Why Can't I Stay Asleep? (2023)

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Not being able to sleep through the night is the worst.

You wake up — who knows why — and immediately stress about how cruddy you’re going to feel the next day if you can’t fall back asleep fast enough.

Having just one episode is bad enough, but if it keeps happening, you’ll probably want to figure out why and what to do about your insomnia. Yes, not being able to stay asleep is actually a type of insomnia, and various factors, from your lifestyle to an underlying condition, could be to blame.

Insomnia’s commonly thought of as simply staying up all night and not being able to get to sleep, but that’s just one type of insomnia.

Being unable to stay asleep is a type of insomnia, too.

It’s referred to as maintenance insomnia, sleep maintenance insomnia, and, sometimes, middle-of-the-night insomnia.

Most people experience some type of insomnia on occasion, usually because of stress. If you can’t stay asleep at least 3 nights per week for 3 months or longer, it’s considered chronic.

Why you can’t stay asleep

(Video) Why Can't I Stay Asleep?

In a word: stress.

The cause of said stress can be all kinds of things, from lifestyle to medical conditions.

The real kicker with maintenance insomnia is that stress from not being able to stay asleep can keep the cycle going, making your insomnia worse and leaving you feeling pretty lousy.

Here are the many things that could be preventing you from staying asleep.

Sleep apnea, asthma, or other breathing problems

Respiratory disturbances at night are par for the course if you have asthma, sleep apnea, or any other breathing problem, like allergies or even a cold.

If anything disrupts your breathing, even just for a second, it can wake you up and make it hard to fall back asleep.

Pain

With some conditions, like fibromyalgia and arthritis, pain can flare up at night and wake you up.

If you have an injury or pain that’s worse with movement, turning over can hurt and wake you up, too.

Illness

There are several illnesses associated with sleep issues. While not an exhaustive list by any stretch, some common ones include:

  • neurological conditions, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
  • cardiovascular conditions
  • diabetes
  • other sleep disorders, like restless leg syndrome

Mental health disorders like depression or schizophrenia

Research from 2018 showed that mental health conditions and insomnia go hand-in-hand.

Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep is a common side effect of mental health conditions, like anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. On the flip side, poor sleep can also worsen symptoms of these conditions.

Certain medications

Some over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications can cause side effects that wake you up at night, like excitability, frequent urination, and vivid dreams.

These some possible culprits:

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

  • diuretics
  • cold and allergy medications
  • corticosteroids
  • anticonvulsants
  • antidepressants
  • beta agonists

External issues, like worries about work or your social life

Got stuff on your mind?

Worries about things like work or relationships can impact a full night’s sleep. You can even experience nocturnal panic attacks if you’re under a lot of stress or feeling anxious.

Hot flashes or hormone fluctuations

While anyone can experience hormone fluctuations that can mess with sleep, people with uteri are more prone to hormone-induced sleep issues, because they may experience fluctuations during periods, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause.

Hormone fluctuations can trigger sleep-disrupting symptoms, like anxiety, hot flashes, and night sweats.

Acid reflux

There’s nothing quite like stomach acid and other contents making their way up into your esophagus and mouth to wake you up.

Lying flat can make acid reflux worse and even lead to choking.

Jet lag

Jet lag happens when there’s a mismatch between your circadian rhythm and the time of day.

While your body’s clock is still anchored to another time zone, you can have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.

Poor sleep environment

Yep, your environment could be to blame for your inability to sleep through the night.

As comfy and cozy as your bed may be, environmental factors, like bright lights outside your bedroom window, street noise, or the incessant humming of an air conditioner, can wake you up throughout the night.

Blue light

Like to scroll your social feeds in bed? Your screen time and exposure to blue light could be the reason why you can’t stay asleep.

Blue light suppresses melatonin secretion, affecting sleep. It can also increase alertness, which is the last thing you need when it’s time for sleep.

Age

As we get older, our sleep patterns change. For older adults, nighttime arousal, shorter periods of deep sleep, and fragmented sleep become very common.

The risk for chronic conditions also increases with age, adding to the stress that makes it even harder to stay asleep.

(Video) What causes insomnia? - Dan Kwartler

Here are some common suggestions for making sure your sleep is restful.

Relax

No duh, right? Relaxation may be hard to come by when you’ve got a lot on your mind and are stressed about your sleep issues to boot.

Here are some relaxation techniques that can help:

  • meditation
  • deep yoga
  • soaking in a hot bath before bed

Talk with your doctor about your medication

If you’re taking meds, ask your doctor if insomnia is a known side effect.

They may recommend taking your medication at a different time or swapping it out for another one that won’t interfere with sleep.

Give yourself a bedtime

Strict bedtimes work for toddlers and can work for you, too. Aim to go to bed around the same time every night, so you can get your body used to sleeping at that time.

Avoid caffeine later in the day

Caffeine later in the day could sabotage a good night’s sleep, so it’s best to avoid it after 2 p.m. or so.

Here are some common caffeinated beverages to avoid:

  • coffee
  • black tea
  • energy drinks
  • soda

Avoid alcohol

You might find that alcohol helps you unwind and can make you drowsy enough to fall asleep. But it won’t help you stay asleep.

According to 2013 research, drinking before bed causes frequent waking and fragmented sleep.

Avoid smoking

Kicking the habit means ending the cravings for a smoke that could actually wake you up at night.

(Video) How can I stay asleep throughout the night? - Sleepio - Ask the Sleep Expert

Exercise, just not before bedtime

Exercise can improve your sleep and reduce stress and anxiety that can be messing with your slumber.

Just don’t do it too close to bedtime, or you’ll risk perking yourself up when you should be winding down.

Don’t eat or drink before bedtime

Limit eating or drinking 2 to 3 hours before going to sleep.

Going to bed on a full stomach can interfere with sleep and cause nocturnal heartburn and reflux. Drinking too much or drinking too close to bedtime will make you more likely to have to get up to pee.

Limit blue light exposure

This means no screen time 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. Swapping out a nightlight for a red bulb and investing in some room darkening curtains can help, too.

Improve your sleep environment

Keeping your room a comfortable temperature or investing in some ear plugs, a good mattress, and bedding can all contribute to a full night’s sleep.

Don’t nap during the day

Napping can feel oh-so good on a lazy afternoon, but even a short nap can keep you from staying asleep all night.

If you really want to lie down during the day, make it earlier in the day and keep it under 20 minutes.

Change your sheets weekly

Dirty sheets can trigger or worsen symptoms if you have allergies or asthma. Change your sheets weekly to prevent a stuffy nose and other sleep-busting symptoms.

There are lots of reasons why you might not be able to sleep. The good news: There are lots of potential solutions.

A few tweaks to your lifestyle might do the trick. If not, talk with a healthcare professional to find out why you’re not sleeping and how to treat it.

(Video) How to fall back asleep in the middle of the night

Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.

FAQs

Why does my body not let me stay asleep? ›

Anxiety, stress, and depression are some of the most common causes of chronic insomnia. Having difficulty sleeping can also make anxiety, stress, and depression symptoms worse. Other common emotional and psychological causes include anger, worry, grief, bipolar disorder, and trauma.

Can't sleep through the night without waking up? ›

Wake up at the same time each day. Avoid electronic devices (which emit light and stimulate the brain) at least two hours before bed. Sleep in a quiet, dark, cool space. Get regular exercise (but not within an hour of bedtime).

Is it normal to wake up multiple times at night? ›

Is it a normal part of sleep? It is common to wake up during sleep. In fact most people wake two or three times during the night. We can all remember a time, when as teenagers or young children, sleep was a continuous period of unawareness or oblivion that lasted between eight or nine hours, or even longer.

Why do I wake up after 5 hours of sleep? ›

This can be a natural, normal waking mechanism. Notice that in many cases you're waking up during a dream in the morning. Adding sunlight is another cue for you to wake up. In addition, the lowest point in the circadian cycle is called the singularity.

Why do I wake up 20 times a night? ›

Stress is one of the main reasons people wake up in the night. It makes your sleep lighter and keeps you from getting deep and REM sleep. Other mental health problems can also cause sleep problems, including: Anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Why do I wake up at 3am and can't go back to sleep? ›

If you wake up at 3 a.m. or another time and can't fall right back asleep, it may be for several reasons. These include lighter sleep cycles, stress, or underlying health conditions. Your 3 a.m. awakenings may occur infrequently and be nothing serious, but regular nights like this could be a sign of insomnia.

Why do I keep waking up at 3am? ›

Core body temperature starts to rise, sleep drive is reducing (because we've had a chunk of sleep), secretion of melatonin (the sleep hormone) has peaked, and levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) are increasing as the body prepares to launch us into the day.

How can I stop waking up at 3am? ›

Keep the bedroom dark and quiet: Environmental disturbances, like noise and light, can wake a person from nighttime sleep. If darkness and quiet are not possible, wearing a sleep mask30 to block out light and earplugs to block out sound can help.

Why do I wake up at 4am and can't get back to sleep? ›

Anxiety or depression

Stress can make it hard to get to sleep in the first place (that's called sleep-onset insomnia). But anxiety can also cause you to wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble getting back to sleep (called middle insomnia, or sleep-maintenance insomnia).

Does melatonin help you stay asleep? ›

Your body likely produces enough melatonin for its general needs. However, evidence suggests that melatonin supplements promote sleep and are safe for short-term use. Melatonin can be used to treat delayed sleep phase and circadian rhythm sleep disorders in the blind and provide some insomnia relief.

Does magnesium help you sleep? ›

Magnesium is a relatively new treatment recommendation for better sleep. This nutrient plays a large role in sleep regulation1. Current research shows that additional magnesium can help the body relax and even improve symptoms of insomnia.

What organ is cleansing at 2 am? ›

One of the most important 2-hour intervals is between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., which is when the liver is believed to be cleansing the blood.

What is short sleep syndrome? ›

Short sleeper syndrome (SSS) is a sleep condition characterized by sleeping for fewer than six hours each night. Most adults need seven or more hours of sleep each night to feel rested in the morning. Those with SSS, however, can function normally throughout the day despite less sleep.

What is middle insomnia? ›

Middle-of-the-night insomnia (MOTN) is characterized by having difficulty returning to sleep after waking up during the night or very early in the morning.

How do you fix insomnia? ›

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

What are different sleep disorders? ›

Most Researched Sleep Disorders
  • Insomnia.
  • Sleep Apnea.
  • Narcolepsy.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
  • Parasomnias.
  • REM Sleep Behavior Disorder.
  • Non-24-Hour Sleep Wake Disorder.
  • Excessive Sleepiness.
28 Sept 2022

How do I know if I have insomnia test? ›

Your doctor may test for insomnia by asking you to complete a sleep diary to track your sleep patterns. Doctors can also administer sleep disorder tests, including questionnaires, mental health exams, a sleep study or polysomnogram, and a sleep-wake pattern assessment called actigraphy.

Is it OK to take melatonin at 3am? ›

It's readily available, and it's supposed to help you sleep . . . right? Sleep deprivation can make this logic seem sound, but experts say taking melatonin in the middle of the night can actually make your sleep schedule even worse.

Should you get out of bed if you can't sleep? ›

One of the first things sleep physicians tell insomnia patients is to get out of bed if you can't sleep. The worst thing you can do when you can't fall asleep is lie in bed and attempt to force yourself to sleep.

What are the negative effects of melatonin? ›

The most common melatonin side effects include: Headache. Dizziness.
...
Other, less common melatonin side effects might include:
  • Vivid dreams or nightmares.
  • Short-term feelings of depression.
  • Irritability.
  • Stomach cramps.
  • Nausea.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Constipation.
  • Decreased appetite.

Can I take melatonin in the middle of the night? ›

It's readily available, and it's supposed to help you sleep . . . right? Sleep deprivation can make this logic seem sound, but experts say taking melatonin in the middle of the night can actually make your sleep schedule even worse.

What does waking up at 2 am mean? ›

According to sleep specialists, most people actually wake up about 6 times per night, and one of those is usually around 2 or 3 am, depending on when they hit the hay. They also say that waking up at that time is just a sign that we have shifted from deep sleep to a lighter sleep where our brains are more active.

Is 5 hours of sleep enough? ›

Sometimes life calls and we don't get enough sleep. But five hours of sleep out of a 24-hour day isn't enough, especially in the long term. According to a 2018 study of more than 10,000 people, the body's ability to function declines if sleep isn't in the seven- to eight-hour range.

Why do I wake up at 3am with anxiety? ›

“If you wake up and begin to experience worry, anxiety or frustration, you likely have activated your sympathetic nervous system, your 'fight-or-flight' system,” says Dr. Kane. “When this happens, your brain switches from sleep mode to wake mode.

Can depression make you wake up in the middle of the night? ›

Most people who have experienced depression know that it is often accompanied by sleeping problems. People with depression may find it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep during the night.

Can you take melatonin at 4am? ›

Keep in mind that melatonin as it occurs naturally in the body doesn't have much of a daytime presence, so if you take melatonin too close to morning (such as if you wake up at 4am and erroneously take some to get back to sleep), or during the day, you can set yourself up for not just being drowsy and groggy, but ...

Can I take melatonin twice in one night? ›

But remember, melatonin is a hormone, not a sleep medication, therefore it does not induce sleep. In fact, taking a second dose late into the night may promote undesirable side effects such as extreme drowsiness the next day.

Is it good to go back to sleep after waking up? ›

"The overall best is if you can wake up naturally because you're done sleeping," he said. On the other hand, if you're waking up early on just a few hours of sleep, you should probably try and squeeze in some more shuteye.

Is 10 mg of melatonin too much? ›

Generally, an adult dose is thought to be between 1 and 10 mg. Doses near the 30 mg mark are usually considered to be harmful. However, people's sensitivity to it can vary, making some more prone to side effects at lower doses than others. Taking too much melatonin for you can lead to unpleasant side effects.

How much sleep do ADHD people need? ›

Dodson says. “The typical person will be wide awake at 3 or 4 a.m. and have to get up at 7 to go to work.”Like everyone else, ADHD adults need seven or eight hours of sleep a night to promote health and prevent fatigue during the day, says psychiatrist Clete Kushida, M.D., Ph.

What happens if 10mg melatonin doesn't work? ›

You only need tiny doses of melatonin to support your natural sleep cycle. As little as 1-3 mg about an hour before you go to bed can boost your melatonin by 20 times. If it still doesn't work for you, it's likely your sleep problems have other causes and need further investigation by a doctor .

What are the symptoms if you lack magnesium? ›

Magnesium deficiency can cause:
  • loss of appetite.
  • nausea and vomiting.
  • fatigue and weakness.
  • shaking.
  • pins and needles.
  • muscle spasms.
  • hyperexcitability.
  • sleepiness.

How soon before bed should you take magnesium? ›

Umeda recommends taking the supplement about 30 minutes before bedtime. And don't take more than the recommended amount. More won't help you sleep better, but it may cause stomach upset. While magnesium might improve your slumber, it's no substitute for a good sleep routine, Dr.

What should you not take with magnesium? ›

Magnesium can decrease the absorption and effectiveness of numerous medications, including some common antibiotics such as tetracycline (Achromycin, Sumycin), demeclocycline (Declomycin), doxycycline (Vibramycin), minocycline (Minocin), ciprofloxacin (Cipro), levofloxacin (Levaquin), moxifloxacin (Avelox) and ofloxacin ...

Is my liver waking me up at night? ›

Waking up at this time means your Liver is congested—it's unable to cleanse your body fully of everything you take in. This can be from drinking too much alcohol (especially before bed).

What organs wake you up at night? ›

Primary Meridian: Liver

If you're waking up in the middle of the night after a cocktail or two, it's because your liver is working in overdrive to relieve your body of excess toxins. The liver cleanses our blood and when this process gets interrupted, it can result in low energy and feelings of angst the following day.

What body organ wakes you up at 4am? ›

The hours between 3am and 5am are governed by the lung meridian. Emotionally it is associated with grief and physically with the muscles around your lungs. The hours between 5am and 7am are governed by large intestine.

Do short sleepers live longer? ›

Fu says researchers have found that short sleepers tend to be more optimistic, more energetic and better multitaskers. They also have a higher pain threshold, don't suffer from jet lag and some researchers believe they may even live longer.

What happens if you only sleep 4 5 hours a night? ›

Research shows not meeting your sleep need over time can lead to an increased risk of health problems, such as: Weight gain that can lead to obesity or a higher body mass index (BMI) Type 2 diabetes. Cardiovascular diseases, like high blood pressure.

How much sleep is considered insomnia? ›

There is no set number of hours of sleep that qualifies someone as having insomnia because each person has different sleep needs. Generally, adults are recommended to get 7 hours of sleep each night.

Why can't I sleep more than 4 5 hours? ›

If you cannot sleep for more than four to five hours per night (or less), you may have sleep deprivation. In addition, regular sleep interruptions from things like night terrors or "sleep starts" can also lead to sleep deprivation.

Can a blood test detect insomnia? ›

Actigraphy can help your doctor diagnose insomnia, sleep apnea, and other types of sleep disorders. Blood tests. Your doctor may take a sample of blood to test for thyroid disease, low iron levels, or other conditions that can cause sleep problems.

When should I see a doctor about insomnia? ›

Call the Doctor Insomnia if:

Symptoms of insomnia last longer than four weeks or interfere with your daytime activities and ability to function. You are concerned about waking up many times during the night gasping for breath and are concerned about possible sleep apnea or other medical problems that can disrupt sleep.

Why do I wake up at 4am and can't get back to sleep? ›

Anxiety or depression

Stress can make it hard to get to sleep in the first place (that's called sleep-onset insomnia). But anxiety can also cause you to wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble getting back to sleep (called middle insomnia, or sleep-maintenance insomnia).

Why do I wake up at 3am? ›

Sleep Environment Disturbances

Nighttime noise4, such as sounds from outdoor traffic, televisions, or cell phones, is a significant cause of disturbed sleep. Similarly, exposure to light5 from an outdoor light shining through a window or even a dim nightlight can also cause a person to wake up during the night.

Can only stay asleep for 4 hours? ›

Common reasons include the following: Stress. Poor sleep environment caused by loud noises or light. Too much caffeine.

Is it OK to take melatonin at 3am? ›

It's readily available, and it's supposed to help you sleep . . . right? Sleep deprivation can make this logic seem sound, but experts say taking melatonin in the middle of the night can actually make your sleep schedule even worse.

Does magnesium help you sleep? ›

Magnesium is a relatively new treatment recommendation for better sleep. This nutrient plays a large role in sleep regulation1. Current research shows that additional magnesium can help the body relax and even improve symptoms of insomnia.

Can you take melatonin at 4am? ›

Keep in mind that melatonin as it occurs naturally in the body doesn't have much of a daytime presence, so if you take melatonin too close to morning (such as if you wake up at 4am and erroneously take some to get back to sleep), or during the day, you can set yourself up for not just being drowsy and groggy, but ...

What are the negative effects of melatonin? ›

The most common melatonin side effects include: Headache. Dizziness.
...
Other, less common melatonin side effects might include:
  • Vivid dreams or nightmares.
  • Short-term feelings of depression.
  • Irritability.
  • Stomach cramps.
  • Nausea.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Constipation.
  • Decreased appetite.

Does melatonin help you stay asleep? ›

Your body likely produces enough melatonin for its general needs. However, evidence suggests that melatonin supplements promote sleep and are safe for short-term use. Melatonin can be used to treat delayed sleep phase and circadian rhythm sleep disorders in the blind and provide some insomnia relief.

Can I take melatonin in the middle of the night? ›

It's readily available, and it's supposed to help you sleep . . . right? Sleep deprivation can make this logic seem sound, but experts say taking melatonin in the middle of the night can actually make your sleep schedule even worse.

What is it called when you can't stay asleep? ›

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.

How much sleep do I need by age? ›

How Much Sleep Do I Need?
Age GroupRecommended Hours of Sleep Per Day
Newborn0–3 months14–17 hours (National Sleep Foundation)1 No recommendation (American Academy of Sleep Medicine)2
School Age6–12 years9–12 hours per 24 hours2
Teen13–18 years8–10 hours per 24 hours2
Adult18–60 years7 or more hours per night3
5 more rows
14 Sept 2022

Is insomnia mental or physical? ›

Insomnia Is Strictly Mental

As a matter of fact, stress is the No. 1 reason people report a lack of sleep. But it's not the only insomnia trigger. Many things can cause insomnia, including poor sleep hygiene, illness, drug side effects, chronic pain, restless legs syndrome, or sleep apnea.

Do short sleepers live longer? ›

Fu says researchers have found that short sleepers tend to be more optimistic, more energetic and better multitaskers. They also have a higher pain threshold, don't suffer from jet lag and some researchers believe they may even live longer.

Why do I keep waking up at 4am? ›

For those of us who are waking up at odd times in the morning, more often than not, it's at the same time every day - sometime around 4am or 5am. This could be because of the simultaneous rise in cortisol levels and the brain's processing of emotional material early in the morning.

Videos

1. How to Stop Waking Up in the Middle of the Night- 6 Ways to Beat Insomnia Without Medication
(Therapy in a Nutshell)
2. How to Beat Anxiety and Insomnia | Neuroscientist Matthew Walker
(How To Academy Mindset)
3. What If You Can't Fall Asleep?
(Life Noggin)
4. I can’t stay asleep during the night | Dr. Mark Hyman’s Solutions to Modern Day Challenges
(Four Sigmatic)
5. Sleep | How To Fall Asleep | How To Sleep Fast
(AbrahamThePharmacist)
6. Having Trouble Sleeping
(Psych Hub)
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