Why can’t I fall asleep?

Unfortunately, this question is asked too frequently by too many people. The problem of sleeplessness, although often preventable, can cause undue misery for many of us.

Numerous things can make it harder to sleep, including the following:

  • Stress or anxiety
  • Pain
  • Health conditions, such as heartburn or asthma
  • Certain medications
  • Caffeine (from coffee, tea or soda)
  • Untreated sleep disorders, such as insomnia or sleep apnea

Following are some common myths about sleep:

Sleep is just “down time,” when a tired brain gets to rest. WRONG. Sleep is an essential process for repair of mind and body.

Adults need less sleep as they get older. WRONG. Whereas infants require 17 hours sleep per night, the average adult, regardless of age, requires at least seven hours sleep per night.

You can “catch up” on sleep on your days off. WRONG. One bad night’s sleep can be made up; however, a week of poor sleep cannot be corrected during a weekend.


Consequences of Not Getting Enough Sleep:

  • Mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety
  • Physical impacts, such as drowsiness, headache and pale skin
  • Long-term physical problems, such as reduced immunity, increased appetite and changes in weight
  • Cognitive impairment, such as reduced attention, alertness and judgment.

Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep:

  • Boosts brain function, concentration and productivity
  • Reduces risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Helps with weight management
  • Maintains a healthy immune system
  • Lowers risk of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.


How Can I Tell If I Have a Sleep Disorder?


  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Still feeling tired after a good night’s sleep
  • Sleepiness during the day; difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Frequent loud snoring
  • Pauses in breathing; gasping while sleeping
  • Tingling or crawling feelings in arms or legs
  • (If any of these symptoms are present, consult a health care practitioner.) 


  • Arrange sleeping place so that it is dark and quiet.
  • Make sure your bed is in a sleep-only zone
  • Lower your thermostat; the best temperature for sleep is 60 to 65 degrees.
  • Avoid nicotine and caffeine several hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid late-afternoon naps.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine; try to sleep and wake at the same time.
  • Take a hot bath or shower before bedtime.
  • Try relaxation activities such as reading or soft music listening.
  • If you are unable to fall asleep, get out of bed and move to another room.
  • Read a book or listen to music until you start feeling sleepy. Then go back to bed.

See your health care provider if nothing you try helps. They can determine if you need testing, and can help you learn to manage stress.


Health.Gov, My Healthfinder: “Get Enough Sleep.”

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, NIH Publication No. 11-5271 (Revised Aug. 2011): Trouble Sleeping: “What Does Sleep Do For You?,” “How Much Sleep Is Enough?,“Sleep Disorders” and “How Can I Tell If I Have a Sleep Disorder?”

Louise Whiteside, a longtime resident of D.C. and Maryland, now resides in the Colorado Rockies. She loves memoir writing, bargain hunting, cooking, country music, theater, and travel.

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