Why Can’t I Sleep?

I think almost all of us have struggled with winding down from our day, lying in our beds, preparing to drift into a night of peaceful sleep but instead finding ourselves lying in bed awake, tossing and turning, afraid to look at the clock as it becomes a constant reminder of how much sleep we won’t be getting. We wake up drowsy and exhausted only to repeat the same vicious cycle the next night.


For some, this is only an occasional occurrence but for many it’s an all too constant event. Whether intermittent or persistent, the feeling of frustration remains the same. And as I mentioned in my previous blog post Why Sleep? , a good night’s rest is extremely important in so many aspects of life…. So why can’t we sleep???


The answer to that question is multi-factorial with no simple answer, however it is important to discuss as nearly 33% of the population reportedly suffer from insomnia.


In this post we’ll discuss two of the more common types of insomnia and their most common causes, as it’s important to figure out what’s causing your sleep problems to aid in adequately addressing them.

Sleep Onset Insomnia

  • This is insomnia that occurs at the initiation of sleep. You’ve turned off the lights, gotten into bed, closed your eyes but are unable to make the transition from being awake to deep sleep and sometimes end up feeling more awake than you did when you first laid down 
  • While it is normal to have some lag time between closing your eyes and falling asleep, a sleep latency (or time from attempting to fall asleep and actually falling asleep) of longer than 20 minutes is generally consistent with insomnia 
  • This type of insomnia may be acute (occur suddenly) or may be chronic (occurring for a long period of time) 

Sleep Maintenance Insomnia 

  • This is insomnia that results in difficulty staying asleep 
  • More common in the middle aged and elderly population
  • Can occur 1 or 2 hours after falling asleep or result in very early morning awakenings 
  • May also occur acutely or be more chronic in nature

So what are some common causes?

There are numerous things that lead to both sleep onset and maintenance insomnia. A sudden life event can be an acute stressor that leads to transient insomnia lasting just a brief period; however in some instances transient insomnia can become chronic. The stress and physical symptoms that come along with it can make it difficult to quiet your mind and drift off into peaceful sleep.

Probably the most common cause of insomnia is anxiety. Whether you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder or just anxiety regarding day to day events, those racing thoughts and constant worrying can make falling asleep right away nearly impossible. 


What’s more frustrating is that in the world of sleep, anxiety begets anxiety. Meaning, not being able to fall asleep at night often leads to anxiety surrounding falling asleep and conditions you to become even more anxious during the time you should be most relaxed, which further worsens insomnia.

There are also lifestyle habits that can lead to or worsen insomnia such as excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption during the day.

A major cause is generally poor sleep hygiene which I address in future posts, such as cell phone use and television viewing right before bed, and going to bed at different times each night. 

Of course, we can’t forget about medical conditions that can lead to insomnia as well. As a physician, I’ve seen many patients with some of the common sleep disorders that, when properly treated, report a significant improvement in their sleeping habits. With that being said, if you are suffering from insomnia, definitely be sure to discuss this with your primary doctor to rule out some of the treatable disorders of sleep or even medication side effects that lead to insomnia. 

This is by no means a comprehensive look at insomnia but definitely important information regarding some of the more common types and causes. If you feel that any of the information in this blog describes you or what you’re going through, be sure to read my next post How Can I Cure My Insomnia: 7 Tips to Ensuring a Good Night’s Sleep for some tips and tricks to help improve your sleep and help you live your best life!

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