Do you find yourself asking “why can’t I sleep?” Are you tired of waking up more tired than when you went to bed? Does it seem like a good night’s sleep is more elusive than your half-remembered dreams?
If you’ve been having a tough time falling or staying asleep, chances are the cause is either something you’re doing or something you’re not doing. Fortunately, there are a number of things you may be able to do to address the problem.
Some common signs that you might not be getting enough sleep. Some of these include:
• Difficulty concentrating
• Excessive daytime sleepiness
• Lack of energy
• Mood changes
• Slowed thinking
• Poor attention span
• Poor memory
• Trouble making decisions
If you can’t sleep at night, you may find yourself feeling groggy and drowsy most of the next day. You may also drift off at moments during the day or consume excessive amounts of caffeine to try to stay awake.
Why You Can’t Sleep
There are many different factors that can contribute to trouble with sleep. Lifestyle choices, poor sleep habits, stress, and medical conditions are just a few things that might play a role. Some common reasons why you might not be able to sleep:
Alcohol: A single glass of wine may not interfere with your ability to drift off, but indulge in much more alcohol before bedtime and you’ll probably find that your sleep is impaired. The initial effect of alcohol is relaxation, so you’ll probably drop off to sleep quickly after imbibing. But alcohol interferes with your sleep cycle, especially the REM sleep that includes dreaming. The result is fragmented, unrefreshing rest. Plus, you’re likely to wake up needing to use the bathroom during the night, a definite hit to your sleep quality.
Poor Sleep Habits: Your sleep habits can also play a part in poor sleep. Some of the bad habits that can make it harder to fall and stay asleep include:
• Staying up too late
• Watching television in bed
• Playing on your phone in bed
• Having an irregular sleep schedule
Fortunately, these problems can also be remedied by making relatively small changes to your nightly habits.
Sharing Your Bed: Sharing your bed with a partner, whether human or four-legged, greatly reduces the quality of your sleep if your partner snores, crowds you, hogs the covers, or otherwise makes you uncomfortable. While you’re probably not going to banish your spouse from the bedroom—although a surprisingly high percentage of married couples do sleep in separate rooms—you do need to catch some shut-eye.
Poor Sleep Environment: Most sleep experts recommend keeping your bedroom at a moderate 65 to 72 degrees at night, but many people like to cut energy costs by turning the thermostat down to the freeze zone during the winter, and switching the AC off during the summer, leading to a sweltering bedroom. Both of these extremes hijack your trip to the land of Nod, however. Your body needs to cool slightly at night for the most refreshing sleep, which is impossible in an overly heated bedroom. A too-cold room, on the other hand, will wake you up.
Caffeine: You know a bedtime cup of coffee is a bad idea, but did you know that the half-life of caffeine is three to five hours. That means only half the dose is eliminated during that time, leaving the remaining half to linger in your body. That’s why a late afternoon cup of joe can disrupt your sleep later that night.
Stress: Probably the most common non-medical reason for short-term insomnia is a mind filled with worries or stress. During the day, the activities of life tend to distract you, but once you settle yourself into bed, your mind is free to roam. For most people, it’s not the good aspects of their lives that their mind chooses to focus on, but rather, the negatives.
Exercise: A casual around-the-block stroll with your dog before his bedtime is fine, but a heart-pumping, sweat-dripping cardio workout within three hours of your own bedtime is too much. Your body temperature and heart rate naturally drop as you fall asleep. Exercise raises those two body functions and stimulates your entire nervous system, making it tough to snooze.
The Wrong Snack: Is your typical bedtime snack a slice (or two) of pizza or a bag of chips? If so, don’t be surprised when you’re lying awake staring at your ceiling. A full load of fat or protein right before bedtime sends your digestive system into overdrive, making it difficult to sleep and potentially giving you heartburn. But hunger pains can wake you up as well, as can precipitous blood sugar drops during the night. It is also important to note that other factors including sleep disorders and depression can also make sleep difficult. If you suspect that a medical or mental health condition is contributing to your poor sleep, you should talk to your doctor.
Effects of Not Sleeping
Sleep deprivation can have a wide range of negative health effects. Some of the major physical and mental health consequences include:
• Bipolar disorder
• Cardiovascular disease
• High blood pressure
• Hormone imbalances
• Type 2 diabetes
• Weakened immune system
In addition to these health problems, lack of sleep is also connected to an overall decrease in quality of life and a greater risk of death.
How to Sleep Well
There are things that you can do to help improve the amount and quality of sleep that you get each night. Some things you might try include:
• Limit alcohol use, especially in the evening.
• Give your pets beds of their own, encourage your snoring partner to sleep on their side, and use a white-noise machine to block out sound.
• Make sure to adjust your thermostat to avoid being too hot or too cold.
• Turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime.
• Hang blackout shades or curtains and close your bedroom door to shut out the light from other areas of the house.
• Although caffeine’s effects on you depend on your tolerance, the dose, and your age, it is best to keep your consumption below 400 mg per day.
• If you’re struggling with stress, try a daily meditation practice.
• Schedule your workout for the morning or talk a walk during your lunch.
• Have a small snack before hitting the hay. It should be heavier on complex carbs, lighter on protein, but including both.
If you are wondering why you can’t sleep, the first thing you should do is assess and address any lifestyle factors that might be interfering with a good night’s rest. But if you don’t find any relief after making changes to your daily habits and pre-bedroom routine, you should talk to your doctor. They can help get to the bottom of your sleep difficulties and find the appropriate treatment that will help you get the rest that you need.