Sleep difficulties are a common problem for millions of adults. Even if you can get to sleep, you might have trouble staying asleep. Does this sound familiar? You drift off to dreamland, but find yourself wide awake at 3 a.m., or maybe you wake up every few hours throughout the night.
Adequate sleep is supposed to leave you feeling refreshed and ready to start your day. But if your sleep is interrupted, you’re likely to feel fatigued and sleepy the next day.
So what gives? There are several factors that may be the reason you can’t stay asleep. Consider the following:
Possible Reasons Why You Can’t Stay Asleep
There are many possible reasons why you can’t stay asleep, but these are some of the most common:
Too Much Caffeine: You probably already know caffeine is a stimulant and can affect your ability to fall asleep. But it can also lead to poor quality sleep and having to wake up in the middle of the night. Caffeine has a three-to five-hour half-life, which means it takes your body that many hours to get rid of half the caffeine you consumed. The bottom line is that you may feel the effects of caffeine several hours after you consume it. Keep in mind, energy drinks, cola, chocolate and certain teas also contain caffeine. Your best bet is to avoid caffeine for about six hours before bed.
Stress: Stress and lack of sleep seem to go hand in hand. If you’re stressed, it can be hard to sleep well and may lead to middle of the night insomnia. When you can’t stay asleep, that can also lead to more stress and it becomes a vicious cycle. According to the American Psychological Association, adults who get less than eight hours of sleep each night report higher levels of stress symptoms than those who sleep longer. Although it can be easier said than done, it’s important to unwind and unplug before bed, especially if you just can’t stay asleep.
Inadequate Sleep Environment: Your sleep environment can contribute to poor sleep. For example, loud noises can jolt you from a sound sleep or light peeking through the shades can wake you. Fortunately, there are ways to make your bedroom more sleep-friendly. Invest in a quality mattress and comfy bedding and consider keeping your bedroom cool, which most people find helps sleep. You could also try sleeping with a weighted blanket, which many people find soothing. The pressure from this gentle weight mimics a therapeutic technique called deep pressure stimulation. You should also limit light coming into your bedroom if you can’t stay asleep. Make sure your curtains are heavy enough to block out sunlight and use a white noise machine or earplugs to block sounds from outside.
An Aching Back: Back pain can disrupt sleep and leave you struggling to find a comfortable position. If you have chronic back pain and can’t stay asleep, it’s important to treat the underlying cause. Also, your sleep position can make a big difference in your comfort level. The right position for you may depend on whether you have upper or lower back pain. To take the pressure off your back, Mayo Clinic recommends sleeping on your side with your knees slightly pulled up towards your chest with a pillow between your knees.
Hormones: Your hormones play a role in several functions, including sleep. When there is an imbalance or fluctuation, shifting hormones can contribute to sleep disturbances. A woman’s menstrual cycle, pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause often cause hormonal changes that may affect their quality of sleep. For example, decreased estrogen can lead to hot flashes, which wake you up at 2 a.m. You can’t always control your hormones, but you can make your environment conducive for sleep, unwind before bed and stick to the same sleep schedule. If you still can’t stay asleep, talk with your doctor. Hormonal replacement therapy or additional treatment may be an option.
Alcohol: If you enjoy a cocktail before bedtime, it may seem like alcohol helps you sleep. But the bad news is that it actually can interfere with your quality of sleep. As the alcohol metabolizes and the effects wear off, it prevents deep sleep, which causes restless sleep throughout the night. Consider limiting alcohol a few hours before you hit the sack if you can’t stay asleep.
Eating Too Late: A light midnight snack may be fine, but a heavy meal too close to bedtime may leave you tossing and turning during the night. Eating large portions before you turn in for the night can lead to indigestion and acid reflux. If you want a snack before bed, keep it light and stay away from spicy and greasy foods.
American Psychological Association. Stress and Sleep. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/sleep.aspx Retrieved September 2016
Mayo Clinic. Insomnia. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/insomnia/faq-20057824 Retrieved September 2016
Author: MaryAnn DePietro, CRT A medical writer and licensed respiratory therapist with over a decade of clinical experience. MaryAnn DePietro has been published in magazines, newspapers and on health websites. She earned degrees in both respiratory therapy and rehabilitation. As a therapist, she has worked with hundreds of patients with medical conditions, such as COPD, asthma, sleep apnea and cancer.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.