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5 Reasons You May Be Struggling To Sleep, Straight From A Sleep Pro

What you should do when insomnia strikes.

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illustration of irritated woman sitting up on bed struggling to sleep
Madison Ketcham
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It’s no secret what a good night’s sleep can do for your mood, energy levels, productivity and concentration. But for many, catching the adequate amount of z’s each night is easier said than done. If you’re no stranger to restless nights, interrupted sleep cycles and puffy eyes come morning, check out what behavioral sleep medicine–certified sleep professional Nicole Eichelberger has to say about the reasons that could be behind your sleep struggles (plus what to do about them).

Eating before bed

Eichelberger recommends avoiding eating large meals a few hours before bed. Why? It can lead to indigestion, heartburn and other uncomfortable symptoms that can make it difficult to fall asleep (and stay asleep). Specific foods can be particularly problematic when consumed before bed, she says. Avoid spicy or fatty foods (they’re hard to digest and can contribute to heartburn), caffeine (a stimulant, it can interfere with sleep) and sugary foods (these cause a spike in blood sugar). If you find yourself needing a pre-bedtime snack, opt for something light and easily digestible, such as a small piece of fruit or a handful of nuts.

Lighting conditions

Does your bedroom bring in too much light? Do you have blinds, curtains or shades? According to Eichelberger, lighting can have a significant impact on sleep, and exposure to certain types of light can interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate sleep-wake cycles. “A dark environment is crucial for melatonin production and good sleep,” Eichelberger says. “Exposure to even small amounts of light, such as from streetlights or alarm clocks, can interfere with melatonin production and disrupt sleep.” Try using blackout shades or an eye mask to cancel light and promote better sleep.

Also, getting enough exposure to natural daylight during the daytime can help you fall asleep at night. “Exposure to natural light during the day can help regulate the body’s circadian rhythm and improve sleep quality,” Eichelberger notes. Try going for a walk or working in a well-lit space during the day to benefit your sleep later.

Screen time

Lying in bed scrolling on your phone, catching up on your favorite nighttime TV shows or responding to emails on your tablet right before bed can all interfere with your sleep. “Exposure to the blue light emitted by electronic devices like smartphones, tablets and computers can interfere with the body’s production of melatonin,” Eichelberger says. “And not only can it delay the onset of sleep and make it more difficult to fall asleep, but it can disrupt the quality of your sleep, leading to more awakenings during the night and less time spent in deep sleep.” Try cutting out screen time at least an hour before bed to avoid such issues.

Stress

It’s normal to have trouble sleeping because you’re thinking about finances, personal relationships or other life issues. Still, it’s important to be mindful of your stress triggers so you can manage them properly. “Stress can trigger the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, and high cortisol levels can increase alertness, making it more difficult to relax and fall asleep,” Eichelberger points out. If you find yourself becoming stressed out before bed, get into the habit of maintaining a presleep routine — this can mean reading a book, lighting a candle, taking deep breaths or soaking in the bathtub.

Alcohol intake

Although alcohol may initially make you feel drowsy, it can interfere with the quality of your sleep and cause frequent wake ups, Eichelberger says. “Alcohol consumption can reduce the amount of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep you get. It’s a critical stage of sleep for memory consolidation, learning and emotional regulation,” she explains. Plus, alcohol is a diuretic and can lead to dehydration, which can further disrupt sleep and lead to increased daytime sleepiness and fatigue.

What do you do when you can't sleep? Share your tactics in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Health