Why Can’t I Sleep? 12 Possible Reasons

Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
7th January 2022

In 30 seconds

Why can’t I sleep? There are many possible reasons. An environment that’s too noisy or hot, too much caffeine, or excessive screen time can all make it difficult to sleep. Meanwhile, anxiety or stress, a disrupted sleep schedule, or other health issues can also cause sleep problems. The good news? There are several things you can do about it.

An Epidemic of Sleep Problems

Many lucky people take sleep for granted. Yet, there are others out there who frequently struggle to get to sleep and stay asleep. In fact, over one in five people in the UK are believed to have sleep problems — and these are happening at a younger and younger age.

So, what’s behind the huge number of people with sleep problems? And why might you be struggling to sleep, too?

Here, we look at some of the possible causes of sleeplessness — and share some advice for how to get a good night’s rest.

Why Can’t I Sleep?

Everyone is different. And from lifestyle choices to health problems, to problems in your environment, there are many reasons why you might not be able to get the restful sleep that you deserve. Let’s explore these below.

  1. Poor sleep hygiene: One of the most common causes of sleeplessness is your sleep environment. If your bedroom is too hot, noisy, or light, you may not be able to sleep as well as you could otherwise.
  2. Too much caffeine: Coffee, tea, energy drinks, or cola all contain caffeine, a stimulant and, according to some, the world’s most popular drug. Studies suggest that drinking caffeine even six hours before bed will impact your sleep quality.
  3. Excessive screen time: The blue light from devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets has been found to affect your circadian rhythm, your body’s natural sleep cycle. Using devices in the bedroom – or the hour or so before sleep – should ideally be avoided.
  4. Not enough physical activity: Many people found that their sleep patterns changed due to inactivity during the pandemic. Studies have shown that low levels of exercise are related to poor sleep.
  5. Your diet: You may have heard that eating cheese before sleep can give you nightmares. That doesn’t apply only to cheese. Eating heavy meals late in the evening can affect how long it takes you to get to sleep — and your levels of deep sleep once you finally drop off.
  6. Naps: If you get sleepy during the day, a nap can feel like a good idea. It often can be, but if you nap too late in the day, it can affect your ability to get enough sleep during the night.
  7. Disruptions: Sleep disturbances thanks to noise from traffic or neighbours have been described as a “threat to health”. Even if you don’t notice that you’ve been disturbed, the quality of your sleep might still be affected.
  8. Shift work: According to studies, people who work on night shifts and at changing hours are more likely to experience sleep disruptions. That’s because your activity levels can clash with your ideal sleep habits and circadian rhythm.
  9. Stress or anxiety: Work, family, or financial worries can all contribute to feelings of unease, stress, anxiety, and tension. These can cause you to wake up frequently throughout the night.
  10. Other mental health problems: Mental health conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder have been found to increase the likelihood of sleep disorders such as chronic insomnia. Unfortunately, the medications prescribed to soothe these conditions – such as antidepressants – don’t always solve the problem.
  11. Thyroid problems: Conditions such as an overactive thyroid can make you restless and anxious, and they can affect your sleep.

Find out more: Overactive thyroid symptoms in men.

  1. Other health problems: There is a range of less common health problems that can cause sleep disorders. These can include:
    • Sleep apnea: A breathing disorder where your breathing stops and starts during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is most common, caused by the closing of your windpipe as you sleep.
    • Restless leg syndrome: Characterised by the strong desire to move your leg in the evening or night, it can keep you up.
    • Narcolepsy: A condition that causes excessive daytime sleepiness, narcolepsy can disrupt your nighttime sleep too.

If you feel you’re experiencing any of these health conditions, seek medical advice. A doctor will be able to help.

How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

With so many possible causes of sleep disruption out there, it’s only natural there are several possible solutions, too.

So, how can you make sure you get a good night’s sleep? Here are some tips:

  • Exercise: Physical activity makes you tired, and it helps you relax. 150 minutes of moderate physical exercise a week can be a good start.
  • Eat a balanced diet (and don’t eat too late): Your diet can have a significant impact on the way you sleep. Keeping refined sugars, caffeine, and alcohol to a minimum will likely prevent sleep disruption — while eating dinner at least a few hours before you go to bed can help, too.
  • Optimise your sleep environment: Keep electronic devices out of your bedroom, and ensure the space is cool, dark, and quiet. Earplugs and an eye mask can help if necessary.
  • Find ways to relax: Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and exercise can contribute to a more relaxed state of mind. If you are chronically anxious, practices like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help too.
  • Sleep supplements: There are many natural ingredients that can help sleep, including chamomile, melatonin, and lemon balm. These can offer the sleep support you need as part of a healthy lifestyle.

At Manual, we have a range of health products that can help give you the good night’s sleep you deserve. Explore them here.

  • Talk to your doctor: If you feel your sleep problems are down to something more serious, such as thyroid problems or narcolepsy, talk to a healthcare specialist. They will be able to give you the tailored support you require.
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Key Takeaways

Why can’t you sleep? There are many possible reasons, from your diet to your work habits to underlying health problems. The environment in which you sleep can also make a big difference.

But it’s not all bad news. Sleep supplements can help give you the restful sleep that you deserve. Find the right option for you.

FAQs

What to Do If I Can’t Really Sleep?

If you can’t really sleep, the best thing to do is get up and do something else. Drinking water or a cup of (decaffeinated) tea, or reading a book can help you relax. You may be able to return to sleep later on. Either way, it is better than lying in bed frustrated.

If you have chronic insomnia, finding a long term solution is necessary. This can mean lifestyle changes, sleep support supplements, or a medical solution.

What Are Some Things That Can Keep You Up at Night?

There are many things that can keep you up at night – from noisy neighbours to health problems. Whatever the reason for why you can’t sleep, there are solutions that can help.

References

  1. FormulateHealth – Insomnia Statistics UK 2021: How Many People Have Sleep Problems? – https://www.formulatehealth.com/blog/insomnia-statistics-uk-how-many-people-have-sleep-problems

  2. CAMH – Caffeine – https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/caffeine

  3. Christopher Drake, Ph.D., F.A.A.S.M.,1,2 Timothy Roehrs, Ph.D., F.A.A.S.M.,1,2 John Shambroom, B.S.,3 and Thomas Roth, Ph.D.1 (2013). Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3805807/

  4. Anne-Marie ChangDaniel AeschbachJeanne F. Duffy, and Charles A. Czeisler (2014). Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness – https://www.pnas.org/content/112/4/1232

  5. Anna V. Kontsevaya, Dinara K. Mukaneeva, Azaliia O. Myrzamatova, Anthony D. Okely & Oxana M. Drapkina  (2021). Changes in physical activity and sleep habits among adults in Russian Federation during COVID-19: a cross-sectional study – https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-021-10946-y

  6. Science Focus – Why does cheese give you nightmares? – https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/why-does-cheese-give-you-nightmares/

  7. Rosekind, Mark R.; Smith, Roy M.; Miller, Donna L.; Co, Elizabeth L.; Gregory, Kevin B.; Webbon, Lissa L.; Gander, Philippa H.; Lebacqz, J. Victor (1995). Alertness management: strategic naps in operational settings – https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2869.1995.tb00229.x

  8. Demian Halperin – Environmental noise and sleep disturbances: A threat to health? – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4608916/

  9. Shazia Jehan, Ferdinand Zizi, Seithikurippu R Pandi-Perumal, Alyson K Myers, Evan Auguste, Girardin Jean-Louis, and Samy I McFarlane (2017). Shift Work and Sleep: Medical Implications and Management – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5836745/

  10. Chiara Baglioni, Svetoslava Nanovska, Wolfram Regen, Kai Spiegelhalder, Bernd Feige, Christoph Nissen, Charles F. Reynolds, III, and Dieter Riemann  (2016). SLEEP AND MENTAL DISORDERS: A META-ANALYSIS OF POLYSOMNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5110386/

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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