Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that can increase one’s risk of developing health problems, such as diabetes. It occurs when your upper airway is blocked, causing you to start and stop breathing throughout the night, which can interrupt your sleep. Snoring and gasping are common symptoms of sleep apnea. If you think this may be the reason you can’t sleep, talk to your doctor about treatment options right away.
2. Circadian rhythm disorders
Our internal clock is what signals us to get tired at night and wake up in the morning. But this clock can be offset by light and exercise, time changes, and shift work, or by sleeping or waking too late or too early. If you’re traveling or switching shifts frequently, exercising at night, or getting too much light before bed, be it from your phone or the TV, you may have trouble falling or staying asleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help reset your internal clock.
Stress affects our sleep in many ways that can keep us up at night. For one, worrisome or consuming thoughts about work, school, family, etc. can keep your mind awake. Additionally, stress from anxiety or trauma can also lead to insomnia. In these cases, it may be helpful to establish calming practices before bed, such as meditation or reading.
Certain medications can cause sleep trouble too. If you’re taking a new medication and suddenly experiencing insomnia, take a look at the side effects to see if it may be the cause. If so, your doctor or pharmacist may be able to recommend an alternative medication or that you take it at a different time of day.
5. Too much caffeine
While drinking coffee in the morning can have many benefits, having too much caffeine or having it late in the day, can inhibit sleep. If you’ve been reaching for a soda, energy drink, or cup of coffee in the afternoon or evening, try implementing a “cut-off” time or a limit to how many caffeinated beverages you have.
6. Too little exercise
Physical activity is part of what makes us tired and when we exercise, it can improve our quality of sleep. If you’re not getting enough exercise, you may not be tired at the end of the day and have trouble falling asleep. However, exercising at night can interfere with sleep as well, so try and get your activity in earlier in the day.
7. Too much noise or light
The environment where you sleep plays a big role in your quality of sleep. For instance, you may have trouble sleeping at altitude, or when there’s noise or light coming through your bedroom window. Perhaps your partner snores or your alarm clock puts off a bright red light. Making efforts to change your environment and limit noise and light in your bedroom may help you sleep.
How to go to sleep
While conditions like sleep apnea require a doctor’s attention, other reasons for why you can’t sleep can be helped with a few good habits. Here’s how to fall asleep fast and improve your quality of sleep.
How to fall asleep fast
Learning how to fall asleep fast can sometimes feel like magic. However, while there is no one-size-fits-all remedy for everyone, there are a few tips that can help you relax and increase the chances of falling asleep fast.
- Go to sleep and wake up at a consistent time
- Take a warm bath or shower
- Read a book
- Avoid your phone or computer
- Focus on breathing properly
Your sleep environment also plays a pivotal role in your ability to fall asleep as well. Create the right environment with these steps:
- Leave technology out of the room and avoid it during your wind-down time
- Make sure the room is dark or wear an eye mask when going to sleep and dim the lights for an hour or so before bedtime.
- Reduce noise as much as possible; this may mean wearing earplugs or using a white noise machine to block distracting sounds.
- Set the right temperature. Cooler temperatures, around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, typically promote better sleep.
After sticking to a bedtime routine and creating the right environment, quiet your mind as you try to fall asleep. If anxiety is keeping you up at night or your mind is racing with thoughts of work or your to-do list, it can be helpful to direct your attention to something else. You can do this through meditation, deep breathing, or counting.
How to get better sleep
While a health condition may be at the root of your sleep troubles, you may be able to get better sleep by making a few simple lifestyle changes.
For instance, research shows that getting sunlight in the morning can not only boost your mood but also improve your sleep quality at night. A great way to benefit doubly from morning light is to get it while exercising as physical activity can also help you sleep. Whether you walk, jog, bike, or perform any other exercise outside, you can get exposure to light and physical activity at the same time.
Another easy lifestyle habit to alter is how much caffeine you drink on a regular basis. Try dropping your afternoon coffee or drinking one less caffeinated beverage during the day. Hopefully, once you’re sleeping better, you’ll need less caffeine throughout the day anyway.
When to see a doctor
As more and more research develops, the importance of sleep for good health becomes more and more clear. If you are struggling with chronic insomnia or think you may have sleep apnea, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor. They can help pinpoint the cause of your sleep problems and provide a course of treatment. If you think you may need medication to fall asleep, or that one of your medications is currently causing insomnia, it is also a good idea to consult your doctor. They can prescribe the best sleep aid for you or offer alternative options.
Did any of these tips help you determine why you can’t sleep? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and get more health tips and resources delivered right to your inbox each month.