Why Can’t I Sleep? Causes of Insomnia and What to Do (2023)

Do you often find yourself asking "Why can't I sleep?" or "Why am I more tired when I wake up than when I went to bed?" There are many potential reasons why someone may be having trouble sleeping. Each one can make a good night’s rest more elusive than half-remembered dreams.

If you regularly have a tough time falling or staying asleep, chances are the cause is either something you’re doing(like drinking coffee late in the day) or something you’re not doing (like getting rid of the stress that keeps you awake). Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to turn things around.

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Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring news anchor Diane Macedo, shares the strategies she used to getter better quality sleep. Click below to listen now.

Why Can’t I Sleep? Causes of Insomnia and What to Do (1)

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Signs of Sleep Problems

There are some common signs that you are having trouble sleeping, many of which show up during the day. You may notice:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy
  • Mood changes
  • Slowed thinking
  • Poor attention span
  • Poor memory
  • Trouble making decisions

If you can't sleep at night, you might also find that you feel groggy and drowsy most of the next day. You may even drift off during the daytime or consume excessive amounts of caffeine to try to stay awake.

Why Can't I Sleep?

When you say, "I can't sleep," it might mean that you are unable to fall asleep, but it can also mean that you struggle to stay asleep. There are many different factors that might be contributing to trouble with sleep. Lifestyle choices, sleep habits, stress, and medical conditions can all play a role.

Alcohol

A single glass of alcohol before bedtime may not interfere with your ability to fall asleep, but indulge in much more and sleep can become impaired. This is because alcohol interferes with the sleep cycle, especially the REM sleep that includes dreaming.

You may not realize this since the initial effect of drinking alcohol is relaxation. This can help you drop off to sleep quickly after imbibing. But your rest will be fragmented and unrefreshing. This effect is even more prevalent with people with high alcohol use as it often goes hand-in-hand with insomnia.

If you drink a lot of alcohol at night, you’re also more likely to wake up mid-sleep to use the bathroom, which can reduce your sleep quality.

Anxiety

Sleep and anxiety are closely connected. If you have trouble sleeping, your anxiety might increase, and if you have high anxiety, you may have trouble sleeping. In fact, sleep disruption can co-occur with almost all mental health conditions.

Research shows that the type of sleep disruption varies based on anxiety type. People with state anxiety (anxiety due to a current situation) typically have more trouble falling asleep. People with trait anxiety (a personality that is more anxious) often have more trouble staying asleep.

(Video) What causes insomnia? - Dan Kwartler

Poor Sleep Habits

Sleep habits, such as staying up too late and having an irregular sleep schedule, can play a part in poor sleep. Napping later in the day can lead to trouble sleeping as well.

Along with trouble falling or staying asleep, poor sleep habits can also negatively affect mental health. Studies have connected poor sleep hygiene with poorer mental well-being.

Sharing Your Bed

Sharing your bed, whether with a human or four-legged friend, greatly reduces sleep quality—especially if your partner snores, crowds you, hogs the covers, or otherwise makes you uncomfortable. You and your human partner might also have different preferred sleeping conditions (such as temperature, light, and noise level).

Sharing a bed with an infant can also lead to more fragmented sleep for the parent and more night wakings for the child. Sleeping in an adult's bed can also be dangerous for the baby, potentially leading to asphyxia or suffocation.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies always sleep in their own crib.

Poor Sleep Environment

Many sleep experts recommend keeping your bedroom at 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit at night. But many people like to cut energy costs by turning the thermostat down to the freezing zone during the winter and switching the AC off during the summer.

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.

Caffeine has been associated with having a tougher time getting sleep, less total time asleep, and worsened perceived quality—even more so in older adults as this demographic tends to be more sensitive to this substance.

Stress

If "I can't sleep" is followed by "I'm so stressed," you're not alone. About 43% of American adults say that stress has kept them up at night at least once in the last month.

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. This can keep them from getting a good night's sleep.

Exercise

A casual around-the-block stroll with your dog in the late evening is fine (especially if it shifts your pet's wake-up time closer to your own). But research has found that a heart-pumping, sweat-dripping cardio workout within one hour of 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.

(Video) Insomnia: why can't I sleep?

Diet

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 large amount of fat or protein right before bedtime, or a spicy meal, can send your digestive system into overdrive, making it difficult to sleep and potentially giving you heartburn. Hunger pains can wake you up as well, as can precipitous blood sugar drops during the night.

Medications

Do you take any medications? If so, this may be the reason why you can't sleep. Drug-induced insomnia can be caused by a variety of prescription medications, including medicines for:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Asthma
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Cancer
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Smoking cessation

Screen Time

Light exposure at bedtime impairs your quality of sleep, whether it’s coming from your bed partner’s reading lamp, the alarm clock display, or the street light outside your window. Light emitted from electronic devices can have the same effect, making this an issue if you like to watch television or use your smartphone right before bed.

Studies have connected longer screen times with a harder time falling asleep, shorter sleep durations, lower sleep efficiency, and worsened sleep quality.

It is 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, talk to a healthcare provider.

Work Schedule

Working an early or late shift can disrupt your circadian rhythm, particularly if those shifts vary. Likewise, working long hours at a stressful job can cause anxiety that leaves you staring at your bedroom ceiling.

Travel

Jet lag confuses your body and mind because it jolts you out of your usual sleep patterns. Similarly, sleeping in an unfamiliar environment can be difficult.

Mental Health Issues

Insomnia sometimes signals a mental health disorder, such as depression. You might have difficulty falling or staying asleep, sleep too much, or sleep at times unusual for you. Additionally, certain medications prescribed for mental health (e.g., fluoxetine, venlafaxine) can have energizing effects that disrupt sleep.

Impact of Poor Sleep

Sleep deprivation can have a wide range of negative health effects. Notable physical and mental health consequences of not getting enough sleep include:

  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Obesity
  • 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. If you regularly find yourself wondering why you can't sleep, it is important to get to the bottom of the problem and take steps to start improving your sleep quality.

Why We Sleep

What Should I Do If I Can't Sleep?

When I can't sleep, there are some important steps that I take to figure out what's wrong and find solutions. Everyone is unique, however, so what works for you might be different than what works for someone else.

Work to alleviate some of the sleep-stealers that are affecting your rest. These strategies can improve the amount and quality of sleep that you get each night:

  • 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.
  • Adjust your thermostat to avoid being too hot or too cold. If that's not possible, wear thick socks and use cozy blankets during cold snaps and turn on a fan in the summer.
  • Turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Hang blackout shades or curtains in your bedroom and close the door to shut out the light.
  • Although caffeine’s effects depend on your tolerance, the dose,and your age, it is best to keep your consumption below 400 mg per day and stay away from caffeine sources within six hours of bedtime.
  • If you're struggling with stress, try a daily meditation practice. You don’t need to be an expert yogi or spend hours sitting on a mat. Even 10 minutes a day is beneficial.
  • Schedule your workout for the morning or hit the gym during your lunch hour. If you do exercise at night, don't do your workout within an hour of bedtime.
  • Have a small snack before hitting the hay that is heavier on complex carbs and lighter on protein (but includes both). Good choices include a small bowl of whole-grain cereal and milk, a slice of deli turkey wrapped around a celery stick, or a piece of fruit spread with peanut butter.

A Word From Verywell

"Why can't I sleep?" It's a question that people often face if they find themselves lying awake at night or exhausted the following day. Understanding some of the common causes of poor sleep is often the first step toward addressing the problem.

(Video) Doctor, I Have Insomnia. What Can I Do? | Alon Avidan, MD | UCLAMDChat

The first thing to do is assess and address any lifestyle factors that might be interfering with a good night's rest. If you don't find any relief after making these changes, talk to a healthcare provider. They can help get to the bottom of your sleep difficulties and find the appropriate treatment so you can get the rest you need.

I Can't Wake Up: What It Means for Your Mental Health

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why can't I sleep even when I'm tired?

    Some of the most common reasons for insomnia—even when you're tired—include being under a lot of stress, having an irregular sleeping schedule or poor sleep habits, mental health issues, physical illness, medications, and sleep disorders.

    If you're having trouble sleeping, talk to a healthcare provider. They can help hone in on the reason why you're having trouble sleeping as well as provide some guidance for getting a better night's rest.

  • Why can't I sleep through the night?

    If you wake up during the night, this could be due to growing older, a medication you're taking, your lifestyle (such as drinking alcohol before bedtime or napping a lot), or an underlying condition.

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    Try correcting poor sleep habits and see if your sleep improves. If it doesn't, a healthcare provider can help determine the cause of your sleep issues.

  • Why can't I sleep on my back?

    You might find sleeping on your back uncomfortable if you have back pain or are used to other sleeping positions. If you'd like to sleep on your back, try placing a pillow under your knees and/or lower back. This should help.

    However, back sleeping isn't recommended for everyone, such as those who are pregnant, those with obstructive sleep apnea, chronic snorers, or people with heartburn.

  • Why can't I fall asleep?

    Trouble falling asleep can be caused by having a lot on your mind, a bed partner who snores, late-day naps, or spending time on your phone or watching television right before bed. An irregular sleep schedule may also make it harder to fall asleep. Studies have also connected certain health conditions with sleep onset problems, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

  • Why can't I go back to sleep?

    If you wake up in the middle of the night and find it hard to go back to sleep, it's possible that your inability to return to rest is due to watching the clock or thinking about things that tense you up.

    If you are a light sleeper, you might also find it difficult to return to sleep after hearing a noise, such as having a notification go off on the cellphone by your bed. An inability to turn your mind off once it's awakened may make it hard to let your troubles go long enough to drift off to sleep.

    (Video) Insomnia: Symptoms, causes, prevention and cure

FAQs

How can I solve my sleeping problem? ›

Basic tips:
  1. Stick to a sleep schedule. Keep your bedtime and wake time consistent from day to day, including on weekends.
  2. Stay active. ...
  3. Check your medications. ...
  4. Avoid or limit naps. ...
  5. Avoid or limit caffeine and alcohol and don't use nicotine. ...
  6. Don't put up with pain. ...
  7. Avoid large meals and beverages before bed.
15 Oct 2016

How can I get enough sleep with insomnia? ›

20 Tips for Better Sleep
  1. Power Down. 1/20. ...
  2. Nix Naps. 2/20. ...
  3. Block Your Clock. 3/20. ...
  4. Try a Leg Pillow for Back Pain. 4/20. ...
  5. Put Your Neck in 'Neutral' 5/20. ...
  6. Seal Your Mattress. 6/20. ...
  7. Save Your Bed for Sleep and Sex. 7/20. ...
  8. Set Your Body Clock. 8/20.
7 Mar 2021

Why am I trying to sleep but I can t? ›

The bottom line. If you're tired but can't sleep, it may be a sign that your circadian rhythm is off. However, being tired all day and awake at night can also be caused by poor napping habits, anxiety, depression, caffeine consumption, blue light from devices, sleep disorders, and even diet.

What is the main cause of insomnia? ›

It's not always clear what triggers insomnia, but it's often associated with: stress and anxiety. a poor sleeping environment – such as an uncomfortable bed, or a bedroom that's too light, noisy, hot or cold. lifestyle factors – such as jet lag, shift work, or drinking alcohol or caffeine before going to bed.

How can I get deep sleep naturally? ›

How to Increase Deep Sleep: 10 Tips + Benefits
  1. Work Out Daily. ...
  2. Eat More Fiber. ...
  3. Find Your Inner Yogi. ...
  4. Avoid Caffeine 7+ Hours Before Bed. ...
  5. Resist that Nightcap. ...
  6. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine. ...
  7. Make Your Bedroom a Sleep Sanctuary. ...
  8. Listen to White and Pink Noise.
29 Apr 2020

Can insomnia go away? ›

The short answer is: Yes, in many cases, insomnia can resolve without any help from a doctor — but it often depends on recognizing and addressing the multiple problems that can add up to a major disruption in sleep.

What is home remedy for insomnia? ›

Avoid chemicals that disrupt sleep, such as nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol. Eat lighter meals at night and at least two hours before bed. Stay active, but exercise earlier in the day. Take a hot shower or bath at the end of your day.

How do you break the insomnia cycle? ›

Tips for Better Sleep
  1. Avoid electronics at night. And if possible, keep your phone or other devices out of the room you're sleeping in.
  2. Keep cool. ...
  3. Exercise. ...
  4. Get plenty of natural light during the day. ...
  5. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes. ...
  6. Use soothing sounds.
19 Mar 2018

Why won't my brain shut off at night? ›

Turn down your stress levels

Stress is also why you want to sleep but your brain won't stop talking to itself. That's because when the mind is under pressure, it releases a hormone called cortisol, which is also what the body uses to wake you up in the morning.

What is the disease called where you can't sleep? ›

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep. You may still feel tired when you wake up.

What foods cause insomnia? ›

Studies have linked caffeinated foods and beverages, added sugar, refined carbs, spicy foods, high fat foods, and alcohol to poor sleep quality and shorter sleep duration.

Which juice is good for sleep? ›

Drinking 2 cups (480 ml) of cherry juice per day may increase your melatonin levels and improve your sleep overall.

Does milk help you sleep? ›

Milk (and other dairy products) are a really good source of tryptophan. It's an amino acid that can help promote sleep, so it can come in particularly handy especially if you're used to tossing and turning before finally getting off to sleep.

Which fruit helps you sleep? ›

Kiwifruit possess numerous vitamins and minerals3, most notably vitamins C and E as well as potassium and folate. Some research has found that eating kiwi can improve sleep4. In a study, people who ate two kiwis one hour before bedtime found that they fell asleep faster, slept more, and had better sleep quality.

What should you not drink before bed? ›

before bedtime: Avoid drinks and hot beverages which contain caffeine. These drinks can make us feel more awake and can disrupt our sleep. Some drinks which include caffeine and should be avoided close to bed are; tea, coffee, energy drinks and fizzy juice.

What makes people sleepy? ›

The levels of melatonin in the body normally increase after darkness, which makes you feel drowsy. The change in melatonin during the sleep/wake cycle reflects circadian rhythms. During sleep, the hypothalamus also controls changes in body temperature and blood pressure.

How can I force myself to sleep? ›

20 Simple Tips That Help You Fall Asleep Quickly
  1. Lower the temperature. ...
  2. Use the 4-7-8 breathing method. ...
  3. Get on a schedule. ...
  4. Experience both daylight and darkness. ...
  5. Practice yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. ...
  6. Avoid looking at your clock. ...
  7. Avoid naps during the day. ...
  8. Watch what and when you eat.

What affects deep sleep? ›

Caffeine, benzodiazepines , and opioid pain medications can all affect deep sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant that can reduce deep sleep even hours after you consume it (for example, in a cup of coffee or tea). Benzodiazepines like Valium and opioid pain medications can also reduce deep sleep.

What happens if you don't get enough deep sleep? ›

In general, poor quality sleep can take a toll on your mental and physical well-being. It's linked to health conditions like mood disorders, migraines, heart disease, and obesity. A loss of deep sleep raises your chances of: Dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

What if I can't sleep at night? ›

Get out of bed and do something relaxing that might make you feel drowsy — like reading or playing a repetitive game like Sudoku. Keep the lights low and go back to bed after 30 minutes or so (or sooner if you start feeling sleepy). Avoid technology, like phones, computers, or TV.

How can I get deep sleep naturally? ›

How to Increase Deep Sleep: 10 Tips + Benefits
  1. Work Out Daily. ...
  2. Eat More Fiber. ...
  3. Find Your Inner Yogi. ...
  4. Avoid Caffeine 7+ Hours Before Bed. ...
  5. Resist that Nightcap. ...
  6. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine. ...
  7. Make Your Bedroom a Sleep Sanctuary. ...
  8. Listen to White and Pink Noise.
29 Apr 2020

What is the disease called where you can't sleep? ›

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep. You may still feel tired when you wake up.

Does milk help you sleep? ›

Milk (and other dairy products) are a really good source of tryptophan. It's an amino acid that can help promote sleep, so it can come in particularly handy especially if you're used to tossing and turning before finally getting off to sleep.

What supplements for deep sleep? ›

Many supplements should not be taken by people who have certain allergies or conditions, or those who are taking other medications.
  • Melatonin. Melatonin is a sleep-regulating hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain7. ...
  • Lavender. ...
  • Valerian. ...
  • German Chamomile. ...
  • Passionflower. ...
  • Hops. ...
  • Cannabidiol (CBD) ...
  • Tart Cherry Juice.
1 Sept 2022

How can I improve my sleep habits? ›

Some habits that can improve your sleep health:
  1. Be consistent. ...
  2. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.
  3. Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom.
  4. Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
  5. Get some exercise.
13 Sept 2022

What type of sleep is best? ›

Scientists agree that sleep is essential to health, and while stages 1 to 4 and REM sleep are all important, deep sleep is the most essential of all for feeling rested and staying healthy.

Is insomnia a mental illness? ›

Insomnia is rarely an isolated medical or mental illness but rather a symptom of another illness to be investigated by a person and their medical doctors. In other people, insomnia can be a result of a person's lifestyle or work schedule.

Who is most affected by insomnia? ›

Who gets insomnia? Anyone can get insomnia, but it affects more women than men. More than one in four women in the United States experience insomnia, compared with fewer than one in five men.

Can insomnia Be Cured? ›

Can My Insomnia Be Cured? Absolutely. It may not be easy though, as curing insomnia often means improving your sleep hygiene and establishing habits that are more conducive to good sleep. And habits, especially routines you follow every day, can be tough to break.

Videos

1. How to Beat Anxiety and Insomnia | Neuroscientist Matthew Walker
(How To Academy Mindset)
2. HOW TO TREAT INSOMNIA - Reduce Anxiety - No More Sleepless Nights
(MEDSimplified)
3. Tips for when you can't sleep | Jonny Benjamin's Mental Health Story | Mind
(Mind, the mental health charity)
4. Insomnia - causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment & pathology
(Osmosis)
5. Insomnia Remedies For When You Can't Sleep
(Glamrs)
6. Sleep, Anxiety, and Insomnia: How to Sleep Better When You're Anxious
(Therapy in a Nutshell)
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