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Why Can’t I Sleep? – 10 Things That Could Be Keeping You Awake

It’s getting later and later. You glance at the clock and see that the time until morning is slipping away, while your wish to finally fall asleep grows stronger. Often we find our thoughts circling around the reasons why sleep just won’t come. We’ve compiled a list of 10 things that can prevent you from sleeping. If you know what keeps you awake, you can intentionally create the best conditions for a good night’s sleep.

1Lying awake in bed when you can’t sleep

When sleep doesn’t come easily, we often toss and turn in bed. That means we’re spending a lot of time in bed without actually sleeping. As a result, our brain no longer automatically associates lying in bed with sleeping but also with tossing and turning, lying awake , or perhaps even ruminating. This can compound the difficulty of getting to sleep.

To help your brain rebuild a strong connection between bed and sleep, get out of bed if you haven’t managed to fall asleep after around 15 minutes. Leaving the comfort of your bed? It may not sound appealing, but it will help you fall asleep more quickly in the long run. It’s best to go to another room, read a book, listen to quiet music or engage in some other calming activity. When you’re feeling really sleepy again, that’s the moment to get back into bed.

2Unsuitable sleeping environment

We use our senses to perceive our surroundings. If you’re lying in bed and want to fall asleep, but your senses remain very active because it’s too loud, too bright or too warm, this can make it difficult to fall asleep. So give yourself every chance by creating the optimal sleeping environment. Darken your room, avoid noise and lower the temperature a little. These simple steps can often make the difference and help you drift off into the land of nod.

3Sleeping during the day when you can’t sleep at night

The temptation is strong to make up for a lack of sleep by taking a lengthy nap during the day. Besides, it’s traditional in many cultures to have a siesta. However, if you’re having trouble sleeping in the evening or at night, catching up with an afternoon nap can make it even harder for you sleep the next night.

Why is that? Well, during the day we build up something called “sleep pressure”. The longer we’re awake, the more our sleep pressure increases. As a result, we can fall asleep more quickly in the evening and the restorative, deep sleep portion of the night grows longer. A nap in the middle of the day, on the other hand, reduces sleep pressure and thus makes it harder to fall asleep at night. So we advise you to limit your sleep to night time if at all possible.

4Screens in the bedroom

For many of us these days, the bedroom is much more than just a place to sleep. With TVs, game consoles and smartphones, we have a world of entertainment at our fingertips in the place where we go to bed. Unfortunately, they also contribute to our trouble sleeping.

The screens of our devices emit a blue light that has the same effect on the body as daylight, keeping us awake. It inhibits the production of the sleep hormone melatonin and makes us more alert. We therefore recommend that you keep screen time to a minimum when in your bed and bedroom. Banishing your smartphone from the bedroom is a really effective step, even though it can be difficult. Otherwise, it can help to switch your smartphone to “do not disturb” or “night mode” in the evening, which filters out a certain amount of blue light.

5Overdoing the stimulants

Caffeine is a proven stimulant – especially in the morning, a cup of tea or coffee can help to kick-start your day.

However, if you go overboard on the caffeinated drinks or have them too late in the day, it can push back the time you fall asleep. As well as reducing the duration of your sleep, this suppresses the deep sleep stage in your sleep cycle.

Therefore, try to avoid caffeinated pick-me-ups as bedtime approaches – ideally from midday onwards. Besides coffee and tea, this includes dark chocolate and many soft drinks.

6Alcohol or cigarettes before bed

Can a glass of wine in the evening help with my sleep problems? It’s true that alcohol can help us fall asleep faster. However, on the whole, it does more harm than good. Alcohol merely sedates us. So even though we’re no longer awake, there’s no onset of natural sleep. Alcohol causes you to sleep less deeply, dream more, and wake up more often. This affects the quality of your sleep and makes it less restful.

Smoking cigarettes can also interfere with your sleep. Nicotine has a stimulating effect, so it tends to make you more awake than tired. Try to cut down or stop smoking, especially in the evening, and to avoid drinking alcohol.

7When your body and mind remain active

Sometimes it seems that there are not enough hours in the day to fit everything in. Work, study and jobs around the house can drag on right up to bedtime. That’s when the transition from “active” to “relaxed” is too abrupt for our bodies, so we don’t get a good night’s rest. To remedy this, carve out a proper transition period by consciously leaving time to unwind before going to bed. Read a book, listen to relaxing music or take a hot bath. This will prepare your body for a peaceful night and help you to sleep better.

8“Why can’t I sleep?” – When your thoughts keep you awake

When we can’t sleep, our thoughts often start to spin. “Why is this happening today?” or “I have to be fresh tomorrow,” run through our heads. This dials up the pressure and makes it even harder for us to switch off. By giving yourself permission to simply rest instead of sleeping, or by thinking a pleasant “good night thought”, you can calm yourself down and drift off to sleep without pressure. Our tips for falling asleep may also help you with this.

9Irregular sleeping and waking times

When we’ve been up late at night because we couldn’t fall asleep, the urge to stay in bed longer in the morning is strong. However, this shifts your sleep-wake rhythm. It’s best to get into a routine of getting up at the same time every morning. This reinforces your “inner clock”. Humans are creatures of habit – and you can use this to your advantage. Over an extended period, going to bed and getting up at set times will help you sleep better.

10Eating a hearty meal late in the evening can leave you unable to sleep

As the day draws to a close, having ticked off our tasks and errands, we often look forward to a delicious meal. However, eating a filling meal very late in the day can prevent you from falling asleep. Especially with fatty and acidic foods such as meat, our digestive system has its work cut out, which can keep us from falling asleep. Opt for a light evening meal and avoid eating for about two hours before bedtime. This can help you nod off more easily.

And how about you?

Did some of these reasons resonate with you? Have you noticed that you already follow some sleep hygiene rules? Every person is different, so troubles sleeping can stem from a variety of factors. The first step is to discover which ones apply to you. Over the next few weeks, try pulling on a few different “levers” to help you get more restful sleep in the future. Be patient and observe what seems to work for you and what feels good.

If you feel you could use some extra support, our Insomnia online course might be right for you. Working through 8 course units, all based on scientifically proven methods, you’ll learn how to change your sleep habits, ruminate less, relax better and much more besides.

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Our articles are written by psychologists and reviewed by psychotherapists.

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