Tired But Can’t Sleep? Here’s Why!

Exhausted man sitting up in bed

Is there anything worse than a sleepless night spent tossing and turning? Few things are more frustrating than feeling tired all day but unable to sleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. We’ve all been there, and there may be a few different reasons why we experience short-term bouts of insomnia. 

Insomnia can leave you feeling exhausted, forgetful, emotional and worse …  so, what gives? Here’s why you may be feeling tired but unable to sleep at night. 

Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep

Person sleeping on the couch undef a blanketPerson sleeping on the couch undef a blanket

Beyond simply feeling exhausted, there are a few other telltale signs that you’re not getting enough sleep and may have insomnia. 

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that most adults will experience short-term at some point in their life (i.e., lasting for just a few days or weeks). Typically, the onset of short-term insomnia comes from stress, a traumatic event or a big life change. Symptoms and signs to look for include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Waking up frequently during the night
  • Waking up too early and not falling back asleep
  • Not feeling rested after a night’s sleep
  • Experiencing daytime tiredness
  • Feeling irritable, depressed or anxious
  • Having difficulty paying attention or concentrating
  • Experiencing ongoing worries about sleep

Sleep Quality vs. Sleep Quantity

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “quality not quantity,” before. Spoiler alert: this applies to your sleep, too! Sleep quality differs from sleep quantity in that it measures how well you’ve slept – not how long. Because the truth is, it doesn’t matter if you were in bed for eight hours if the majority of that time was spent tossing, turning and waking up frequently.  

It’s nearly impossible to achieve quality sleep when you have interrupted sleep. In fact, it would be better to get a mere five hours of sleep if it were deep, restful, restorative sleep – AKA quality sleep – than to spend those eight hours tossing and turning. 

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What is Quality, Restorative Sleep?

So, what is sleep quality? Sleep quality is measured by a few different variables:

  • What time you go to bed
  • How quickly you fall asleep
  • Time spent asleep compared to time spent awake while in bed
  • How often you wake up or move during the night
  • Your overall total sleep time 
  • How much deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep you’re getting
  • Deep sleep and REM sleep are the most important phases of the sleep cycle. Deep sleep is the most restorative type of sleep. It should ideally make up 15-20% of your total sleep time. 

REM sleep is associated with dreaming, memory and creativity. Where deep sleep restores, REM sleep re-energizes – your mind and your body. Typically, you get more REM sleep during the latter half of the night. For ideal sleep quality, REM should make up anywhere from 5 to 50% of your total sleep time. 

If you wake constantly, then REM or deep sleep becomes interrupted which will negatively impact the quality of your sleep. 

6 Common Culprits for Restless Sleep 

Understanding some of the most common culprits of restless sleep can help you to identify the factors or habits in your own life that may be impacting your sleep. Here are a few to consider:

1. Poor Sleep Hygiene

Person lying in bed and scrolling through their phonePerson lying in bed and scrolling through their phone

2. Sleep Environment

Sleep hygiene is a set of practices designed to get you your best sleep. This can look different for everyone, as we all have different needs, preferences and sleep styles. Some examples of poor sleep hygiene include: 

  • Not having a set bedtime
  • Blue light exposure before bed
  • Eating too late at night
  • Working before bed 
  • Scrolling social media

Basically, anything too stimulating should be avoided when you should be winding down – simple enough, right?

4. Alcohol and Caffeine

Woman drinking a cup of coffeeWoman drinking a cup of coffee

Your bedroom should be your sanctuary. Your mattress and bedding should of course be organic and non-toxic for your health and the planet’s health – but they should also be comfy! Choosing sleep options that are tailored to your needs, like a side sleeper pillow or a mattress with customizable firmness sets you up for more restful sleep.

Additionally, you should keep electronics and other distractions out of the bedroom, and maintain a dark, cool, quiet environment. FYI: the best temperature range for sleep is 60–67 °F. 

3. An Underlying Condition

Your sleep is a big factor when it comes to your overall health – and vice versa! Chronic health conditions or sleep disorders can impact your sleep and lead to insomnia. 

If you suspect a health condition is impacting your sleep, talk to a professional. A medical doctor or dentist can properly examine you for sleep apnea, airway issues and any oral dysfunction that could be impacting your breathing and oxygen levels at night. 

A clean and calm sleep environment to promote better sleepA clean and calm sleep environment to promote better sleep

This one’s a no-brainer: drinking too much caffeine or consuming it too late in the day can keep your heart racing and energy levels high, keeping you up at night. 

But did you know that drinking alcohol before bed can negatively impact sleep, too? Alcohol can impair the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which makes it harder to fall asleep and wake up. It also can cause sleep-disrupting anxiety when consumed in excess. 

5. Lack of Exercise

Regular exercise and movement can help you achieve the restorative, quality sleep you need. But getting too little exercise may result in pent-up energy at night. 

Sleep and exercise work in a cycle: being active each day will likely result in better sleep, and better sleep will result in increased energy, which will help you to keep active! It’s a win-win for you sleep and your health.

6. A Stressful Season

Stress, worry, anxiety, racing thoughts … we’ve all been there. A stressful season is a common reason many adults struggle to fall asleep at night. Finding ways to help manage stress and boost relaxation or release worry are important – and sometimes, all you can do is wait it out!

What to Do When You Can’t Sleep

Rest assured knowing that most short-term bouts of insomnia or sleep woes are completely normal. Don’t let it cause you more worry, stress or anxiety! Use this as an opportunity to improve your habits and create the bedtime routine and sleep space of your dreams. 

And fortunately, there are a number of things that you can do to help yourself when you can’t sleep. For instance, you can try:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Taking magnesium or melatonin supplements
  • Relaxing with essential oils
  • Herbal teas like chamomile or peppermint

And, while it may be tempting to do when you can’t sleep, don’t reach for your phone. (Unless you’re looking for sleep tips on the Naturepedic blog, of course!)

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