The Reasons Behind Insufficient Sleep

Chances are, you know why you can't sleep. When the lights go out, you worry about your relationship or your job, your neighbor plays his stereo all night, or your kid sleeps with you and kicks you. But if you are having trouble figuring out what's keeping you awake, here are some possibilities to consider.

Environmental Irritations

Noise, light, an uncomfortable bed. If you're not comfortable, you're not going to sleep well, and what makes you comfortable is personal. You might prefer to sleep in a room that's pitch black or has a nightlight, or you might enjoy soothing music or a book before bed. If you're not sure what will put you to sleep and keep you asleep, then you need to experiment and see what works. Then stick with it.

Eating Before Bed

You might be eating too much before bed. Or you could be eating too little. Too much food keeps you awake because your body has to work to digest it, which makes you physically busy, i.e., unable to rest. Too little food, on the other hand, makes you hungry, and your body wants to eat before it wants to sleep, i.e., food takes precedence over sleep, so hunger can keep your eyes open.

Lots of people restrict their food intake too much during the day and then eat semi-uncontrollably at night. It's because they're hungry. If you wake up at a reasonable hour and eat breakfast — a real breakfast, not just coffee and a doughnut — then you'll actually improve your sleep.

Caffeine and Alcohol

Soda, iced tea, sports drinks (Red Bull, for example, contains caffeine), and alcohol can disrupt your sleep, even though alcoholic drinks may help you fall asleep initially. If you're going to have a cocktail before bed, make sure it's at least three or four hours before your head hits the pillow. And if you are in the habit of enjoying an afternoon cup of coffee, make it decaf or, even better, try to cut it out altogether.

Medicine or Drugs

Any chemical that you ingest, even pot or an over-the-counter painkiller, can alter your sleep pattern. Sometimes that can work for you (if you have a headache, then an over-the-counter pain remedy can let you sleep), but other times medicine or drugs can make you jittery. Some painkillers even have very high levels of caffeine in them, so read the label.


Worried? Nervous? Lonely? Sad? Sometimes we keep ourselves awake by thinking too much. Letting go of your thoughts so that your mind can rest is necessary for sleep. But in fact, many of us are never taught how to go to sleep as children, and so we struggle as adults to find ways to relax. If something is bothering you, get out a journal and a pen, and write down your concerns. If you are still worried and your thinking keeps you up for several nights in a row, consider talking to someone to work through and resolve the issue.


Hormones — can't live without 'em, can't go to sleep when they're raging. Women typically find that their sleep pattern changes throughout their monthly cycle, and change even more when they are premenopausal, menopausal, and postmenopausal. Recognizing the cause of your lack of sleep — which you can usually do simply by ruling out the typical problems listed above — can also point you in the direction of possible solutions.

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