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There are a lot of times when sleep doesn’t come easy. Your tired, maybe exhausted, but for some reason just can’t get to sleep. How can you get the rest you need to feel ready and up to the challenges to make it through your day. Do home remedies work? Should you try a cup of herbal tea or an over the counter sleep aid? What works and what do you really need? Let’s look at the causes of insomnia and options so you will know what to do when you can’t sleep.
Why Can’t I Sleep – Identifying the Cause
Having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep can stem from a number of factors. First, do you have a medical problem affecting your sleep? Do you take medications? The health condition or the medications used to treat it can be a cause for insomnia. Are you stressed or suffering from anxiety or depression? Is your bedroom environment comfortable and conducive to promote sleep? Do you have a good routine to wind down at night or are your activities inhibiting your ability to fall asleep easily? Also, do you have nighttime disruptions or disturbances and have trouble going back to sleep? For some people these things may amount to needing help for only an occasional sleepless night, for others, it may mean making adjustments to routines for a longer period. Knowing what to do when you can’t sleep will depend on the answers to these questions.
Health Problems That Affect Sleep
As we age our sleep patterns change. Add the health problems that many people get as we grow older which affect how well we sleep and the problem becomes more complex. Some medical conditions that can affect sleep are shown here.
In addition to medical conditions there are mental health issues such as anxiety, stress or depression which can cause or contribute to insomnia and other sleeping problems. I some cases it can be a two-way street. For example, you may develop insomnia linked to depression. But in some cases you may have depression as a result of insomnia. It can go both ways. The same goes for anxiety as well. You may not be able to sleep because of anxiety, but you may become anxious because you can’t sleep.
Sleep-related disorders, such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy are other health conditions that can interfere with sleep or affect sleep quality. You should talk to your doctor for diagnosis and treatment options if you suspect you have a sleeping disorder. Good sleep hygiene or over the counter sleep aids will not be the cure to these sleep problems.
If you are a woman, there are sleep problems specific to you alone. Hormonal changes during menstrual cycles and at menopause can affect sleep. Insomnia is also commonly found during
Medications That Affect Sleep
If you take medications over the counter or by prescription, they can adversely affect sleep and daytime function. If this occurs ask your doctor if there is an alternative to help you improve sleep and daytime functioning.
|Medication||Use||Examples||Possible Effect on Sleep or Day Function|
|Beta blockers||High blood pressure, arrhythmia, angina||metoprolol (Lopressor), pindolol (Visken), propranolol (Inderal)||Insomnia, nighttime wakening, nightmares|
|Clonidine||High blood pressure, smoking cessation, alcohol withdrawal||clonidine (Catapres)||Disrupted REM sleep, restlessness, early morning wakening, nightmares, Daytime drowsiness and fatigue|
|Corticosteroids||Inflammation, asthma||prednisone (Sterapred)||Insomnia, decreased REM sleep, daytime jitters|
|Diuretics||High blood pressure||chlorothiozide (Diuril), chlorthalidone (Hygroton), hydrochlorothiozide (Esidrix, Hydrodiuril)||Increased nighttime urination, painful calf cramps during sleep|
|Medicines that contain alcohol||Cough, cold, flu||Contact Cold and Flu, Nyquil, others||Disrupted sleep, suppressed REM sleep|
|Medicines that contain Caffeine||To increase alertness / headaches, pain||Caffedrine, NoDoz, Vivarin / Anacin, Excedrin, Midol||Wakefulness lasting up to 6 or 7 hours|
|Nicotine replacements||Smoking||nicotine patches (Nicoderm), gum (Nicorette), nasal spray (Nicotrol), lozenges (Commit)||Insomnia, disturbing dreams|
|Sedating antihistamines||Cold and allergy / Motion sickness||chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), diphenhydramine (Benadryl) / dimenhydrinate (Dramamine)||Drowsiness|
|Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)||Depression, anxiety||fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (paxil), sertraline (Zoloft)||Decreased REM sleep, fatigue|
|Sympathomimetic stimulants||Attention deficit disorder||dextroamphetamine, amphetimine (Adderall), methyphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta)||Trouble falling asleep, decreased REM and non-REM deep sleep|
|Theophylline||Asthma, COPD||theophylline (Slo-bid, Theo-dur)||Effects similar to caffeine|
|Thyroid hormone||Hypothyroidism||levothyroxine (Levoxyl, Synthroid)||Insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, fragmented sleep|
What to do if you can’t sleep
The best solutions for getting a good nights sleep start with sleep hygiene. This involves the habits and routines you practice during the day and leading up to bed time as well as the condition of your sleeping environment. We often don’t realize how the small individual things we take for granted in our hurried day can impact our quality of sleep at night.
- Exercise – As little as 10 minutes a day can help. If you sit at a desk most of the day like I do or another job lacking physical activity your body may not get enough use to feel tired. A short walk at lunch or some aerobic activity could also help you feel more awake in the afternoon and avoid the need for a late day dose of caffeine to boost you through it. Most people should avoid strenuous exercise close to bedtime though when you should be winding down.
- Stimulants and alcohol use – Avoid caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants close to bedtime. For some people like me it means that afternoon coffee or soda, for others, it might mean after dinner. How close would depend on your tolerance and how early you go to bed. Alcohol, while it may help you go to sleep faster, can often disrupt sleep and wake you back up later in the night.
- Eating close to bedtime – Don’t eat a heavy meal close to bed or eat foods that could cause digestion problems such as heartburn or acid reflux. If you do experience these at bedtime it can help to elevate the upper body to reduce back flow. Also, avoid belly sleeping which can create more force on the stomach while you sleep. You can also use medications that restrict stomach acids if that proves ineffective.
- Light affects sleep – The sleep-wake cycle is regulated by our exposure to sunlight and darkness. For people who are inside a lot, make sure you are getting exposure to sufficient daytime light to keep the sleep-wake cycle healthy. In the bedroom, reduce or block any artificial light sources such as the glow from power buttons of devices such as TV’s or alarm clocks or power strips. Block external light sources such as street lights coming in the window. You may consider getting blackout curtains, especially if you work shifts and sleep during the day. These have the additional benefit of helping reduce your energy bill as well by as much as 25% and are available in various patterns and colors to match the decor of your room. If you want to check them out, you can see a variety of blackout curtain styles through this affiliate link.
- Keep a regular sleep schedule – Waking and going to bed at the same time every day, including weekends, helps. If you do shift work you are more likely to recover if you can limit the night shifts and schedule days off in between.
- Wind down – Practice a routine that will let your mind and body know that it is time to sleep. Avoid anything upsetting or overstimulating. Take a warm bath, read a book, or a relaxing activity that you enjoy. Calm your mind. Do something that will take your mind away from the events or worries of the day. You can write down anything you need to work on or remember and address it the next day. Natural remedies such as herbal teas can be helpful such as Chamomile, ginger or peppermint. The smell of lavender oil has been proven to help relax and the old tale of a glass of warm milk has some merit but may be more psychological. Dim the lights. Relax.
- Set up a good sleep environment – Darkness reigns for the best sleep. Minimize light sources. If needed, use a low illumination night light. Use blackout curtains, blinds or a sleep mask. Noise for some people can be a deterrent or a help for sleep. Sleeping with a fan on or being used to the sound of traffic in the city for example is soothing to some people. Take away a familiar sound and they may feel less able to sleep. If snoring is a problem ear plugs may help or sleeping in another room. Mattress and pillows should be comfortable to you. For most people a cool room between 60 and 67 degrees works. If you have problems waking at night because your sinuses dry out a room humidifier may help. Also, if you have allergies, it is important to keep the bedroom dusted and vacuumed to be able to sleep well. Avoid using computers, cell phones, and televisions in the bedroom. Remove or reduce opportunities for interruptions at night. Turn the phone down or off. Let pets out right before bed so they don’t need out later. If you have small children, take turns or shifts taking care of their needs at night.
- Try a weighted blanket – “Deep pressure stimulation” results from sleeping with a weighted blanket. It’s that relaxed feeling you get from being held or a long hug or after a good massage. Deep pressure stimulation helps promote sleep because it lowers arousal and increases the parasympathetic nervous system which decreases heart rate and blood pressure. You get an increased feeling of relaxation and calm. You can find a selection of quality weighted blankets here if you are ready to try it out.
- If you still can’t sleep – If you are not able to sleep get back out of bed. You may only create anxiety by trying to sleep when you are not sleepy. Practice a relaxing sleep routine until you feel sleepy then go back to bed. Last of all, you can try a sleep aid. Good sleep hygiene and behaviors should be tried first. If you have trouble sleeping for a period lasting longer than two weeks you should talk to your doctor.
The Mindset Of Sleep – Calming the mind
At the end of the day, a quiet mind helps you sleep. All the events of the day racing through my mind is often my big set back to getting to sleep at night. For others, it may be the aches and pains from the day that need addressed before they can feel comfortable to sleep well. For people with certain medical conditions or already taking medications it may be a conversation with your doctor to best know what to do when you can’t sleep. Sleep is one of the most important factors in our health and how we feel about ourselves every day. If you can’t sleep do something about it today. You’ll thank yourself tomorrow.
Please leave a comment in the comments section below. If you have sleep troubles. If you found solutions. If you’re still searching. I want to know your story.
This article is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. You should seek the advice of a doctor if you need medical treatment. Read full disclosure here.
6 thoughts on “What To Do When You Can’t Sleep”
I had no idea that there were so many different medical conditions and medications that can have a direct effect on your sleep. Thank you so much for sharing this. I can’t wait to discuss this with one of my family members.
I am one of those people who does have a hard time sleeping. I have tried a few of the things you suggesting to help you fall asleep. But there are a few that I haven’t tried yet. I can guarantee I will be trying those suggestions.
Thanks for your detailed article. I know I struggle to sleep when I am particularly stressed, but I had always assumed that it was a straight forward effect of my brain just continuing to mull over the things that hadn’t gone done that day.
I now know that skipping my lunchtime walk (which tends to happen when I’m stressed at work and need to get something done), might also be as much of a problem as not actively winding down to calm my mind before going to bed. Would you recommend something like yoga or mindfulness as a way of winding down?
Studies have shown daily mindfulness meditation to improve sleep quality and duration. Yoga can also benefit sleep but some types can be energizing. Recommended poses by the National sleep foundation include Legs up the wall, Lying butterfly, and Corpse pose to help sleep.
Great question, drink warm milk, watch TV, or count sheep. Great article, thanks for sharing the different tips that might be used for a person that’s having a problem sleeping.
Hi Judd, Some good information here I liked how you used the tables for medications etc. I can tell you only started using tables myself recently has really made the difference.
About your suggestions, you certainly know there really is not much I can say that you haven’t. I think maybe drink a few glasses of water before bed. I mean not right before but so you can have a pee before bed so you don’t need to wake up in the middle of the night. That has been my problem recently and noticed because I’ve not drunk enough water during the day has likely been the cause.
Anyhow good job will look forward to reading more.