12 Reasons You Can’t Sleep When You’re Tired

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Could something be wrong with me if I’m always tired but can’t sleep? There could be something wrong with you if you’re always tired but can’t sleep. There may be a sleep disorder at play, or your circadian rhythm is off.

Your lifestyle and sleep hygiene matter, too. It’s important to take a whole-body approach to get to the root of your sleep issues.

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Tired vs. Sleepy

Tiredness could mean you feel fatigued from a long day at work, a strenuous workout, even a day out in the sun. If it’s a chronic problem, it could lead to a lack of energy, brain fog, and sluggishness throughout the day.

Sleepiness is when you have difficulty staying awake. A good night’s sleep typically takes care of any daytime sleepiness. Fatigue and waking up without energy can mean more than a lack of sleep. Your habits or sleep-wake cycle could be to blame.

Your Circadian Rhythm

Your circadian rhythm is your internal clock. This internal process runs in the background in a 24-hour cycle. The sleep-wake cycle component is affected by changes in light in your environment. 

As the day grows darker, your body starts to secrete melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Any interruptions to these natural processes can disrupt your circadian rhythm and lead to side effects like poor sleep quality.

Defining Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to positive sleep patterns and habits that support healthy sleep. It encompasses everything from your sleep schedule to your environment to your pre-bedtime routine. Good sleep hygiene is imperative for consistent sleep.

Let’s take a look at what could be behind your sleeplessness or affecting your sleep quality on a nightly basis. We’ll include strategies for addressing these obstacles beyond the sleeping pills.

1. A Less-Than-Optimal Sleep Environment

Examining your sleep environment is an easy first step to improve many common sleep issues. The key is to get your body ready for sleep by setting the right conditions. Here are a few simple tips to optimize your sleep environment:

  • Lower the temperature. The ideal temperature for sleep can vary by person, but most feel more rested in slightly cooler temperatures. This may be because core body temperatures drop during the first phases of sleep. A cooling mattress pad can help regulate temperatures if you find your environment too warm.
  • Keep it dark. Darkness signals your body to release of melatonin to get ready for sleep. Too much light before bed can have the opposite effect. Aim to get your bedroom as dark as possible and filter out artificial light. Blackout curtains and an eye mask can help.
  • Reduce noise. Intermittent noise throughout the night can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. White noise is helpful for some, especially if you’re in an urban environment. Silence is best. Try a good pair of earplugs if you’re having trouble blocking out sound.

2. The Wrong Nap Strategy

If you can’t keep your eyes open during the day, a nap can help you get back to feeling like yourself. The key is taking the right kind of nap. If you plan ahead and set an alarm, you can take taps without having trouble sleeping later.

Keep the following in mind to nap with intention:

  • Take naps before 2pm. Napping too late in the day can lead to wakefulness when it’s time to go to bed.
  • 5-15-minute naps will give you immediate energy that will dwindle after about 2 hours.
  • >30-minute naps may result in some immediate grogginess, but a longer period of wakefulness after. 

3. Circadian Misalignment

Your circadian rhythm responds to light, darkness, and a consistent sleep schedule. Disruptions to your sleep schedule thanks to jet lag from travel, night shift work, or simply not getting enough sleep for any reason can cause circadian misalignment.

This doesn’t just affect how you feel the next day or the quality of your sleep. 

Circadian misalignment can lead to hormonal imbalances, mood changes, and disrupt your glucose metabolism. This is why sleep is so important if you’re already dealing with health conditions like type 2 diabetes or other metabolic disorders.

4. Electronic Devices

Your internal clock is easily affected by light. If you’re on your devices right before bed, that blue light coming off those devices can suppress melatonin and worsen sleep problems. You may actually be tricking your body into thinking it’s not time to power down for bed. 

Depending on what you’re doing on those devices, you may be increasing your anxiety, too. Try to stay away from devices for up to 2 hours before bed to improve the quality of your sleep. If that’s not possible, blue light blocking glasses may help.

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5. Anxiety

If you have an anxiety disorder, you’re at higher risk for sleep disorders like chronic insomnia. Too little sleep can then make those kinds of mental health conditions worse and boost levels of cortisol, or the stress hormone, in the body, trapping you in a cycle of bad sleep. 

If your mind is racing before bed, it can be hard to get your body into a state of relaxation that’s best for quality sleep. Try incorporating natural remedies for anxiety into your daily routine to support not only better sleep, but an improved quality of life.

Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques, get enough regular exercise and eat a balanced diet. A melatonin supplement may also relieve short-term anxiety symptoms.

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6. Depression

Depression and depressive symptoms often cause poor sleep quality. Sleep conditions like insomnia and hypersomnia, or excessive daytime sleepiness, are frequently reported in people with depression.

If your sleep is affected by depression, talk to your doctor about available options to treat your condition. They may recommend antidepressants, cognitive behavioral therapy, neurofeedback therapy, or other supports to help you feel better and sleep better.

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7.   Caffeine Intake

Caffeine’s half-life is anywhere from 2 to 12 hours. Depending on your individual metabolism and strength of the brew, you could be feeling the effects of your morning cup well into the late afternoon.

If you like an afternoon cup of coffee, it may be keeping you from solid rest. Try to avoid any caffeine consumption at least 6 hours before bed. If you’re sensitive to stimulants you may benefit from bumping that up to at least 8 hours.

8. Diet

Your diet has far-reaching impacts on overall wellness, and that includes your sleep. For better sleep, avoid too many processed foods and high-sugar snacks. Spicy foods before bed could also keep you up and lead to gut issues like heartburn or indigestion.

Research also shows that certain foods like healthy carbs and melatonin-rich foods like cherries, fish, and nuts support better sleep. If you’re not sure where to start, a diet rich in fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains is great boost for overall wellness.

9.  Substance Use

It may seem like you fall asleep faster after drinking alcohol, but that sleep isn’t high-quality sleep. Heavy drinking can suppress REM sleep, the sleep phase that plays an important role in memory and emotional processing.

Drug use and abuse can also have disruptive effects on your sleep. There is a correlation the other way, as well. People with sleep disorders are at a higher risk of developing substance use disorders as they look for ways to improve their sleep.

10. Sleep Disorders

Why am I tired all day but not at night? If you’re tired all day but not at night, you may have a sleep disorder like insomnia. Chronic insomnia means you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting quality sleep on a regular basis.

Causes could include everything from environmental stressors to temporary changes to your sleep environment. Addressing those issues can dramatically improve your insomnia. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is another potential treatment that shows promise.

There are a variety of additional sleep disorders that can be causing your sleep problems:

  • Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that can cause you to stop breathing while you sleep. Loud snoring, daytime sleepiness, and dry mouth are common indicators that you may have a form of sleep apnea. Therapies vary based on the cause of the condition.
  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition that causes a tingling sensation in the lower extremities and the urge to move your legs. It can disrupt sleep because most only feel relief when they get up to walk or kick their legs. Medications may help.
  • Narcolepsy causes excessive daytime sleepiness that can make it hard for people to stay awake during daily tasks. Treatment options may include stimulants or behavioral interventions that include a regular nap schedule. 
  • Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) or delayed sleep-wake phase sleep disorder is caused by delays to your internal clock of 2 hours or more. It can make it hard to get to get to sleep or wake up at your desired time. Melatonin and light therapy can help. 

Can I force myself to sleep? You can’t force yourself to sleep. If you’re dealing with chronic insomnia, sleep experts don’t recommend staying in bed and agitating yourself further. 

You can get out of bed if it’s for a quiet, low-impact activity that could help you relax. Avoid activities that you associate with the daytime, stimulate your body, or require lots of light — that includes watching TV or browsing the internet on your chosen device.

Should I just stay awake if I can’t sleep? You shouldn’t just stay awake if you can’t sleep, but you should attempt to relax your mind and your body. Sleep experts recommend choosing an activity that won’t engage you to the point that it’s hard to stop.

11. Hormonal Imbalance

Hormonal imbalances and fluctuations can cause sleep problems, particularly in women. 

Changes in estrogen and progesterone during menstrual cycles, perimenopause, and menopause can cause side effects like mood changes, anxiety, and night sweats. These can all affect sleep and increase levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Melatonin, the primary hormone connected to your circadian rhythm, decreases with age. Fluctuations of melatonin can make it difficult for your internal clock to regulate itself. 

Thyroid imbalances can also contribute. Your thyroid is responsible for secreting hormones that regulate a number of bodily processes, including metabolism and digestion. Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism overlap with sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea.

You can support your hormonal health by:

  • Increasing protein, fiber, and healthy fats in your diet
  • Eating less sugar
  • Reducing stress
  • Taking supplements

At PrimeHealth, we offer Women’s Health Groups for women dealing with symptoms of hormonal imbalance. We can help you support your hormonal health with evidence-based strategies, testing, and group sessions.

12. Other Medical Conditions

In addition to sleep disorders and mental health conditions, other medical conditions can impact sleep patterns. Respiratory conditions, chronic pain, skin issues, neurological disorders, and digestive problems are all linked to poor sleep.

Treatment for these conditions, including a medication regimen, can often cause unintended side effects like insomnia. It’s important that you talk to your doctor if you think medical conditions are affecting your sleep. 

Poor sleep and sleep deprivation can also contribute to chronic illness over time. That includes cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and mood disorders. Poor sleep can also contribute to mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, down the line. 

Is your sleep schedule a problem?

Most sleep experts agree that sleep quality is more important than sleep quantity. If you wake up feeling refreshed catching up on rest on Sundays, that can be a strategy to avoid the negative side effects of chronic sleep deprivation.

That said, many also agree that it’s best to keep a more consistent sleep schedule whenever possible for overall health. It’s always best to align with your body’s natural circadian rhythms, as circadian desynchronization puts you at greater risk for a variety of health problems.

When to Seek Help for Sleep Problems

If you think you may have a sleep disorder, reach out to your primary care doctor or seek out medical advice from a sleep specialist. If you’ve tried to make changes to your sleep hygiene and are still suffering from low-quality sleep, support is available.

At PrimeHealth, we work with Colorado patients who want more than symptom management. We offer an individualized approach to overall wellness. 

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