I’d like to discuss 11 reasons you can’t sleep and are struggling to stay asleep but first, let me take a moment and wish you a happy holiday no matter which one you celebrate this time of year. I’m grateful that you spend your time with me each week and to have this opportunity to share my work and experience with you.

This holiday, my daughter is in China on a student exchange program so we are spending the holidays in Bejing and touring around China. It will be an interesting experience but I’m really excited to see my daughter, it’s been a while!

While I used TimeShifter and everything I know to minimize my challenges with the multiple timezone difference, holiday travel always makes sleeping more difficult. 

And, with all of the travel and extra people in our houses, this is the time of year when a good night’s sleep can be even harder to come by.

With the holidays here and a new decade right around the corner, I know many of my patients are fighting to carve out enough time for proper sleep. I’ve heard and seen it countless times: You’re busy, both at work and scrambling to buy gifts, and it inevitably leads to you burning the candle at both ends. 

But even without the added stress (and fun) that comes with the holidays, our country is struggling to get enough rest. A recent study from Ball State University made this clear, showing more than 35% of working Americans aren’t getting sufficient sleep

There are a variety of reasons why that could be the case for you — reasons that could impact you not just during the holiday but at any point during the year. Because it’s not just about setting aside time for enough sleep. There are also a number of issues that could be interfering with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep long enough to complete the four stages of sleep

That’s why this week I wanted to give you a quick rundown of the 11 major reasons you may be having a hard time getting a good night’s sleep. Poor sleep contributes to a number of health issues like heart disease and stroke and shouldn’t be overlooked. If you’re waking up feeling tired, irritable and suffering from brain fog, please be mindful of these potential triggers. 

1) Your Temperature

Temperature matters. If your body is too warm at night, you’re going to have a hard time completing REM sleep. The optimum room temperature for sleeping is around 65 degrees, or about 18 degrees Celsius, so make sure you check the thermostat before dozing off. A cooling mattress can also keep you from overheating.

But another thing to keep in mind is your body temperature. Our body operates a process called thermoregulation on a 24-hour circadian cycle that allows it to adjust our core temperature. A lower body temperature at night helps you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer.

You might want to check out Cool Jams, the most stylish and best moisture wicking pajamas I know about, to help you stay cool throughout the night. I’ve included them in my holiday gift guide for this very reason. 

2) Everyday Concerns 

Whether it’s having a big report due at work, a recent fight with your significant other, or the frustration of having to pay a few hundred bucks to fix an unexpected car problem, the hurdles we run into everyday can significantly impact our sleep. This is a common issue that many of us deal with throughout our lives.

3) Alcohol 

I’m not a big drinker. Still, I certainly understand the appeal of a nice glass of wine to unwind after work, or a few beers while sitting back and watching the game at night. 

At the same time, millions of people turn to alcohol at night as their go-to sleep aid, with around 20% of Americans relying on it to help them fall asleep

But drinking, especially the closer you get to sleep, will actually do you more harm than good. I’ve talked about alcohol’s negative impact on sleep at length in the past. While it may help you fall asleep quickly, during the second half of the night, your sleep becomes more disrupted. That’s because as your body metabolizes alcohol, the body goes through the “rebound effect,” where it transitions from deeper to lighter sleep. This leads to more waking up throughout the night.  

4) Caffeine

Perhaps the most obvious one on the list. Caffeine, and coffee in particular, is a stimulant. This opens you up to a number of side effects that will hamper your sleep, including:

  • Restlessness
  • Stomach cramps
  • Frequent urination
  • An elevated heart rate

Stay away from caffeine before falling asleep and you’ll do yourself a big favor. 

5) Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is one of the leading causes of interrupted sleep. It affects about 12% of Americans, but about 80% of those suffering from sleep apnea go undiagnosed.

Common sleep apnea symptoms include:

  • Snoring — which can also be worsened by alcohol use
  • Excessive daytime fatigue 
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Memory problems
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches 

If you’re battling some of those symptoms throughout the night, you should look into getting tested for sleep apnea in the near future. 

6) Your Diet 

A midnight snack is one of life’s great joys, but don’t go overboard. Higher fat and calorie consumption at night has been shown to make it harder for men and women to reach REM sleep. Avoid big meals right before going to sleep.

7) Anxiety and Depression

Mental health is closely linked to sleep. If you’re suffering from anxiety or depression, it can lead to interruptions in your sleep pattern — making it increasingly difficult to reach REM sleep. Talk to your doctor if you believe you’re suffering from either of these health issues. A game plan to treat your anxiety or depression can help you get better sleep.

8) Exercise

Exercising is great. I would never tell my patients to shy away from a good workout. But depending on your body clock, it might not be the best idea for you to exercise an hour before calling it a night.

The best times to be physically active depend on your chronotype, so you’ll want to have that nailed down before figuring out your gym plan. If you don’t know yours, you can find out here: https://chronoquiz.com

9) You Phone 

Harvard researchers have found blue light — something that comes from our mobile screens — throws the body off its kilter. Instead of helping your mind and body wind down, your phone stimulates your brain and makes it tougher to get a good night’s sleep. 

Of course, it can be fun to lay in bed and scroll through Instagram or read a quick article before calling it a night. But those minutes on your phone are costing you sleep later in the night. Try reading a book and limiting your phone time in the hour before you fall asleep. At minimum, wear blue light blocking glasses at least 90 minutes before bed.

10) Naps

A good 20-minute nap in the afternoon can help us tackle the rest of our day with an extra burst. I know it can be hard to wake up from a little siesta once you’re comfortable, but you don’t want to nap for too long, either. Taking too much of a break during the day can throw your body off and make it that much harder for you to fall asleep at night.

11) Insomnia 

If you’re simply struggling to fall asleep at night, insomnia could be a factor. Insomnia can be amplified by several of the things we’ve just talked about, including alcohol use, excessive napping and a poor sleep environment. If insomnia is persistent you should visit a sleep specialist to determine the cause.

If your bed isn’t helping you fall asleep, be sure to look at the Luma Sleep Hybrid Topper in my holiday gift guide. The topper not only makes your bed immediately more comfortable, but also helps with your body temperature regulation. This could be a good first step towards getting your sleep pattern back on track. 

I hope that this holiday season and every season, you’ll be able to look back on these 11 common reasons we have difficulty sleeping and find a solution that works for you.

Sweet dreams and happy holidays!
Dr. Michael Breus