Anyone who has ever spent a sleepless night tossing and turning can attest, insomnia is one seriously miserable beast. In addition to the frustration of not being able to fall asleep (even if you're completely exhausted), there's also the matter of contending with the aftermath of not getting enough shut-eye.
Many people with sleep problems will finally doze off in the early-morning hours only to be awakened by their alarm after about two to three hours of sleep. But the day must go on, and exhaustion makes it difficult to focus and successfully complete our obligations at work and at home. Getting by on several hours of sleep is neither healthy nor sustainable, and the first step to solving the problem is getting to the bottom of why you can't fall asleep at night.
It can be tempting to drink a glass or two of wine right before bed because it makes you drowsy, but alcohol is one of the most common causes of sleep problems. "Alcohol is a diuretic and also can create the need to urinate through the night," Jennifer Haythe, MD, a New York-based cardiologist and the codirector of the Women's Centre for Cardiovascular Health at Columbia, told POPSUGAR. "In addition, it reduces REM sleep, which is essential for sleep restoration and healthy sleep."
Laurence Gerlis, a UK-based general practitioner and founder of SameDayDoctor, explained that when consumed in very large quantities, alcohol can cause unnaturally intense sleep. "But in smaller quantities, it causes insomnia and increased blood pressure," he said.
2. Depression and Anxiety
"Psychological struggles can make it hard to sleep. Insomnia itself can bring on changes in mood, and shifts in hormones, and physiology can lead to both psychiatric issues and insomnia at the same time," Constantine George, MD, an internal medicine doctor at Epitomedical in Las Vegas, said.
Dr. Gerlis told POPSUGAR that anxiety results in the inability to "switch off" from daily stressors or relationship problems — and, as most of us have experienced at least once or twice, it can be really hard to fall asleep when you're worried about something.
3. Unhealthy Bedtime Behaviours
Our nighttime routines have an impact on how quickly we fall asleep — and screen time can be a major culprit for sleep problems. "Spending time watching television or staring at your smartphone or computer at bedtime leads to insomnia and sleep disruption," Dr. Haythe told POPSUGAR.
Instead of watching just one last episode of your favourite TV show or scrolling through Instagram, put away all your screens before you begin winding down for bedtime. Reading, drinking a cup of herbal tea, or breathing and meditation exercises are excellent alternatives that may help you fall (and stay) asleep.
Dominic Gaziano, MD, an internal medicine doctor in Chicago, recommends easing into a healthy sleep schedule and sticking to it. "Stretching before sleep can relax your muscles. Slow, mindful breathing; meditation; and dark rooms can help you to fall asleep faster," he said. Dr. Gaziano also noted that setting your thermostat to 65 degrees is optimal for a good night's sleep — it's a cool but comfortable temperature that allows your body to regulate in a way that doesn't keep you awake.
4. Late Evening Meals
Going to bed hungry certainly won't help you fall asleep, but Dr. George recommends eating your full dinner earlier in the evening and having a light snack before bed if you're still hungry. "Eating too much may cause you to feel physically uncomfortable while lying down," he told POPSUGAR. "Many people also experience heartburn, a backflow of acid and food from the stomach into the esophagus after eating, which may keep you awake."
5. Certain Medications
"Many prescription drugs can interfere with sleep, such as certain antidepressants and medications for asthma or blood pressure," Dr. George told POPSUGAR. Additionally, many over-the-counter medications including allergy and cold medications contain caffeine and stimulants that can disrupt sleep. If you're having sleep problems and are on any prescription medications or routinely take over-the-counter meds, it's definitely worth speaking with your doctor about alternative medications that don't cause insomnia.