Can’t get to sleep and don’t know why?

Every now and again we all have one of those nights where you just can’t sleep.

You really want an early night and a good night’s sleep but for whatever reason you just don’t.

Instead you just lie there, wide awake for what feels like hours. Knowing that any hope of a good night’s sleep is disappearing.

Sometimes you’ve just got to write it off as an unfortunate one off.

But when this happens with clients I always like to do a little detective work to see if there are any reasons why it might have happened, and how we can hopefully reduce the chances of it happening again.

Here are some of the reasons I frequently see:
(these might be helpful if you regularly struggle with your sleep too)

Lack of daylight


Getting exposure to daylight – particularly in the morning – plays an important roll in regulating our circadian rhythm. This is our body’s internal clock.

If you’ve had a lazy Sunday where you’ve not left the house for example, this can be a reason why you’re having trouble drifting off.

You’ve not had any daylight or even any fresh air.

Next time you have a lazy day like this try to include a short walk at some point in the day and a little time outdoors.

Lack of exercise


If you’re used to training a lot or even just moving a lot, then suddenly have a day where you do nothing can leave you feeling restless in bed.

Again, try including a bit of a walk during the day. Or even some active recovery work like some stretching or foam rolling.

Too much caffeine


Caffeine is a stimulant and it can effect you long after you’ve finished that cup of tea or coffee.

To be safe, avoid drinking caffeine after midday, even if you think you’re pretty tolerant to it.

And if you’re having a cuppa in the afternoon, make it a decaf.

A great little tip on this that can help with sleep is to have a mug of camomile tea before bed or one of the sleep teas most supermarkets now sell.

Too much time on your phone too close to bed time


For most people their phone is the last thing they look at before going to sleep and the first they look at when they wake up.

There’s a big problem with this though, particularly in terms of getting to sleep.

Our screens emit bright LED light. What the LED light is doing is interfering with our body’s release of melatonin which is a hormone that helps our body know when it’s time to sleep.

In his book, ‘Why We Sleep’ Matthew Walker describes a study that found that participants who read iPads in bed delayed the release of melatonin by up to three hours. So rather than signalling to their bodies to go to sleep around midnight, it was being delayed until the early hours.

If you scroll on your phone just before going to sleep, then have trouble getting to sleep, you definitely want to rethink this.

Try to stay off your phone avoid screens for that last hour of the day. And if that’s not realistic, you can put night-mode on lots of phones now as well as manually reducing the brightness of your screen.

Read a book instead!

Working late


If you work late into the evening then it’s expecting a lot to go from working to then restful sleep in a short period of time.

One minute your eyes are staring at a bright screen and your brain is trying to work and the next you want it to switch off.

It’s little wonder you end up lying wide awake in bed with all sorts of thoughts still running through your head. Your brain is still in work mode.

Ideally try to finish work earlier.

If this isn’t possible try going for a short walk, reading a book, doing some stretching or yoga, taking a bath, anything to help you wind down.

Think about transitioning from work to sleep rather than suddenly going from one to the other.

Training too close to bedtime


If you’ve had a late night game of squash or been to an up-tempo class later in the evening, then you’re probably going to be feeling pretty wired and alert.

In the same way that you need to wind down from working late, you’ll need to do the same from your game or workout.

Exercise can be a great way of helping you switch off from work and getting some headspace. But just be cautious of doing anything that’s too intense within an hour or two of when you’d like to go to sleep.

Where you can, schedule these things earlier in the day. And if that’s not possible, follow that advice above when working late to allow you to transition into a more restful and relaxed state.

Eating late


This is personal preference and everyone is different. But if you have a particularly large meal late at night this can cause indigestion which is obviously not ideal when you’re trying to get to sleep.

Try to eat a little earlier when you can so that you have time to digest your food before bedtime. A short walk after dinner can help with this.