Not being able to sleep is probably at the top of your “most-hated issues list,” and you’re far from alone on that one. Nearly 60 million American adults deal with restless sleep at some point in their lives.
If you find yourself counting sheep, or staring up at the ceiling and willing sleep to come more nights than not, it might be time to evaluate what’s causing the trouble and take control of your rest once more.
Each of us is different when it comes to reasons for not being able to get to sleep (or stay that way), and trying to pinpoint the cause of your insomnia can take some time and research on your part.
But looking deeper into the causes of restless nights is the first step in getting the sleep you want and need to wake up feeling like a well-rested boss, instead of an exhausted mess.
11 Reasons You Can’t Sleep (and How to Fix Them)
Before you simply accept the fact that you’re never going to be able to get a good night’s rest again, you should give the following most common causes of restless sleep a look over, and see if any of them could be to blame.
1. Going to Bed with an Empty Stomach
This one might be surprising, as you’ve most likely heard over and over again not to eat too close to bedtime, especially if you’re trying to slim down. But the fact is that going to bed with nothing in your belly can keep you tossing and turning with tummy rumblings.
Trying to sleep without having dinner is not only hard to do, it can also have some negative health effects, including metabolic function loss due to a slowing of your body’s ability to turn protein into muscle.
Fix It: You can avoid restless sleep due to an empty stomach by making sure that you’re eating regularly throughout the day to give your body the fuel that it needs. And when it comes to late-night snacking, try nibbling on sleep-friendly foods like lean turkey, almonds, or bananas, and keep your portion sizes on the small side.
2. Eating Too Much Before Turning In
On the flip side, if you’re eating too much before bedtime, you could be causing sleep disturbances with issues like acid reflux or indigestion. In fact, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is where the acid in your stomach flows backwards into the esophagus, is one of the top causes of sleep disturbances in adults, according to the experts at the National Sleep Foundation.
While there’s a lengthy list of foods that can cause heartburn or GERD, it varies by the individual, and you could be eating something that’s causing your restless nights without even realizing it.
Fix It: Make sure you’re avoiding fatty foods before turning in for the night and keeping all full-sized meals to at least 4 hours before bedtime. Light snacks are okay but keep in mind that the more you eat, the harder your body will have to work to digest it, and the more likely you are to have a night of tossing and turning ahead of you.
3. Too Many Pre-Bedtime Cocktails
You’ve probably heard somewhere along the line that having a nightcap is one of the best ways to get to sleep. But the truth is that alcohol can cause some serious trouble with your ability to drift off or even keep you from getting into the deep REM stage of sleep, which is where you get the most benefits of all the stages of sleep.
There are some beverages that will help you sleep without the negative effects of alcohol, including chamomile tea or even a banana smoothie, as long as you don’t drink too much of any liquid before bedtime, in order to avoid multiple late-night trips to the bathroom.
Fix It: You don’t have to give up booze altogether, of course, but moderation is the name of the game when it comes to enjoying spirits without losing out on sack time. Keep it to a couple of cocktails when you do imbibe, and do your best not to have any alcoholic drinks when it’s less than 2 hours before bedtime.
4. A Constant Glow in the Bedroom
Chances are you’ve heard how harmful the blue light that comes from the screens of electronic devices can be to your sleep health. Overexposure can cause disruptions in your sleep-wake cycle and suppress the amount of melatonin (the sleep-regulating hormone) your body produces.
If you spend your evenings catching up on the latest Netflix original series, checking work email, or scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed, you’re increasing your exposure to blue light and making it harder for you to get to sleep.
Fix It: Your bedroom should be a haven for sleep that’s cool, dark, and quiet. Do your best to banish even minimal light emissions, such as those coming from your alarm clock, by covering the source or removing it totally.
5. Stressed to the Max
We’ve all had nights where we can’t seem to shut our minds off long enough to drift off to Dreamland, but if you’re regularly feeling anxious or having trouble getting (or staying) asleep due to racing thoughts, you could be dealing with chronic stress.
Getting caught on the “worry treadmill” is a very common cause of restless sleep, and many of us have dealt with, whether it’s due to work, family, or social stressors. It can feel as if you’ll never get to sleep when you’re thinking about everything you have to do the next day, or mentally beating yourself up for not getting enough done with the hours you had allotted yourself.
Fix It: You can keep stress at bay and fall asleep faster and easier with some simple relaxation techniques, such as meditation or progressive breathing exercises. You might also want to try writing all of the day’s worries down before bedtime, giving you a chance to clear your mind and get the peaceful night’s rest that you need.
6. Dealing with Depression
If your inability to catch some Z’s has gone beyond simply being stressed out, and into the realm of persistent feelings of sadness, you could be coping with clinical depression, which is one of the most common causes of chronic insomnia.
Depression can make you feel exhausted all of the time, but also keep your brain too active to sleep, leaving you in the horrible position of feeling like a walking zombie.
Dealing with depression is nothing to feel ashamed of or fool around with, so if you are having trouble getting out of a funk, you should reach out to a friend, family member, or mental health professional.
Fix It: You can look into some all-natural ways to combat depression, such as getting more sunlight or journaling regularly, or you can speak with your doctor about getting started on a prescription antidepressant, if you find yourself truly battling to break away from the blues and get some sleep.
7. Struggling with Snoring
Snoring can cause not only restless sleep but also problems in your relationship, depending on who it is that’s sawing logs, and how the issue is discussed and dealt with amongst partners.
Labored (and loud!) breathing during sleep is much more common than you might think, with nearly 90 million Americans reporting some form of snoring amongst themselves or a significant other.
The issue is caused when the tissue at the back of the throat becomes inflamed and vibrates noisily during inhalation, creating that unmistakable sound that’s made by every “nighttime lumberjack,” although the severity can vary from case to case.
Fix It: If you or your bed partner are snoring most nights, you could both end up losing out on sleep, which is never fun for anyone. Luckily, there are some quick and easy ways to stop snoring, including the simple anti-snoring hack that uses a tennis ball sewn onto the back of a shirt to encourage a snorer to sleep on their side and stop the noisy sleep-disrupting issue before it even gets started.
10. Undiagnosed Sleep Apnea
If snoring has become a serious problem for you and you’re waking up more often than not to find yourself gasping for air, you could have Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is when there’s an obstruction at the back of the throat.
This all-too-common sleep disorder comes with symptoms that include regular daytime fatigue and increased blood pressure, and men are more prone to developing it than women, although after menopause, the risk increases for women.
You should monitor your sleep with one of the top smartphone apps to see if there could be a chance that you’re breathing is becoming labored during the night, or if you’re simply dealing with some snoring.
Fix It: If you’re concerned that you might have sleep apnea, your first step should be to make an appointment with your doctor, who can run some quick tests to see if you might need to be scheduled for a more in-depth sleep study. Once diagnosed, OSA can be treated in a variety of ways, including the nightly use of a Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP) machine.
8. Mattress Mismatch
Did you inherit your mattress from a family member? Did it come into your relationship as a holdover from your partner? Or maybe you’ve just had it for longer than you can even rightly recall?
Any one of these scenarios could be trouble when it comes to getting a good night’s rest, as trying to sleep on a lumpy or subpar mattress can cause not only restless nights, but body aches that follow you all day, or even allergy attacks and joint pain.
Fix It: Visit a showroom and take the comfort test to help discover the best type of sleep surface for you, whether you’re a side or back sleeper, a tosser and turner, or someone that needs more support than the average snoozer.
9. No Set Sleep Schedule
Your inability to consistently get quality sleep could be caused by your inconsistent sleep schedule. If you’re not going to bed each night and waking up the next morning around the same time all week long, the chances of you being able to feel well-rested on a regular basis are slim to none.
If you’re sleeping in on the weekends or you have an erratic work schedule, your body will have trouble “finding it’s grove,” and you won’t have the benefit of a circadian rhythm that runs like a well-oiled machine telling you when to turn in each night.
Fix It: You can get great sleep with a crazy workload, as long as you’re taking the time to create a sleep schedule and stick to it, every single day of the year. Decide how much sleep you need each night, and then come up with the time you need to go to bed, and when you need to wake up, in order to thrive throughout your day.
11. Taking OTC Sleep Meds
If you’ve been having trouble sleeping for a while, you might have been tempted to try one of the over-the-counter sleep medications at your local drugstore. You know, the ones with “PM” in the name and labels with soothing images of fluffy sheep or shooting stars.
This type of medication might seem like a quick fix, but the reality is that most OTC sleep meds are made with antihistamines like diphenhydramine, which are designed to treat allergies, not insomnia, and are known to cause serious drowsiness the next day.
Taking over-the-counter sleep meds can lead to a vicious cycle of daytime fogginess followed by feeling more alert in the evening, which can make your sleep even more restless, and they shouldn’t be taken for more than a few days in a row.
Fix It: At the point where nothing else seems to work, your best bet is to have a chat with your doctor about temporarily turning to prescription sleep medication, as they’ve been shown to be more effective and cause less daytime grogginess.
More Tips for When You Can’t Sleep
Now that you’ve taken a deeper look into what might be causing your restless nights, you might want to delve even further into the best ways to get the sleep you want and need, each and every night. Check out these articles for some helpful better sleep hints!