Why Can’t I Sleep? Experts Answer the Most-Searched Sleep Question

Why Can’t I Sleep? Experts Answer the Most-Searched Sleep Question featured image
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We’ve all rolled over in the middle of the night, desperate for answers as to why we’re wide awake. Recent research from Exhale Wellness found that “Why can’t I sleep?” is the number one sleep-related question searched, with over 51,000 average monthly searches. So, we asked our experts the question we’re all wondering: Why can’t we sleep?

The number-one reason people can’t sleep is stress

You probably saw this one coming, but every expert we talked to agreed stress is the number-one culprit behind sleepless nights. “The most common reason for sleep issues is mental and emotional stress, as it inhibits two key factors that need to be in place to sleep well—a quiet mind and low cortisol levels,” says sleep consultant Kelly Murray.

“Stressful thoughts trigger the sympathetic nervous system (aka fight or flight) as our bodies perceive these thoughts as a threat to our lives. When we are stressed, our bodies produce excessive amounts of cortisol so that we have enough energy to flee or fight,” says Murray. Excessive cortisol is one of the main enemies here as it makes it hard to calm the body and mind enough to obtain high-quality sleep, she explains. If that’s not enough of a bummer, high cortisol also impairs the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, adds Murray.


If you’re anything like me, alcohol might help you fall asleep at first, but then the rest of my slumber is then a rocky road, and there’s a reason for that. “Alcohol suppresses REM sleep, the deep sleep stage dominating at 3-5 AM,” explains sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo. Alcohol also contributes to the rebound effect, “the exaggerated rise of awakening hormone cortisol after alcohol in an attempt to ‘rebound’ from its depressive effects upon the nervous system.”

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person’s airway becomes blocked during sleep, causing them to stop breathing for short periods. “This can lead to disrupted sleep and daytime fatigue. Sleep apnea can have many causes, including obesity, smoking, and certain medical conditions,” says behavior analyst and sleep expert Nicole Shallow on her website. “If you have difficulty breathing or gasp for air at night or feel daytime fatigue and you have tried everything, speak to your family doctor about getting a sleep study to rule out sleep apnea.”

Prior use of sleeping pills

This may seem counterintuitive, but Arrezolo says while sleeping pills can help you sleep one night, it can actually lead to more sleeplessness and bouts of insomnia in the following nights. She says this is possible with both short and long-term use of sleeping pills.

Restless leg syndrome

Restless leg syndrome is exactly as it sounds—a condition that causes an irresistible urge to move your legs, which can make it challenging to fall asleep and stay asleep. According to Shallow, it can have many causes, including iron deficiency, hormones, pregnancy and certain medical conditions. Reducing caffeine intake and creating a relaxing sleep environment may help with this, but Shallow recommends speaking to an expert about a holistic approach.

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