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Educational

Educational

Why Can't I Sleep at Night Even When I'm Tired?

By Andrew Ward

Why Can't I Sleep at Night Even When I'm Tired?

Tired but can't sleep? You're far from alone. Chronic sleep problems are one of the world's most pressing problems. Yet, the issue often goes overlooked for one reason or another. 

One of the main reasons people lay awake and wonder why they're tired but can't sleep is because we often don't explore all the possible solutions–and that's understandable. 

The potential solutions are nearly as long as the possible causes of sleep problems. With such a convoluted health issue to explore, it's no wonder that millions of Americans persistently experience bouts of insomnia, leaving them tired all day and somehow awake at night. 

Insomnia and similar sleep-related conditions affect all ages, with our nightly sleep demands changing as we age [1]. In 2020, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 14.5% of adults experienced trouble falling asleep, with 17.8% of respondents reporting difficulty staying asleep [2]. 

Combining 2020 US census figures [3] and CDC findings, roughly 47.7 million Americans struggled to sleep in 2020, while 58.7 million experienced difficulty staying asleep. Worldwide, the figure is no doubt in the billions. 

With much of the world's population exhausted all day and unable to sleep at night, we must tackle this issue now. Otherwise, a series of short- and long-term symptoms, disorders, and diseases could arise. 

Continue reading to learn more about this issue, including potential options to address insomnia and other sleep issues. 

 

Our Bodies and Sleep 

Wondering why you're so tired but unable to sleep has been a pressing concern for ages. For hundreds of years, humans have researched sleep, unearthing critical breakthroughs that help further our understanding [4].

 

Sleep is a complex, vital function for every human and virtually every species. A good night's rest is like giving your body the 100% recharge it needs. 

 

We aren't machines, but think of yourself like your phone, computer, or other essential electronics: Sure, you can function on 70, 50, or even 10%, but for how long? Starting the day at full strength allows you to cycle through the day, winding down at the end and allowing the recharging process to repeat in the evening. 

 

If we don't fully recharge, we increase our risk of experiencing fatigue or drowsiness. While the two are often interchangeably used, the terms are different. When drowsy, a person feels the need to go to sleep. Fatigue is when someone experiences low energy and a possible lack of motivation [5].

 

Both fatigue and drowsiness are signs that a person requires additional sleep. Without fully recharging, humans become thrown off their circadian rhythm, an internal system that manages numerous critical functions, including sleep and the brain's natural melatonin production [6]. Many call this vital function the body's internal clock. 

 

Possible Reasons Why I Am Tired But Can't Sleep

With your circadian rhythm thrown off, feeling exhausted but unable to sleep properly is just one of many unwelcome and possibly life-altering side effects. 

 

The first step to addressing fatigue or drowsiness is to identify the cause. According to the Mayo 

Clinic [7], some of the common roots of sleep problems include: 

  • Caffeine: Caffeine consumed in the late afternoon or evening will keep people awake into the night. Stimulants, such as soda, coffee, tea, and other beverages, can all keep a person up. 
  • Late-night eating: A small snack may be fine, but anything heavy may cause physical discomfort when laying down, as well as acid reflux, bloated stomach, or heartburn.  
  • Medical conditions and sleep-related disorders: Medical conditions, including chronic pain, cancer, Parkinson's, acid reflux, and many others, have been attributed to loss or disrupted sleep. Sleep-related disorders such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome are regularly associated with inability to sleep. 
  • Medications: Some prescribed drugs have been linked to producing insomnia or other side effects that increase the potential for sleep problems. 
  • Mental health: People with mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), often experience disruptions in their sleep. 
  • Stress: The daily concerns everyone faces can play a significant part in keeping us awake at night, possibly leading to insomnia.
  • Travel: Travel is prone to causing jet lag, a sensation caused when crossing over time zones. The disruption to our circadian rhythm can lead to sleep disruptions for days or longer.   
  • Work schedule: Like traveling, changes in work schedules may lead to our body's internal clock becoming confused or going off course.
  • Poor sleep: The above issues highlight some of the core reasons for poor sleep, a term often used as a catch-all to describe people's specific sleep issues. 

 

The chances of insomnia tend to increase as we age. The rising odds are due to changes in our sleep patterns and daily activity levels. Changes in health, often associated with medication use, are another common cause of insomnia in older adults. 

 

In addition to aging, other factors can increase sleep issues: 

  • Gender: Monthly menstruation and older-stage menopause create sleep-related problems for women for much of their lives.
  • Mental health: Stress, PTSD, and numerous other mental conditions are linked to sleep deprivation and disruptions.
  • Irregular schedule: Changing your work or daily schedule can disrupt your circadian rhythm 
  • Overworked: Many cultures emphasize hard work, including excessive workdays with little time off, which can lead to undersleeping. 

 

Teens, children, and even infants can experience insomnia as well. These factors are also complex, including hormonal and puberty-related causes, including a desire to stay awake longer due to a delayed circadian rhythm. 

 

Sleep-Related Symptoms and Side Effects

Research over the years has revealed that sleep loss affects us in the short term, with chances of long-term detriments growing as the problem persists. 

 

Wide-ranging effects on a person's cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and nervous systems include [8]: 

  • Anxiety symptoms
  • Cardiovascular disease 
  • Decrease jor or school performance
  • Delayed reaction time 
  • Diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance
  • Hypertension
  • Increased accident risk
  • Increased risk for conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease
  • Increased use of alcohol and other substances
  • Obesity
  • Various mental health disorders

Possible Solutions 

If you're tired all day but can't sleep at night, you must address the problem with the correct solution. 

 

Speaking with a trusted medical professional about your sleep problems is always wise. Doing so will give you the best idea for a possible solution suited to your unique situation and needs. 

 

In many cases, changing one or more habits solves the problem. Some of the regularly recommended solutions include [9] [10]: 

  • Improved sleep hygiene: This is a wide-ranging solution, which could include reducing daytime naps, late-night eating, caffeine consumption, and many other daily habits. These fixes are often associated with short-term insomnia rather than chronic cases. 
  • Stimulus reduction: Reducing screen time is essential, especially when lying in bed. While many find reading in bed helpful, some research suggests it could stimulate some rather than reduce their insomnia. 
  • Relaxation methods: Meditation, yoga, and other guided relaxation efforts have been linked to reducing stress and anxiety while promoting sleep in many cases. 
  • Medication: Various medications may be recommended by a professional or bought over the counter without a prescription. Some drugs are meant for specific conditions, while others may be intended as a short-term solution. Consult with a medical professional beforehand whenever possible. 

 

Chronic or more extreme cases may need additional therapy options:

  • Stimulus reduction therapy: Those struggling to reduce stimulus usage on their own may need to work with a professional to improve sleep and address possible tech addiction or other associated conditions. 
  • Sleep restriction therapy: In some cases, a person's sleep may be restricted to boost their sleep while improving chances of consolidated sleep. Daytime sleepiness side effects have been reported. 
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTi): A comprehensive collection of methods used to treat insomnia, including education, relaxation and therapy. 

 

Solving the "Why Can't I Sleep" Conundrum 

Wondering to yourself, "Why can't I sleep even though I'm tired," is an unfortunate thought conjured up by billions across the world every night. Feeling exhausted but unable to sleep is a short-term nuisance with long-term adverse health potential. 

 

With insomnia and sleep-related problems on the rise, the US and much of the world need to think long and hard about this pressing health concern. 

 

Finding the source of the sleep problem is the best place to start answering why you can't sleep at night, no matter how tired you are. You can begin exploring solutions by first pinpointing the problem(s). This process may seem manageable on your own, but skilled professionals should assess chronic issues and conditions. 

 

When we can address the crucial question, "Why can't I sleep," we can then improve our daily performance and long-term health prospects. Admittedly, finding the answer is often a multi-step process, but it is an endeavor no one should put off for another day.

 

Citations

  1. CDC Data and Statistics
  2. Sleep Difficulties in Adults: United States, 2020
  3. Data and Statistics
  4. The study of human sleep: a historical perspective
  5. Fatigue
  6. Circadian Rhythms
  7. Insomnia  
  8. Extent and Health Consequences of Chronic Sleep Loss and Sleep Disorders  
  9. Sleep Medicine: Insomnia and Sleep
  10. Clinical Guideline for the Evaluation and Management of Chronic Insomnia in Adults

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