8 Likely Reasons Why You Can't Sleep, Even Though You're So Tired

Can't sleep? One of these common offenders could be to blame.


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We’ve all been there: Lying in bed, staring at the ceiling as the fan goes around and around. It’s dark. It’s quiet. And you’re wide awake. As thoughts ramble through your head, one may be repeatedly coming up: “Why can’t I sleep?”

Sleep Deprivation Is a Common Health Issue

You’re far from alone. When it comes to health issues, sleep deprivation is a lot more common than you’d think. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that an astounding one in three American adults don’t get enough sleep. The National Sleep Foundation shares that 35 percent of U.S. adults don’t get the recommended seven hours of sleep per night

For something that we need to do every night, or for about one-third of our lives, adequate sleep can be surprisingly difficult to come by. It seems like something that should be so natural to do, and yet, subtle triggers can end up keeping you awake at night.

Why Getting Enough Sleep Is So Important

Sleep is also one of the healthiest things we can do. “I often say that sleep is life,” says Lauri Leadley CCSH, RPSGT, president and clinical sleep educator at Arizona’s Valley Sleep Center. “It’s the only time our body’s cells regenerate. Rest is healing and necessary to have a healthy body, mind, and spirit.” 

And there are real consequences—both physical and mental—of not getting enough sleep. Leadley says that sleep deprivation has become a public health issue “for the simple fact that when you deprive your body of the restorative benefits of sleep, it can impact your mental and physical health in more ways than one.” 

Monique May, MD, board-certified family physician and medical advisor at Aeroflow Sleep, lists the risks of not achieving those ZZZs: poor concentration, fatigue, irritability, metabolic issues, high blood pressure, and stroke. 

“Stress, exhaustion, and sleep deprivation form a deadly cocktail—combined, they can lead to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety,” Leadley adds. “Your health could plummet, your immune system could take a hit, and your risk potential for chronic health conditions such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease can go up substantially. Regardless of how busy you are, you simply cannot afford to ignore the need for quality sleep.” 

While this all sounds a bit dire, these risks could be all the motivation you need to figure out what’s behind your sleepless nights. Because as important as sleep is, there are countless, very real, very common reasons why many of us can’t get the sleep we so desperately need. Whether it’s anxiety and racing thoughts, too much Diet Coke in the afternoons, or street noises keeping you up, there’s likely something you can do about it. (Hint: don’t reach for that second cup of coffee in the afternoon and put your phone on the charger a couple hours before bed!) 

Common Reasons You Can't Sleep at Night

01 of 08

You’re stressed out.

While a good night’s sleep can feel amazing after a long, stressful day at work, that stress can also become the very thing that gets in the way of quality sleep. In fact, Leadley says that one of the most common culprits for sleeplessness is stress.  

“If you find you’re tossing and turning even when every bone and muscle in your body is screaming for sleep, it could be because your mind is just not ready to turn off,” Leadley says. Your brain could be stuck in a vicious loop of deadlines, meetings, and memos as you try to get some shut eye. “It could be work pressure or really any stress in a person’s life. The spillover effect of this stress leaves people wide-eyed and unable to get a good night’s rest.” 

Unfortunately, racing thoughts that lead to the inability to fall asleep can eventually turn into long-term insomnia. But you don’t have to be stuck in this loop forever. To combat it, Leadley recommends unwinding before bed with de-stressing activities. 

“Set aside some time before getting to bed to indulge in activities which help you to de-stress,” she says. “Avoid eating or drinking stimulants like sweets and caffeine. De-stress by praying or meditating, engaging in some deep-breathing exercises, taking a warm bath, listening to calming music—anything that helps you relax.”

02 of 08

You’ve been spending too much time with your screens.

Dr. May explains that all electronic devices emit light and make noises that can be disruptive, and the constant brain stimulation can make it difficult to unwind before bed. These devices, simply put, can disrupt the body’s natural sleep rhythm by acting as a distraction, and even as a false signal for wakefulness.

If you want to feel calmer before bed, and avoid that light and noise, Dr. May recommends not using electronic devices in bed or right before going to sleep. “Unplug and disconnect,” Leadley agrees.

03 of 08

You don’t have a consistent bedtime routine.

It’s a common scene: You scramble through your evening but end up crawling into bed at an ungodly hour, and you spend some extra time scrolling through Instagram to slow your mind down—but you still can’t sleep. A lot of adults seem to fall into this sleepless trap, but undoing it might require you to think back to your childhood days—when you had a specific bedtime, preceded by a bedtime routine.

Now that you’re all grown up, a set bedtime can still prove to be beneficial. Leadley says that it’s important to “schedule your bedtime,” adding that “one of the best ways of improving your sleep quality is to establish a fixed bedtime routine.” 

Dr. May also says that keeping a set sleep schedule is essential—even on the weekends. Like any new habit, it’ll take a while to make yourself go to bed by a certain time, so set a reminder on your phone. Have an alarm go off an hour or two before bed as your signal that it’s time to wind down. Another way to reset your body clock to go to bed at the same, reasonable every night: Wake up at a consistent time, seven days a week.

04 of 08

You’ve had a few too many cocktails.

Does that post-work happy hour have you feeling not-so-happy as you toss and turn all night? There’s a reason for that. 

Having a drink before bed can be linked to more slow-wave sleep patterns called delta activity,” Leadley says. “This is the deep sleep that allows for memory formation and learning. However, with alcohol in your system, alpha activity is also on. Usually, alpha activity doesn’t happen during sleep, but when you’re resting. With both activities happening simultaneously, restorative sleep is inhibited.” 

In other words, those libations before bedtime can cause your body to do way too much all at once, which isn’t exactly a great state to be in as you try to get some rest. Leadley says that although drinking might initially make you feel sleepy and help you fall asleep more quickly, it ultimately interrupts your circadian rhythm, which can wake you up in the middle of the night. Alcohol can also aggravate breathing problems and increase nighttime bathroom trips.

The bottom line? Don’t overdo it with those evening drinks so that you can get some high-quality sleep.

05 of 08

Your bedroom isn’t optimized for sleep.

Between the streetlamp shining into your window, the TV on in the background, and a temperature that would rival a summer day, you probably won’t get to sleep anytime soon. This would be the textbook description of a poor sleeping environment. 

“If the sleeping environment is too hot, cold, noisy, or bright, understandably, one's sleep will be impacted,” Dr. May says.  

The ideal: Make your bedroom cool and quiet. The Sleep Foundation recommends setting your thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees, which is the ideal temperature range for sleep. Ambient noise and light exposure are two other environmental factors that really impact the quality of your sleep: Buy blackout shades, shut off the TV, and consider getting a noise machine to drown out street noises, snoring partners, and other disruptive stimula.

06 of 08

You still have caffeine in your system.

Caffeine intake can make one jittery, especially if consumed too close to bedtime,” Dr. May notes. But even if it’s late morning or early afternoon, that second or third cup of coffee could come back to haunt you at bedtime. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to nine hours, so the later in the day you have that espresso, green tea, soda, or even chocolate, the more it could impact your sleep. A cup or two of coffee when you first wake up is OK, but as the day goes on caffeine could make it impossible to achieve a good night’s rest.

07 of 08

You keep eating huge meals before bed.

Dr. May says that eating a large meal right before bed can be disruptive, as your stomach begins to digest your food, and it can also increase the risk for acid reflux or heartburn. Instead, eat dinner earlier if you can, but if it’s a late meal, think lighter and stop before you’re really full.

08 of 08

You have sleep apnea.

Whether you’ve been diagnosed or not, sleep apnea, experienced in 13 percent of men and 6 percent of women as one study notes, is a serious sleep disruption. Sleep apnea causes snoring, which can obstruct the airway and prevent a person from getting enough oxygen. If your body isn’t getting enough oxygen, it’ll wake you up to get you breathing properly again. All those disruptions add up to low-quality sleep.

“Untreated sleep apnea, which causes frequent and repeated periods of breathing stoppages, causes poor sleep quality and results in fatigue and headaches the next day,” Dr. May says. “See a doctor to get tested and treated for sleep apnea.”

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