Skip to content

9 Reasons People Struggle To Sleep + What To Do, According To Experts

Sarah Regan
Author: Expert reviewer:
Updated on May 9, 2022
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN
Expert review by
Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN
mbg Vice President of Scientific Affairs
Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN is Vice President of Scientific Affairs at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's degree in Biological Basis of Behavior from the University of Pennsylvania and Ph.D. in Foods and Nutrition from the University of Georgia.

Sleep is essential. When we don't get enough of it, we feel the effects. But occasionally, it can be difficult to fall asleep—even when we're tired. We asked sleep experts about the most common barriers to getting a great night's rest, plus got their tips for how to fall asleep faster. Here's what they had to say.

This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.

What healthy sleep feels like.

A healthy sleeper will have a regulated circadian rhythm (i.e., they go to bed and wake up around the same time every day), be able to fall asleep in less than 20 minutes, and stay asleep throughout the night without waking up more than a couple of times.

Plenty of lifestyle factors can keep us from reaching this deep, blissful sleep night after night. Here are a few of the ones that are within our control, and what to do about them.

This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.

Possible reasons you occasionally have trouble falling asleep:


Are you stressed?

Any sort of situational stressor, like a change in jobs, for example, can affect sleep, Nishi Bhopal, M.D., a psychiatrist specializing in sleep medicine, tells mbg. And according to board-certified sleep specialist Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., it's not uncommon for stress to strike right before bed, which causes autonomic arousal and, in turn, elevates your heart rate.

Even having an eventful, thought-provoking day can keep you up at night, naturopathic sleep doctor Catherine Darley, N.D., adds, and make it difficult to turn your mind "off."

This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.

What to do about it:

First and foremost, find some sort of pre-bed activity that keeps your heart rate down. As Breus explains, you need a heart rate of around 60 beats per minute or less to slip into slumber.

Bhopal recommends stress management strategies like meditation and yoga. "It's also helpful to remind yourself that it's temporary and that your body wants to sleep," she adds.

Darley also suggests spending 10 minutes writing down thoughts with the intention of "putting them to bed" for the night, about an hour before you'd like to fall asleep.


Are you drinking too much caffeine?

Caffeine has a very long half-life, meaning it takes much longer than you might think to get it all out of your system. As Breus notes, if you have a cup of coffee at around 2:00 in the afternoon, "by 10:00, up to 50% of that caffeine could still be swimming around in your brain."

This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.

What to do about it:

Cut the caffeine as early as possible. If you're in desperate need of an afternoon pick-me-up, try opting for a small cup of green or white tea rather than another 16-ounce coffee. It might be a struggle at first, but you may just find once the caffeine isn't keeping you up at night, you don't need so much of it the next day.


Are you traveling?

Ever traveled somewhere new and had a hard time falling asleep once you arrived? Breus says that this is known as the "first-night effect."

"Any time you're in a new environment, half of your brain basically stays on high alert because it's not familiar with the environment, like the sounds and smells and the light," he explains. On top of that, jet lag could, of course, be playing a role if you're traveling across time zones.

This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.

What to do about it:

Breus is not a fan of melatonin as a nightly sleep supplement, but he notes that taking it when you're jetlagged can help get your circadian rhythm back on track.

Doing what you can to make your new sleep space more relaxing will also help, which we'll touch on later.


Are you eating a lot before bed?

Bhopal notes that eating a heavy meal within three hours of bedtime can have adverse effects on sleep. If your body is still busy digesting the large meal, it can't dedicate itself solely to restorative rest.

What to do about it:

You saw this one coming: Eat dinner earlier, ideally giving yourself three or more hours before bedtime. If you're in need of a bedtime snack, avoid anything fatty, spicy, or acidic, and go for light, magnesium-rich snacks instead.


Is your bedroom conducive to sleep?

Everything from noise to light to temperature can influence your state of mind as you get ready for rest. As Darley notes, too much light at night suppresses melatonin production, with Breus adding that it's also very difficult to fall asleep when you're hot.

What to do about it:

Bhopal suggests keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. "You can consider using an eye mask, blackout curtains, or pink noise," she adds.

Darley also likes to set a phone alarm for an hour before bed, to remind herself to turn off bright electronics. She and Breus note that when putting down the tech isn't an option, you can invest in a pair of quality blue-light-blocking glasses.

Some people also enjoy utilizing room scents to help create a zen-like atmosphere. While pillow mists aren't proper sleep aids, some people enjoy their soothings notes as they wind down at night.


Are you drinking alcohol before bed?

One might think that some wine before bed helps you fall asleep, but according to Breus, booze actually disrupts sleep. Research shows1 that drinking alcohol too close to bed reduces sleep quality and sleep duration and increases sleep disturbances.

What to do about it:

Breus explains that there's nothing wrong with enjoying a drink or two if you time it out correctly. It takes the average person one hour to digest one drink, he says, so he recommends limiting yourself to two drinks a night, having a glass of water with each, and stopping drinking within three hours of bedtime.

That way, by the time you hit the hay, the alcohol should be out of your system and you'll have sufficiently rehydrated.


Are you exercising before bed?

We know, we know—you want to squeeze in a workout whenever you can. But depending on who you are, exercising too close to bedtime might get you too wound up. As Bhopal tells mbg, vigorous exercise raises the core body temperature and can make it harder for some people to fall asleep.

What to do about it:

By all means, get your workout in—but aim to do so at least three to four hours before bedtime, Breus suggests. "Everything you can do to lower your core temperature before bed is smart," he adds.


Are you not getting enough exercise?

While you should avoid intense exercise right before bed, you'll still want to get plenty of movement in throughout the rest of your day. As Breus adds, sleep is about recovery, so "if you don't do anything to recover from, your body doesn't need to recover all that much." In short, lack of exercise leaves us with excess energy at the end of the day.

What to do about it:

Exercise daily. Choose whatever movement feels good to you, as you'll be more likely to stick with it. From running and cycling to lower-impact Pilates and yoga, it'll all help you end the day physically and mentally tired.


Do you have a consistent sleep schedule?

Lastly, having a consistent bedtime and wake-up time is essential to keeping a regulated circadian rhythm. When our sleep schedules are all over the place, Breus notes, our bodies don't know when to produce melatonin, the hormone that signals that it's time to go to sleep.

What to about it:

Develop a consistent sleep schedule and stick to it. When figuring out your ideal sleep schedule, Breus recommends looking into your sleep chronotype.

How to fall asleep faster.

With these points in mind, one of the best things you can do to promote sleep is give yourself plenty of time to wind down.

"It's really important to calm your nervous system in the evening and train your brain to fall asleep at the same time each night," Bhopal says, adding that it'll help to start your wind-down routine at the same time every evening.

When it comes to pre-bed activities that will help you relax, Bhopal recommends calming showers or baths, some light stretching, and calming breathing practices. Other science-backed relaxation strategies include reading a physical book, journaling, or taking a calming supplement.* (If you need recommendations, here are our all-time favorite sleep supplements.)*

Finally, you don't want to get into bed until you're actually sleepy so your body doesn't associate your bed with being awake.

What to do if you're really struggling.

It's normal to have trouble dozing off from time to time, but when a lack of sleep starts to interfere with your waking life, it could be a sign of a larger issue.

"The daytime impact could be in any of these domains: physical performance including driving, cognitive performance, physical health like blood pressure, or mental health such as an increase in anxiety," Darley tells mbg.

Bhopal and Breus both add that if it takes you 30 minutes or more to fall asleep or you wake up more than three times a night for a total of 30 minutes at least three times a week for more than three months, you might have insomnia and would benefit from talking to a medical professional.

In that case, "it's a good idea to talk to your doctor about underlying causes and to find a course of action that's appropriate for your situation," Bhopal says. She's a big proponent of cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) for those experiencing a lot of stress or fear around sleep.

The bottom line.

Being sure to prioritize your sleep hygiene and routines will help you not only fall asleep and stay asleep but wake up the next morning ready to tackle the day.

Sarah Regan author page.
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.