UGH, why can't I sleep? 9 things keeping you awake

Nothing but Zzzs

White bed with pink wall art on blue background
(Image credit: Dormify)

Having trouble catching those Zs, bestie? As a writer, I only manage to get six hours of sleep, as I tend to cultivate some of my best ideas at night and spend the majority of my time on my phone researching. There are tons of reasons you may be lying awake at night — racing thoughts, restless energy, or even just sleeping without a pillow could all be culprits.

One of my goals for this year is to be able to sleep eight hours straight and not experience any trouble throughout the night. While I work this out for myself, I thought it'd be worth providing readers with tips on how to sleep throughout the night for eight hours without a hiccup, too 

With this in mind, I spoke to certified clinical sleep health specialist (CCSH) and CEO of The Solution is Sleep LLC Dr. Angela Holliday-Bell about why many of us can’t sleep properly. She explained several factors that could affect our sleep and offered loads of good tips on how to better our sleeping patterns. 

Reasons you may not be sleeping

1. Consuming Too Much Caffeine 

Caffeine is widely used for its stimulating properties, like fresh, homemade coffee. The issue with caffeine when it comes to sleep is that it has a long half-life of about five hours. The half-life is the amount of time it takes for half the amount consumed to be cleared from your system. So, after five hours, half the amount of caffeine is still in your system, and after ten hours a quarter of the amount is still in your system, and so on. So if you consume it too close to bedtime,  it can be affecting your ability to fall asleep. 


Holliday-Bell recommends limiting the amount of caffeine you consume to the smallest effective dose and try not to have any after 12pm.

2. Blue Light Exposure  

Light is the strongest factor influencing your circadian rhythm. The blue wavelength of light in particular has the strongest alerting effect on your circadian rhythm. This means that exposure to blue light before bed causes you to feel alert and also delays your natural melatonin release. 


As electronics like smartphones, televisions, and computers are rich in blue light, Holliday-Bell feels it’s best to avoid use of these products within one to two hours of your bedtime.

3. Not Having a Consistent Bedtime Routine 

A bedtime routine is a great way to promote relaxation and calm your mind in preparation for sleep. Keeping a consistent routine also helps your brain to connect that routine to sleep, making it a more efficient process for you. 


The best way to help you get sleepy at the same time each night is to keep a consistent bedtime and routine. You can even replicate a professional turn-down service, to recreate a luxe hotel at home.

4. Alcohol Consumption 

Many people choose to use alcohol as a nightcap because of its sleep-inducing properties. While it’s true that alcohol is initially sedative, as it makes you sleepy,  it is very quickly metabolized or broken down and after that point becomes a stimulant. Therefore, drinking alcohol too close to bedtime often leads to broken, poorer quality sleep. 


Holliday-Bell recommends limiting alcohol consumption within three to four hours of bedtime.

5. Temperature too High in Your Sleeping Space 

Your body temperature has to decrease by one to three degrees F in order to facilitate the transition to and maintenance of sleep. If your sleep environment is too warm, it can lead to poorer quality sleep and middle-of-the-night wakings. 


Holliday-Bell recommends keeping your room’s temperature between 62 to 68 degrees F (the optimal range per research) or at least decreasing your room temp by one to two degrees from what’s comfortable for you during the day.

6. Light Entering the Room at Night 

Again, light is the strongest factor influencing your circadian rhythm causing you to be alert. Even if your eyes are closed, your retinas can detect light in the room.


Holliday-Bell suggests using blackout curtains/blinds or a blackout sleep mask to keep ambient light from interfering with your sleep at night.

7. Tossing & turning or Aches & Pains 

This could be due to improper support from your current mattress. The best mattress to sleep on varies depending on several factors such as sleeping position, weight, and personal preference. 


It’s important to have a mattress that provides the proper support and keeps your spine in a neutral alignment while you sleep. If you can’t get comfortable at night or are waking up with aches and pains, it may be time to update your mattress.

8. Racing Thoughts 

Racing thoughts are a common reason that people struggle to fall asleep at the beginning or middle of the night. 


One way to help manage these thoughts is to keep something called a “worry diary.” You do this by setting aside a 10-15 minute period every day (ideally at least one to two hours before your bedtime) to write down all of your worries and to-do list. This gives your brain ample time to process these thoughts during the day so that it’s not trying to do that while you sleep at night.

9. Lack of a Morning Routine 

What you do during the day has a significant effect on how you sleep at night. 


To promote good sleep, it’s important to wake up at the same time every morning to reinforce your circadian rhythm. It’s also helpful to get natural sunlight exposure within one hour of waking to also reinforce your circadian rhythm and promote nighttime melatonin release and adding physical activity to your morning routine can help promote deeper quality sleep.

Aida M. Toro
Freelance Writer

About Me:

Hello! My name is Aida M. Toro and I am a freelance writer that loves cultivating stories about amazing people, fashion, interiors, art, and food. I currently write for Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam, The House Magazine, Hobnob Magazine, The C-Word, and Real Homes. I live in West New York, New Jersey, which is literally a 10-minute ferry ride or 20-minute bus ride away from New York City. Although I was born and raised in West New York, I consider NYC my home, as I believe it to be the place where all dreams come to fruition, and of course, spend most of my time in. When I’m not writing, I love perusing the city streets and taking snaps with my iPhone of street art along with random things, scoping out new restaurants as well as their spaces, shopping at some of my favorite stores, spending time with family and friends, walking my cockapoodle Benji, and working out at Lifetime or DOGPOUND, which are some of the top fitness spaces in Manhattan and overall the U.S.