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Do you frequently find yourself lying in bed at night, staring at the clock, wondering, “Why can’t I sleep?”

Consistently sleeping well has profound benefits for both the mind and body. Sleeping poorly, on the other hand, can have serious and even fatal consequences.

Sadly, according to the 2020 Philips World Sleep Day Surveys, answered by over 13,000 adults from 13 different countries, around 30% of the world’s population suffers from insomnia, and only half of the world’s population is satisfied with their sleep.

Even more distressing is the fact that only half of the world’s population thinks they are aware of the many factors affecting their sleep. All around the world, people are wondering, “Why can’t I sleep?”

Would you like to learn why you can’t sleep? Use the navigation menu below to explore all of the factors that may be affecting your sleep.

"If you’re not tired enough to sleep..."

1. You could be lacking melatonin

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in the pineal gland of our brain that helps us synchronize our 24-hour cycle of wakefulness and sleep known as our circadian rhythm. The hormone’s primary role is to initiate sleepiness, which is why it is known as “the sleep hormone.” As long as there’s melatonin in your system, you should be tired enough to fall asleep. Without melatonin, sleeping could be a challenge.

There are a couple of reasons your body could be failing to produce melatonin:

  1. You’re not exposed to enough sunlight or bright light during the day.
  2. You’re exposed to too much bright light at night. (Blue light can be especially harmful.)
  3. You have a circadian rhythm disorder and your circadian rhythm is out of alignment.
  4. You’re experiencing Jetlag.
  5. You work the night shift and are trying to sleep during the day.
  6. You don’t get enough tryptophan from your diet. (Tryptophan is essential for melatonin production.)

Many people with one or more of the conditions listed above take a melatonin supplement to initiate sleepiness and help them get a good night’s sleep.

2. You could be lacking tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that our bodies need to produce serotonin and melatonin. [1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3195230/ Melatonin, known as the sleep hormone, is directly involved in helping us to both fall asleep fast and stay asleep throughout the night. But tryptophan can only be obtained through food (particularly protein sources) or tryptophan supplements. The body cannot produce this essential amino acid on its own. [2]https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/tryptophan

If you don’t feel tired at night and are, therefore, having trouble falling asleep, you may be lacking tryptophan. Talk to your doctor about the possibility of taking tryptophan as a sleep supplement to improve your sleep.

3. You could have too much caffeine in your system

Did you know that caffeine can stay in your system for 10 to 14 hours? That means if you have a cup of coffee at 3:00 PM, your body isn’t entirely rid of the caffeine until between 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM. Furthermore, caffeine can wreak havoc on your sleep cycles. Caffeine hinders the restorative deep sleep you need and also shortens the total duration of your sleep. [3]https://ascpt.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/cpt1976206682 The result? You’ll need extra caffeine the following day which will most likely lead to more sleep disturbance.

If you do enjoy a cup of coffee in the afternoon, try switching to decaf. Or, better yet, try switching to an herbal tea or an infusion.

4. Nicotine may be keeping you awake

Nicotine is a stimulant. When exposed to nicotine (either through cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vaping, chewing tobacco, or snus), the body experiences an immediate “kick.” This is because nicotine stimulates the adrenal glands. In response, the adrenal glands release adrenaline. The adrenaline surge caused by nicotine makes it difficult to fall asleep. [4]https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/240820#history

If you’re a smoker and find that it’s difficult to fall asleep at night, try skipping your last cigarette and sipping a cup of green tea instead. Green tea contains L-Theanine, a relaxing agent that produces similar anti-stress effects to the effects of smoking a cigarette. [5]https://food.ndtv.com/health/drink-green-tea-to-get-rid-of-smoking-addiction-693519 You could also consider taking a Valerian sleep supplement for a similar relaxing effect.

5. You may be napping too often and/or for too long

Many people like to take naps during the day and with good reason. Naps can restore alertness, enhance performance, improve your mood, and reduce your risk of making mistakes. But, napping for too long (anything over 30 minutes) can disrupt your sleep cycle and make it more difficult to fall asleep later at night. Fortunately, 10 to 20 minutes is all you need to feel refreshed during the day [6]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10210616/ without making it difficult to fall asleep later at night.

If you’re a napper, and you find it difficult to fall asleep at night, try shortening your naps. You’ll get the same benefits without the negative side effects.

6. Your hormones may be to blame

This one’s for women. Estrogen and progesterone both play a part in either making you feel tired or keeping you awake.

Both estrogen and progesterone can help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and improve the overall quality of sleep. [7]https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/women-are-your-hormones-keeping-you-up-at-night/ If you’re at a time in your cycle when levels of both of these hormones are low (during your period or right after ovulation), it might be more difficult to fall asleep. During menopause, the body experiences a significant reduction of both of these hormones – one of the many reasons menopausal women don’t feel tired enough to fall asleep at night.

If you think your hormones might be affecting your ability to fall asleep at night, consider other ways to relax and initiate sleepiness before getting in bed. Some ideas include:

  • Sipping an herbal tea
  • Taking a hot bath
  • Trying some aromatherapy with essential oils for enhanced relaxation.
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Enjoying some light reading
  • Taking a sleep supplement to initiate sleepiness

7. Some medications cause insomnia

Some medications, like medications for high blood pressure, asthma, attention deficit disorder, and hypothyroidism can make it difficult to fall asleep at night. Here is a list of some of the most common medications that may be keeping you awake at night according to Harvard Medical School [8]https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/medications-that-can-affect-sleep:

Medication: Anti-arrhythmics

Used to treat: Heart rhythm problems

Examples: procainamide (Procanbid), quinidine (Cardioquin), disopyramide (Norpace)

Medication: Beta blockers

Used to treat: High blood pressure, heart rhythm problems, angina

Examples: atenolol (Tenormin), metoprolol (Lopressor), propranolol (Inderal)

Medication: Corticosteroids

Used to treat: Inflammation, asthma

Examples: prednisone (Sterapred, others)

Medication: Sympathomimetic stimulants

Used to treat: Attention deficit disorder

Examples: dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), methamphetamine (Desoxyn), methylphenidate (Ritalin)

Medication: Theophylline

Used to treat: Asthma

Examples: theophylline (Slo-bid, Theo-Dur, others)

Medication: Thyroid hormone

Used to treat: Hypothyroidism

Examples: levothyroxine (Levoxyl, Synthroid, others)

"If you’re tired, but you still can’t sleep…"

8. Stress and anxiety may be keeping you awake.

Do you struggle to turn your mind off when you get in bed at night? In the 2019 Phillips Global Sleep Survey, answered by over 11,000 adults from 12 countries, 54% of adults reported that stress and worry keep them awake at night. [9]https://www.philips.com/a-w/about/news/archive/standard/news/press/2019/20190307-philips-global-sleep-survey-shows-we-want-better-sleep-but-only-if-it-comes-easily.html The good news is there are quite a few tactics you can try to reduce your stress levels before climbing into bed. Some options include:

  1. Practice meditation – As you lie in bed, close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply, directing all of your attention to your breath as you inhale and exhale. If your mind starts to wander, simply bring your attention back to your breath. As you continue to focus on your breath and nothing else, you’ll start to experience the peace of mind you need to fall asleep.
  2. Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique – Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale completely through your mouth to a count of 8. Many people claim that this breathing method helps them fall asleep within 60 seconds.
  3. Practice peaceful and positive visualization – As you lie in bed, close your eyes and imagine a happy and peaceful moment. Imagine as many sensory details as you can – how it looks, how it sounds, how it smells. Keep this image in mind for a couple of minutes, and focus on the happiness and peace you feel until you fall asleep.
  4. Have a cup of herbal tea or an infusion to calm your nerves.
  5. Try some aromatherapy for enhanced relaxation.
  6. Make sure you wind down before you get in bed. (Listening to soothing music or reading a book can help.)
  7. Try taking a sleep supplement like Valerian root to calm your nerves and help you fall asleep faster.

You may also want to consider checking your levels of Magnesium and Tryptophan as both play a major role in helping you feel relaxed enough to fall asleep.

9. You may be lacking tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that the body needs to produce serotonin and melatonin. [10]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3195230/ Serotonin, known as the happiness chemical, improves our mood and state of mind. We need sufficient levels of tryptophan to produce enough serotonin to feel relaxed enough to fall asleep. [11]https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232248 But, tryptophan can only be obtained through food (particularly protein sources) or tryptophan supplements. The body cannot produce this essential amino acid on its own.

If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night because you’re feeling too stressed or anxious, you may be lacking tryptophan. Talk to your doctor about the possibility of taking tryptophan as a sleep supplement to improve your sleep.

10. You may need more magnesium

Magnesium regulates the functioning of the neurotransmitter and amino acid GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which is responsible for reducing communication between the brain and the central nervous system. In other words, GABA is what helps us turn the brain “off” so that we can go to sleep, and Magnesium makes it possible for GABA to do its job. [12]https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/magnesium-and-sleep

Do you suffer from racing thoughts at night? Magnesium supplements could help. Talk to your doctor about the possibility of taking Magnesium supplements to improve your sleep.

11. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) may be keeping you awake

RLS is a condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move the legs. It typically happens in the evening or nighttime hours while sitting or lying in bed. [13]https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/restless-legs-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20377168 Do you have this condition or experience something similar that keeps you up at night even when you’re tired? Experts recommend:

1. Taking a hot bath and adding some essential oils to calm to muscles

2. Stretching before bed

3. Have a cup of herbal tea or an infusion to calm your mind and your muscles

4. Meditating and/or trying deep breathing techniques like the 4-7-8 technique.

12. Your bed may be too uncomfortable

Your bed can play a huge role in your ability to fall asleep at night. Did you know that based on your biology and sleeping preferences, there’s a perfect mattress out there for you? If you’re a side-sleeper, for example, and your mattress is firm, it can be difficult to fall asleep. As a general rule, side-sleepers should have soft mattresses. On the other hand, if you’re a back-sleeper, your mattress should be firm. There are also specific sheets and comforters that work better for sleepers with a tendency to get extra hot or extra cold at night. If discomfort is the reason you can’t fall asleep at night, upgrading your bedding is a simple solution.

13. Your bedroom may be too noisy or too bright

Are you trying to sleep in a light or noisy environment? Light or noise can greatly hinder your ability to fall asleep at night. Fortunately, there are simple and cheap solutions to solve these problems:

  1. Try using a sleep mask to block out the light.
  2. Try some earplugs to block out the noise.
  3. If earplugs are too uncomfortable, consider using a sound machine or sleeping headphones to replace disruptive noises with soothing sounds designed to put you to sleep.

"If you can’t sleep through the night or wake up earlier that you want to..."

14. Alcohol may be affecting your sleep

Alcohol is a sedative, which means having a glass or two can help you fall asleep faster. But, as your body metabolizes the alcohol, and the sedative effects wear off, you experience what scientists call a “rebound effect.” The rebound effect is what causes you to experience frequent awakenings during the second half of the night. [14]https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-2/101-109.htm

If you tend to enjoy a glass or two at night, try to give your body enough time to metabolize the alcohol before getting in bed. It may also help to substitute the last glass for an herbal tea or infusion to rehydrate the body and, simultaneously, calm the body and mind.

15. Caffeine may be the cause

Caffeine not only makes it difficult to fall asleep but also worsens sleep quality and shortens the duration. This is because when you have caffeine in your system, it’s very difficult for the body to enter deep sleep. [15]https://ascpt.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/cpt1976206682 Instead, you spend most of the night bouncing back and forth between light sleep and REM sleep.

Did you know caffeine can stay in your system for 10 to 14 hours? If you drink caffeine in the afternoon, you may want to consider switching to a caffeine-free herbal tea or infusion.

16. An inconsistent sleep schedule may be affecting your sleep.

Inconsistency can wreak havoc on your sleep cycles and make it difficult to obtain the full seven hours experts recommend. This is because when you go to sleep a lot later or earlier than usual, you don’t simply push your sleep cycles ahead or back by a couple of hours. Instead, you cut out major chucks of specific sleep stages. Going to sleep later than usual, for example, limits your deep sleep. Waking up earlier than usual, on the other hand, limits your REM sleep. [16]https://www.amazon.com/Why-We-Sleep-Unlocking-Dreams/dp/1501144316 Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule is one of the best ways to improve the quality of your sleep and help you sleep through the night.

17. Your hormones may be affecting your sleep

This one’s for women. Both estrogen and progesterone play a major role in the overall quality of your sleep. If you’re at a time in your cycle when levels of both of these hormones are low (during your period or right after ovulation), it might be more difficult to sleep through the night.

In addition, during menopause, the body experiences a significant reduction of both of these hormones – one of the many reasons menopausal women have such a hard time sleeping through the night. Not to mention, the reduction of estrogen causes hot flashes that also interfere with sleep. [17]https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/women-are-your-hormones-keeping-you-up-at-night/

If you think your hormones might be affecting your ability to fall asleep at night, consider other ways to relax and initiate sleepiness before getting in bed. Some ideas include:

  • Sipping an herbal tea
  • Taking a hot bath to lower body temperature
  • Trying some aromatherapy with essential oils for enhanced relaxation.
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Enjoying some light reading
  • Taking a sleep supplement to initiate sleepiness

18. Noise or light may be waking you up

Light or noise can seriously affect our ability to sleep through the night or sleep the full seven to nine hours that experts recommend. Our bodies can still detect light and noise while we’re sleeping (especially during early-morning light sleep), and many people wake up as soon as light enters the room or traffic hits the streets. Even birds chirping outside can be enough to wake us up and shorten the duration of our sleep. The worst part is many people don’t know that light and/or noise is what’s causing them to wake up so early until they experience a morning without light or noise.

If you think light or noise might be affecting your ability to sleep through the night, try sleeping with a sleep mask and/or earplugs for a night. If earplugs are too uncomfortable, consider using a sound machine or sleeping headphones to replace disruptive noises with soothing sounds designed to put you to sleep. You might find it much easier to sleep through the night.

19. Your bedroom may be too hot

Temperature can have a big impact on the quality of your sleep. Heat, in particular, can limit your deep sleep and cause you to wake up frequently throughout the night. [18]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22738673/ Sleep experts suggest setting the bedroom temperature somewhere between 15.5 and 19.5 degrees C (between 60 and 67 degrees F) to successfully sleep through the night.

If you don’t have air conditioning, you may want to invest in a fan. You could also try taking a warm bath or shower to lower your body temperature before getting in bed.

20. You may have sleep apnea

Sleep Apnea is characterized by abnormal breathing patterns during sleep and, as a result, significant sleep disturbance. There are several types of sleep apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common and occurs when throat muscles relax. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

Complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. [19]https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-apnea/symptoms-causes/syc-20377631

Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Loud snoring
  • Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep — which would be reported by another person
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Awakening with a dry mouth
  • Morning headache

Sleep Apnea is a serious sleep disorder. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, and you’re concerned you may have Sleep Apnea, talk to your doctor.

Would you like to learn more about how to improve your sleep and fall asleep quickly?

Check out our PDF guide with 27 tips and strategies to improve your sleep and help you fall asleep quickly:

PDF: Sleeping Guide
You can also read the full post with Tips for a good night's sleep

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