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Why Can’t I Sleep Through the Night? 4 Things Preventing Your Sweet Dreams

Stephanie Flockhart
Why Can’t I Sleep Through the Night? 4 Things Preventing Your Sweet Dreams

Ever gotten up too early, had trouble getting sleepy again, and then felt tired the rest of the day? What about being kept awake by your overactive mind, completely consumed by your biggest fears and worries all night?

Poor sleep is linked to myriad health complaints, including an unstable emotional state, hormonal imbalance, and memory loss. The quality of the sleep you’re getting says so much about what’s happening to you internally. It’s one of the main areas doctors investigate when evaluating the overall state of your health.

Do you often ask yourself, “why can’t I sleep through the night?” Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Insomnia is the chronic inability to fall and/or stay asleep. While it affects people in varying degrees, it consistently robs you of restful evenings, making you wake up feeling unrefreshed.

Now, the million dollar question that plagues anyone struggling to get quality shut-eye is, “why me?” Here's a list of the top four scientifically backed explanations as to why you can’t sleep through the night.

1. Caffeine

When we know we didn't get enough sleep the night before, we stumble straight to the coffee machine. We do this in the hope of finding some respite in trying to make it through our day (or at least until the next cup).

See, extreme fatigue is the cruel reality of insomnia. Most insomniacs feel exhausted throughout the day and only experience a burst of energy when their head hits the pillow in the evening.

Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, blocking both melatonin and adenosine—the two key players we need to regulate healthy sleep. If you want to sleep better, avoid drinking coffee after 2:00 P.M. Beware as well of sneaky caffeine-bearing vehicles like chocolate, soda and tea.

2. Lack of Routine

When schedules fall to the wayside, so does our ability to sleep soundly through the night. Think of your evenings as ‘transition time’ and prepare yourself for bed as you would a child. This isn't a time to madly finish off a work project, watch scary movies, or partake in any overstimulating activities.

Observe good sleep hygiene by creating good habits surrounding your bed time. Limit your screen time at night, ensure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet, and start a wind down routine a few hours before bed.

3. Hormonal Imbalance 

Sleeplessness can also be a symptom of hormone imbalance due to adrenal fatigue, menopause, and perimenopause. These three of these often leave their sufferers on a rollercoaster of sleepless nights, hot flushes, and emotional instability.

If the culprit of your insomnia is an adrenal imbalance, you may feel “tired and wired.” This is when, despite feeling exhausted, you'll feel too on edge to fall asleep easily. Or, you'll fall asleep quickly—only to wake up shortly after, wide awake and raring to go.

Adrenal imbalance is also accompanied by the tandem of afternoon energy slump, followed by a second wind before bed. Craving for sugary foods or caffeine, in an effort to raise energy levels is another sign your adrenals are imbalanced.

Menopause, perimenopause, and pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS)-related insomnia are also often accompanied by various symptoms, like bloating, mood swings, irritability, and night sweats.

4. Stress

When we experience stress or anxiety, our body goes into “fight or flight” mode. This is an evolutionary mechanism we possess that protects us from danger. In short bursts, this condition has no long-term negative impacts on our health. However, in our fast-paced world, many of us are constantly stuck in this survival mode—resulting in chronic stress. 

Sleep is one of the first areas of impact when chronic stress hits. Most insomniacs admit that an overactive, troubled mind is one of the main reasons they lie awake at night. So why do overthinking and anxiety seem to heighten at night? Studies show that because there are less distractions at this time, the silence causes people to obsess about their worries. 

Long-term insomnia and its impact on mental health is startling. Studies show that people with insomnia run a higher risk of developing depression, compared to those without sleep issues.

A 2007 study found that chronic stress on our adrenals can throw out the delicate balance of our hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis is responsible for mood regulation and hormonal balance. An HPA axis that is out of sorts impacts our melatonin levels (the hormone that makes us sleepy at night). Not only that, it causes an overproduction of cortisol (the stress hormone).

Imbalanced cortisol levels are responsible for the 3:00 P.M. energy slump and the second wind many people experience after 9:00 P.M., just as they should be preparing for bed.

Do Any of These Ring a Bell for You?

If any of these four items sound familiar to you, you know what to do. Consume caffeine in moderation, follow a reasonably healthy daily routine, take care of your hormones, and improve your sleep hygiene. All of these add up to managing stress more effectively, which is what you need to treat your mind and body better overall.

Observe any sleep-disruptive habits you might have, and work on correcting them. Pretty soon, you’ll no longer have to Google “why can’t I sleep at night?” Instead, you’ll be sleeping soundly, dreaming sweetly, and waking up well-rested.

Did you know?

When you commit to building heathy sleep habits, you take the first step to become your healthiest self - one full night of good sleep at a time. Check out our Complete Guide to Sleep Disorders - a resource to help you get your quality sleep back. Learn more about sleep disorders, their causes, symptoms and how to overcome them.

Image Credit: Stephanie Flockhart

Stephanie Flockhart
I am a doctor of Chinese Medicine and an acupuncturist.