Exhausted but Can’t Sleep? Here Are the Top 3 Reasons Why
by Kevin Moran, Co-Founder of Beam
Most people find Dream after weeks, months, or even years of not being able to sleep. They’ve tried chemical sleep aids, they’ve overdone it on the Melatonin, and they’re still barely sleeping and waking up like the living dead. That’s when they usually try Dream—which is a natural (and delicious) alternative that ends up working like a charm.
Over the years, I’ve talked to hundreds of people who have trouble sleeping, and I always hear a hint of confusion in their voice. “I’m exhausted,” they’ll tell me, “but as soon as I hop into bed, I can’t sleep.” In this article, I’ll dive into a few physical and psychological reasons why sleep sometimes doesn’t come easy, and why the body seems to play tricks on us as soon as bedtime hits.
One common reason for difficulty falling asleep is stress. Chronic stress can lead to what’s called a “hyperarousal state”, described by HealthCentral as, “A 24-hour state of physical and mental tension.” Arousal itself isn’t bad—our brains have evolved to notice threats in our environment and send signals to our body to allow it to mobilize, fast. But there’s a difference between the threat posed by a saber-toothed tiger staring you down and the threat posed by an unexpected email from your boss. In a hyperarousal state, where every little thing is perceived as a threat, the energy your brain uses to mobilize your body doesn’t have anywhere to go—you’re not going to run away from your laptop at full speed the way you would the tiger. Without proper techniques to release stress, that energy impacts your nervous system, increases cortisol and adrenaline levels, and makes sleeping difficult.
2. Sleep anxiety
You know that phenomenon of going to bed absolutely exhausted, only to find you can’t sleep? Your mind starts racing with thoughts about how early you have to wake up and how tired you’re going to be in the morning, all while the clock ticks, the hours slip away, and the sun rises? Yeah, it’s one of the worst feelings ever. In a medically reviewed article by writer Winnie Yu, this is defined as sleep anxiety. “‘Becoming anxious about sleep is actually a form of performance anxiety,’ says Alexander Obolsky, MD, a psychiatrist who specializes in trauma and stress, and assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago.”
Sleep anxiety, and anxiety in general, is surprisingly common. According to Cleveland Clinic, “Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the U.S., affecting about 40 million people. Research suggests that most people with mental health disorders such as anxiety also have some form of sleep disruption.” If you hop into bed only to stress about sleeping, consider that you might be experiencing sleep anxiety.
3. Sleep inconsistency
Another factor that can contribute to difficulty falling asleep is irregular sleep patterns. Inconsistent sleep habits, including staying up late and waking up early, can confuse the body's natural circadian rhythm and make it challenging to fall asleep and stay asleep. We tend to think we can simply “catch up” on sleep whenever we want to, but the truth is that the body works best when you have a consistent sleep schedule, meaning a set bedtime and wake-up time. Sticking to a schedule sets your circadian rhythm up for success, allowing your body to get sleepy all by itself at certain times, and allowing you to wake up refreshed.
Emergency plan for sleepless nights
Sleep inconsistency is something you’ll have to plan for, and it means setting up your night- time schedule so that you’re in bed and asleep by a certain time.
But if you’re sticking to bedtime and still find yourself sleepless because of hyperarousal or sleep anxiety, here’s your Plan B.
Step 1: Get up
Do not, I repeat, do not stay in bed hoping that simply being horizontal is going to help you get to sleep. If you can’t sleep, get up out of bed and do something relaxing in another room. If you’re constantly associating your bed with intense anxiety about sleep, you’re never going to be able to relax enough to actually drift off. Separate yourself from the bedroom for a little while to take some of the pressure off.
Step 2: Take Dream
Dream is not a cure for anxiety, but it is a highly effective natural sleep aid with 5 ingredients that can help your body to relax, wind down, and drift off. It also supports each stage of sleep, so you can get more out of the hours you do get.* Dream Powder is clinically shown to help 93% of people get a more restful night’s sleep and wake up feeling refreshed.
Step 3: Breathwork and meditation
Before we made Dream, just breathing was my secret weapon for sleep. While you’re waiting for your Dream to kick in (which will take roughly 30-45 minutes), consider doing some breathwork. According to the University of Toledo, “Deep breathing and relaxation activate…the parasympathetic nervous system, which sends a signal to your brain to tell the anxious part that you’re safe and don’t need to use the fight, flight, or freeze response.” The parasympathetic nervous system is your best friend on nights when you’re experiencing sleep anxiety. There are hundreds of videos online that can lead you through relaxing breathwork for sleep. Meditation can also help, and there are just as many meditation videos for sleep on YouTube or Spotify. However, if you find your meditations getting too heady or you find that spending that time going inward is causing more racing thoughts (this happens to me sometimes) then pause the track and go back to breathing.
Step 4: When all else fails, get some perspective
One of the most crucial components of sleep anxiety is the thoughts you think. When you’re stressing out about not being able to fall asleep, remind yourself it’s normal to have a few bad nights. Nothing bad is going to happen. You might wake up grumpy, and the day might be harder than usual, but life will go on. Repeat to yourself:
This is normal.
I will be OK.
I’ve had sleepless nights before, and I’ve gotten through them.
I always like to give myself a little reward for getting through a sleepless night and a tough morning. Maybe you’re going to take a break after work and let yourself watch your favorite movie. Maybe you get to skip the gym tonight. Maybe you’ll stop by the store to pick up your favorite dessert. Whatever motivates you to get through the day, let yourself have it. This will make “the day after” more tolerable, and it also might decrease sleep anxiety in the future.
Try these tactics out and let me know if they work for you. However, if you’re experiencing persistent difficulty falling asleep, it is important to speak with a doctor or sleep specialist to determine the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
Here’s to better and better sleep!