I want to sleep but my body won’t let me! Unfortunately, many of us are suffering from this kind of problem. It could be because of bad sleep habits, a misaligned circadian rhythm, or a medical condition like insomnia. Here we will discuss briefly why you can’t sleep!
You toss and turn in bed for hours, but you can’t fall asleep even though you’re tired. You’re tired all day, but at night you’re wide awake. Even though you desperately want to be an early bird, your friends and family call you a night owl. On top of that, not getting enough sleep makes you anxious, which makes your “tired but wired” mind even worse and makes it even harder to fall asleep.
If this sounds like you, don’t worry. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Here are some reasons you can’t sleep even though you’re exhausted. From bad sleep habits and a misaligned circadian rhythm to health problems like insomnia, you’ll learn how to get rid of these problems and get your energy back.
How does sleep work?
If you have trouble falling asleep at night, it can help to know how sleep “works.” We’ll explain it using the Two Laws of Sleep: sleep debt and circadian rhythm. The Two Laws are based on the two-phase sleep regulation model, which sleeps scientist Alexander Borbély first put forward in the 1980s. This model explains when, how long, and how sleep is organized.
Sleep debt is how much sleep you’ve lost in the past 14 days compared to how much sleep you need. Sleep debt results from sleep homeostasis, the process by which sleep tension builds up during the day and drops when you sleep at night. The sleep homeostat is like a seesaw that always wants to be in the middle. This is how:
From the moment you wake up, a chemical called adenosine, which makes you sleepy, slowly builds up in your brain. This makes the pressure to sleep keep going up and up all day.
Near bedtime, the pressure to sleep is at its highest, which pushes the sleep homeostat to one side. This is one reason why you feel sleepy at night. The other is the circadian process, which we’ll talk about next. This is also one of the main things that help you fall asleep.
When you get enough sleep, your brain has time to eliminate the adenosine that has built up and reset the homeostat.
When you don’t get enough sleep, the extra adenosine makes you groggier in the early hours and sleepier during the day. These are common short-term effects of having a sleep debt. However, if that sleep debt isn’t paid back over time, acute sleep deprivation can turn into chronic sleep deprivation. As a result, your overall health worsens, and you’re more likely to get heart disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, or cancer.
So far, you’ve learned how sleep pressure helps you fall asleep at night and what happens when you don’t get enough sleep. But things aren’t that simple. Remember, we haven’t even gotten to the second part of the story yet.
For one thing, if the pressure to sleep keeps going up from the time we wake up until we go to bed, why don’t we fall asleep during the day (or, if we nap, why can we fall asleep easily at some times and not at someone else)? Also, if sleep pressure goes away when we sleep, why don’t we wake up earlier, like at 3 a.m., instead of when the alarm goes off?
The solution to these issues lies in your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s internal clock. It helps control when and how long you sleep and stay awake.
The best way for your circadian rhythm to tell time is through light, especially natural, bright light. When you wake up, light hits your eyes, which starts a chain of interconnected processes in your body. For example, the master clock in your brain sends out circadian alerting signals, which make you more awake to counteract the increasing pressure to sleep.
At the same time, the body makes more cortisol, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which make you feel more alert and awake. Your core body temperature is also controlled by your internal body clocks (CBT). From 4 a.m. on, CBT gradually gets stronger to get you ready to wake up.
Circadian-alerting signals keep going up over the day. In the early to late afternoon, your homeostatic drive is strong enough to make you want to sleep, but your circadian drive isn’t strong enough to stop it. This is why you feel less energized and more tired after lunch. The RISE app calls this the “Afternoon Dip.”
Now that your energy drop is over and it’s getting close to nighttime, your circadian-alerting transmissions are in full effect to counter the peak sleep pressure. Your CBT also peaks around 6 p.m. to help you stay awake and feel like you have a second wind. In the RISE app, this is the second of your two energy peaks. Normal circumstances make it nearly impossible to go to sleep during this time.
Your body clock would sync with the cycle of light and dark outside. So, when dusk comes, and it gets dark, the signals that tell the body to wake up slowly stop. Your CBT also doesn’t help you fall asleep.
The so-called “dim light melatonin onset” tells your body to start making the hormone melatonin, which helps you sleep, about two to three hours before you go to bed (DLMO). When the rate of making melatonin peaks, which is when DLMO starts, it begins your Melatonin Window rising.
According to an article in the Psychiatric Times from 2012, when melatonin production increases, the circadian rhythm for sleep’s strong tendency gets stronger. This, along with having the most sleep pressure at bedtime, helps you fall asleep.
The CBT lasts until 4 a.m., at its lowest during the night. Sleep scientist Derk-Jan Dijk and his team found that the circadian rhythm for sleep potential “peaks at or shortly after,” which is when you are most likely to fall asleep. This will keep you asleep until morning (or whenever your alarm clock goes off).
They also found that circadian rhythm doesn’t go up until 4–8 hours after the CBT’s lowest point. This is why you don’t wake up in the middle of the night but mostly sleep straight through until morning (barring middle-of-the-night awakenings).
When sleep homeostasis and the circadian rhythm are in sync, you can see that they work together to keep you mostly awake during the day and help you fall asleep and stay asleep at night. If you can’t sleep even though you’re tired, it’s probably because you don’t have good sleep habits, your body clock is out of sync, or you have a health problem or a combination of all three.
I Want to Sleep But My Body Won’t Let Me!
It can be hard to find out why you can’t sleep or why your body won’t let you in bed even though you’re tired, but it’s usually because of bad sleep habits, a misaligned circadian rhythm, a health problem, or a combination of all three.
Even if you don’t get a good night’s sleep (or a few), that doesn’t mean your sleep health is in danger. We all have bad days, and sometimes it’s hard to sleep. This could be because you have more work than usual or care for a sick child.
Even though short-term sleep problems can be frustrating, it’s essential to look at your long-term sleep health and how you sleep every day. It helps that a person’s acute sleep debt is calculated based on the last two weeks instead of the last night.
Still, a lack of sleep that lasts for a long time is something to worry about. It doesn’t take long for sleep debt and its harmful effects of building up. It’s easy to go from short-term effects like less energy and a bad mood the next day to long-term impacts like a higher risk of metabolic health problems.
If you haven’t been sleeping well for a while, look at these possible reasons and see which one(s) apply to you the most.
Why you can’t sleep even you are tired?
Sleep experts say that our unhealthy relationship with technology is often the cause of us being too tired. As a result, many of us have stopped doing what we used to prepare for a good night’s sleep.
Instead of making downtime a priority, we watch TV shows we missed, scroll through social media, or answer work emails.
Sleep problems and tiredness are also caused by a rise in anxiety and insomnia, a reliance on too much caffeine, and, in women, changes in hormones.
Anxiety and stress
Stress and anxiety can make it hard to fall asleep.
At night, many people, especially those with anxiety disorders like panic disorder, find themselves in a state of psychological hyperarousal, thinking about the past and making terrible predictions.
Anxiety at night is especially bad because it throws off your internal 24-hour clock, called your circadian rhythm. Throughout the day, the body naturally releases the stress hormone cortisol. Levels peak soon after waking up and slowly drop in the evening. However, this system is thrown off by stress and worry at night, which raises cortisol when it should be going down to make room for melatonin, your sleep hormone. This change in your body keeps you awake and alert, which could be why you’re tired but can’t sleep.
Poor sleep and mental illness are hard to understand because they often go hand in hand. This means that anxiety and stress can make it hard to sleep, leading to more anxiety and trouble sleeping. Depression and sleep problems are linked similarly.
If you’re a woman and you’re tired but can’t sleep at night, it could be because your hormones are changing. Changes in hormones just before menstruation can decrease REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep, lower melatonin production, affect mood, cause painful menstrual cramps and migraines, and raise body temperature. These things can make it harder to fall asleep and wake up at night.
If you’re tired but can’t fall asleep, it could be because you’re going through perimenopause. As you get closer to menopause, your levels of oestrogen and progesterone, hormones that affect your sleep-wake cycle, start to drop. This can affect the quality of your sleep. These hormone changes can also make you sweat at night and feel more anxious, making it hard to sleep even if you’re tired.
If you need five strong cups of coffee to get through the day, your caffeine habit may keep you up at night. Caffeine is a common stimulant known to increase sleep latency (how long one takes to fall asleep), decrease sleep quality, shorten total sleep time, and make it harder to fall asleep4.
The half-life of caffeine is also twelve hours. This means that if you drink anything with caffeine after noon, you’ll still have a quarter of it in your system when you go to bed, which could make you feel tired but “wired” and unable to sleep.
Signals from light and darkness set your body’s internal circadian rhythm. For example, light tells us to move, and darkness tells us to rest. On the other hand, using electronics too close to bedtime throws off this natural biological rhythm.
Screens and other electronic devices give off blue light, which stops your body from making melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep. The blue light from your devices tricks your brain into thinking it should be fully conscious, making you feel awake when you should be tired5.
Web content could also be stimulating and make you feel more stressed before bed, which isn’t good for getting a good night’s sleep.
Insomnia is usually defined as having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep all night, or getting up too early in the morning. You can have acute insomnia, which lasts for a few weeks or days, or chronic insomnia, which lasts for more than three months.
There are many reasons why you can’t sleep. People with insomnia often get stuck in a cycle of not sleeping and feeling anxious because they start to feel bad about their bed and bedroom, which then become places where they stay awake instead of sleep. Because of this mental block, people with insomnia often feel tired but can’t fall asleep.
Circadian rhythm disorders
Our circadian rhythm, a 24-hour internal clock, is in sync with natural light and darkness cues and hormones in our bodies. This makes us daily, or able to work during the day and sleep at night.
Circadian rhythm disorders happen when the light-dark cycle and the body’s internal 24-hour clock are out of sync. And if your internal body clock doesn’t work right, you may have trouble sleeping and feel tired during the day.
Circadian rhythm disorders can be mild, like jet lag, or more serious, like shift work disorder. If you work night shifts, your schedule can be at odds with your body’s natural rhythms. Because of this, the traditional 9–5 work hours work best with our sleep–wake cycle. However, anything outside this window can confuse our internal system for keeping track of time.
I want to sleep but my brain won’t stop talking to itself
If you can’t fall asleep because you can’t stop thinking, it might be because of how you live. Trying to keep up with the many demands of modern life is exhausting. It can be hard to get 7–8 hours of sound sleep every night between work, career goals, personal development goals, socializing, parties, and exercise goals.
Social jet lag is a problem many people have these days. This is what happens to your body when you drink on Friday night and then go to a salsa party until 3 a.m. or when you play video games on Saturday and then go to Sunday brunch.
No matter why you stay up past your bedtime several times a week, you will get jet lag. In this case, it’s social, but it has the same effect as changing time zones: it throws off your body’s natural circadian rhythm, leaving you tired and not well rested.
If you can’t stop thinking about your schedule or what you have to do tomorrow, make a list of things you need to do before you go to bed. You must remember that you should sleep at least seven hours at night. For that, you have to clean your memory before going to sleep. We will discuss it also here!
Things to help you sleep
Insomnia, or trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, can be caused by several different things. Depression, chronic pain, changes in hormones, medications, or medical conditions like thyroid disease, acid reflux, or asthma can also be caused.
No matter what is making your mind race, there are a few tasks you can do to try to calm it down and get a good night’s sleep. Watch this video and read on for easy ways to deal with insomnia, like reading a book or listening to soothing sounds.
Make a To-do List
A 2017 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that worrying about unfinished tasks in the future can make it hard to sleep. The study showed that making a list of things to do in the future helped people fall asleep much faster than making a list of things they had already done that day. The faster the people fell asleep, the longer and more detailed their lists were.
Try writing a detailed list of things you must do for at least five minutes before going to sleep.
Get Out of Bed
It may not be a good idea to stay in bed and try to fall asleep. This may teach your brain to connect your bed and bedroom with being awake. If you see that for more than 20-30 minutes, you are awake; you should get out of bed and do something else.
If you’re trying to sleep, but your brain won’t let you, you could go to bed too early. Different people need different amounts of sleep. Everyone is different, and some bodies only need six or seven. If you see that you need more than nine or ten hours of sleep, there may be something wrong with you, and you should talk to your doctor.
According to the CDC, the blue light that digital screens give off can make it harder to fall asleep. So instead, reading a real book can be a great way to keep your mind busy.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, reading in bed should be limited to no more than 20 minutes. If you’re still asleep after that, get out of bed and find another place to read until you’re ready to sleep.
Listen to a Podcast
You can listen to podcasts or audiobooks instead of reading if you don’t want to turn on a light or strain your eyes.
Podcasts and audiobooks still follow the same rules as books, though. First, find a subject that is neither exciting nor sad (lay off the heated political debates and murder mysteries, for example). And if you can’t fall asleep right away in bed, get up and listen elsewhere.
Try to listen calming sounds
There isn’t a lot of good research on sound therapy, but it might be worth a try for some people. For example, you could buy a white noise machine or download an app with soothing sounds to make the sounds you miss or love. They might help make the place where you sleep more comfortable.
A white noise machine or app might remind you of more peaceful times and take your mind off whatever is bothering you.
Pay attention to your breathing
Simple breathing exercises are another way to quiet your mind. Your mind is going to go back to other things, but it’s important to keep bringing it back to your breathing, in and out. A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that deep, slow breathing can also slow down your heart rate. This can be helpful if you are worried or stressed about something in particular.
You can practice diaphragmatic breathing even when you are lying in bed. Try this method for deep breathing from sleep.
Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Take a two-second breath through your nose, feel your stomach grow, and then gently push on your stomach as you slowly let out your breath. Repeat.
Eat a light snack with carbs
Some foods should not be eaten right before bed. Eating a lot of protein can slow digestion and make sleeping hard. Also, you should avoid processed cheese, salami, and pepperoni, which can make the brain release a hormone called norepinephrine.
But a light carbohydrate snack, like a small serving of popcorn or whole-grain crackers, may help you sleep if you can’t. This is because carbs cause your brain to release serotonin, a sleep hormone. If it’s been hours since dinner, a small snack might also take your mind off your empty stomach.
If you’re too tired to sleep but can’t, you might be too excited to fall asleep. In this case, try relaxation techniques, like the ones in the RISE app, to help you calm down, relax, do exercises and get ready to sleep. Try to fix bad sleep habits, a misaligned circadian rhythm, insomnia, or an underlying medical problem, each of which has its own set of solutions. But if your problem persists after all of these, don’t take much time to visit a doctor or a physical therapist to see the exercises.