There’s nothing worse than crawling into bed feeling so tired you swear you could sleep for a decade, only to find yourself physically unable to fall asleep. All day long, you looked forward to the moment you could head home and go to sleep, and now that you’re finally in bed with the lights off, you somehow can’t? Life can be so very cruel.
But here at Byrdie, we’re in the business of helping you learn how to live your healthiest, most beautiful life, and that includes falling asleep at a reasonable hour. We’re just as committed as you are to finding out why in the world you can’t fall asleep, so we got in touch with three top sleep experts to learn 10 common but little-known factors contributing to your insomnia. Meet the three people here to help you get some shut-eye: Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D.; Rachel Wong, OSO sleep research expert; and Anna Persaud, Ph.D. and CEO of This Works. Keep reading to learn the most likely but often overlooked reasons you can’t fall asleep.
Keeping a systematic bedtime and wake-up schedule improves your body’s ability to fall asleep and actually feel refreshed the next day. “Try to avoid varying your bedtime by more than one hour from one night to the next,” says Robbins.
“Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but too close to bed can interfere with the body and its ability to cool down and slip into deep sleep,” says Robbins.
That doesn’t mean you get to skip working out altogether, though. In fact, Wong says this can be an even bigger mistake. “When you exercise, it makes your body tired,” he says. “Likewise, when you sleep, your body restores itself and enhances the results from your exercise.” One study showed that regular exercise made participants sleep longer and spend more time in slow-wave sleep, “the stage when you’re consolidating memory and processing information,” says Wong.
That said, we’re not suggesting you wake up at 6 a.m. and run a 10K every day. “An easy fix is to add some movement and activity to your day; it doesn’t matter what kind,” says Wong. Even a brisk 20-minute walk during your lunch break can help. “Find an activity you enjoy, and make it a consistent part of your routine,” he says. “Your quality of sleep will benefit.”
“Sure, wine does wonders to calm nerves and alleviate the day’s stresses, but drinking it to help you fall asleep might actually make your sleep quality worse,” says Wong. Research shows that alcohol can help you fall asleep at first. But drinking alcohol within 90 minutes of bedtime reduces REM sleep, “the time of night when we dream and when the body actually restores itself,” says Wong. So have your booze with dinner, but as a nightcap, Wong recommends choosing something “a little sleep-friendly,” like chamomile tea.
Naps are a beautiful thing and a healthy part of the human sleep schedule. “But for most individuals, the ideal duration for a nap is 20 minutes,” says Robbins. Up to 90 minutes is okay if you’re sleep deprived, but if you nap too much too often, it could disturb your ability to fall asleep at bedtime. Same goes for sleeping in too late on the weekends, which can interfere with your internal body clock.
The best solution is to wake up on the weekends as close to your typical alarm as possible and to make up for lost sleep with short afternoon power naps.
News flash: We often underestimate how much our mood can affect our ability to fall asleep. If you find yourself consistently going to bed stressed or angry, Robbins recommends getting out your grievances by writing them down on paper. We’ve personally experienced positive benefits from “gratitude journaling.”
“Reserve your bed as a sanctuary to sleep,” says Robbins. That means watching Netflix, cruising Instagram, Skyping with your mom, playing Sudoku—it’s all off-limits. “This is so your mind and body can become conditioned to understand that when you slip between the covers it is time for bed,” Robbins adds. (Sex is exempt from this rule, of course.)
Using your smartphone in bed can particularly disturb your ability to fall asleep. “Our devices emit wavelengths of light that are heavier on the blue light side of the spectrum and lacking in the natural light spectrum,” says Wong. This blue light throws off your body’s melatonin production.
Try experimenting with making your bedroom an iPhone-free zone, and see how it affects your sleep.
When it gets dark outside, the body’s core temperature drops to prepare for sleep. “If your room, sheets, or pajamas are too warm, this can block or delay some triggers to fall asleep,” says Wong.
The ideal room temperature for sleep is between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. So try lowering your thermostat, cracking a window, swapping your down comforter for lighter bedding, or sticking one foot out from under the covers. “This old trick is actually quite efficient in cooling the body,” Wong says.
This can also raise your core body temperature, impacting melatonin production, says Persaud. If you’re a committed night bather, try taking a warm shower instead of a hot one, or take your shower a little earlier in the evening.
“Working up to the time you want to go to sleep can cause your body and mind to become too stimulated,” says Robbins. “Falling asleep is a process, so unwind in the time leading up to bed.” Try putting the work down an hour before bedtime, and instead read a book, take a warm bath, or do some gentle stretching exercises.
“An often overlooked aspect of poor sleep is actually right under most people’s noses—er, bodies,” says Wong. The mattress industry recommends switching out your mattress every seven or eight years, but Wong says you should be able to tell when your mattress is no longer comfortable, providing enough support, or allowing your body to breathe.
If you’re not thrilled with your mattress, there are tons of contemporary options available. Robbins recommends trying an airweave mattress, which is made of AirFiber technology to allow for better airflow and a lower core body temperature. Wong suggests OSO, “a mattress that gives you a soft and firm option in the same bed so your support preference can change over time without needing a new bed.”
We recommend the Leesa mattress, a luxury foam mattress that you order online and receive in a box at your door. (If you’ve heard of Casper, it’s a similar idea, but our personal preference.)
Next up, find out what your sleep position says about you.