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Why Can't I Sleep At Night Even When I'm Tired?

02 May, 2023

Sleep is crucial for your health, but it’s not always easy to get enough of it. Many people struggle to fall and stay asleep — so if you feel like you’re not even getting close to your 40 winks, know that you aren’t alone.

While it might be vaguely comforting to know that there are a lot of people out there suffering from the sleep blues, not being able to sleep when you’re tired can make it hard to get up in the morning, concentrate throughout the day and function at your best.

Understanding exactly why you can’t sleep at night can help you tackle those pesky underlying issues and finally get a restful night. This Hormones and You blog post is going to take a look at why you can’t sleep when you’re tired, the science of sleep, what impacts it and how you can get enough rest each night. Let’s dig in.

The science of sleep

Sleep is a complex physiological process that helps your body and mind function. There are two main types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM (NREM) sleep.

REM sleep is vital for cognitive and emotional processing as well as regulating your moods.

When you enter REM sleep, you have intense brain activity and start to dream. During REM sleep, your body is in a state of paralysis — which might seem terrifying, but it stops you from acting out your dreams.

NREM sleep is divided into three stages, each characterised by a different pattern of brain activity. Each stage of NREM sleep lasts around 5–15 minutes — you have to go through all three stages before reaching REM.

In stage 1, your eyes are closed but you can easily wake up. In stage 2, you fall into a light sleep. Your heart rate decreases and your body temperature starts to drop. This is how your body gets ready for REM sleep.

Finally, you reach stage 3 which is when you fall into a deep sleep and your body begins to repair and recover from your day. Your body will start to regenerate tissues, build bones and muscles and strengthen your immune system.

The benefits of sleep

The exact reasons why we need sleep are not entirely understood, but it is clear that sleep is essential for good health and well-being.

Some of the benefits of sleep include:

  • Improved cognitive function

  • Better physical health

  • Emotional well-being

  • Increased creativity — REM sleep is thought to be important for creative thinking and problem-solving

  • Improved physical performance and enhanced sports recovery

Circadian rhythm

To understand sleep, it also helps to know more about circadian rhythms. Your circadian rhythm is an internal biological clock that regulates bodily functions such as sleep. It’s a 24-hour cycle that’s controlled by cells within the brain and helps your body adjust from day to night.

Your circadian rhythm plays a big role in regulating your sleep as it signals your body when it’s time to wake up or fall asleep. During the day, your body will produce higher levels of cortisol (sometimes known as a ‘stress hormone’) to stay awake and alert. Then, as the day goes on, it will start to produce melatonin (a hormone that promotes sleep) instead to make you feel sleepy.

The circadian rhythm can easily be disrupted by factors such as shift work or jet lag, which can have a big impact on your overall health and sleep quality.

Why can't I sleep at night even when I'm tired?

There can be all sorts of reasons why you aren’t able to sleep even when you’re tired. Finding the cause of your lack of sleep can help you wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day.


Stress has a significant impact on your sleep quality. When you’re stressed, your body will naturally produce high levels of cortisol. This disrupts your natural circadian rhythm — making it a whole lot harder for you to sleep.

Stress can even cause insomnia. Whether that’s through messing up your natural sleep cycle or because you’ve got too many thoughts racing through your mind at night, your sleep will most definitely be affected.

Being too stressed can also cause physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach problems — both of which can make it impossible for you to relax.

Disrupted sleep-wake cycle

Having a disrupted sleep-wake cycle will throw off your body’s natural sleeping pattern. This disruption can be caused by many things such as working late night shifts, pulling an ‘all-nighter’ or even just going to bed later than usual.

For example, working night shifts can cause your body to become programmed to be more alert and awake at night — leading to a reversal in your circadian rhythm. When your circadian rhythm is out of sync with your environment, it can make sleep completely out of reach. Your body will also start to decrease the amount of melatonin that it produces, so it’s no surprise that you aren’t sleeping.

Poor sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene is the term used to describe healthy sleep habits you can practice to help promote good sleep. This encompasses your sleeping environment as well as your bedtime behaviours.

If you are struggling to sleep at night, even if you are tired, it may be a sign of poor sleep hygiene. Poor sleep hygiene can refer to anything from irregular bedtime, late-night drinking or screen time just before bed, to not getting enough exercise in the day.


Insomnia is actually quite common in the UK, with an estimated one-third of adults experiencing symptoms of it.

Insomnia has lots of possible causes such as stress, anxiety and chronic pain — even drinking caffeine or using your phone before bed can contribute to it.

If you believe that you’re suffering from insomnia, then it’s always best to see your GP for an evaluation. They’ll be able to help you get to the bottom of your sleeping problems and refer you to a sleep specialist if they think you need one.

Other medical conditions

Other medical and underlying health conditions can impact your sleep, such as:

  • Narcolepsy: a neurological disorder that affects your brain's ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. This condition can cause you to fall asleep unexpectedly or for long periods.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea: a common sleep disorder where your airway becomes blocked during sleep, causing you to temporarily stop breathing.

  • Restless leg syndrome: a neurological disorder that causes uncomfortable sensations in your legs and an irresistible urge to move them.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD): a digestive disorder where your stomach acid flows back into the oesophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms.

  • Menopause: this can cause hot flushes, night sweats and other symptoms that disrupt your sleep.

What to do when you can't sleep

When you can’t sleep, it can seem like the best thing to do is simply lay there with your eyes closed and wait for sleep to wash over you once again. But in reality, this might not be very helpful at all.

If you can’t sleep, then these top tips may help you drift off into dreamland:

  • Practice relaxation techniques — deep breathing and meditation can really help you to calm your brain and relax your body.

  • Reduce your anxiety and stress — while easier said than done, managing your mental health is vital for a good night’s sleep. Try speaking with a mental health professional or a close friend to at the very least get your worries off your chest.

  • Avoid blue light — devices like phones and tablets give off a blue light which disrupts your circadian rhythm. Turn off any devices you would normally use at least 30 minutes before bed, and you’ll soon see the difference.

  • Read — picking up a book can be a great way to help unwind and relax. Just make sure the book isn’t too exciting or you may end up staying up all night to finish it.

  • Create a sleep-enhancing bedroom — keep your room quiet, cool and dark to promote better sleep. Try using an eye mask to block out light and earplugs or white noise to block out sound.

  • Take a warm bath or shower — this can help relax your muscles and prepare you for sleep.

  • Take melatonin capsulesmelatonin regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Taking melatonin supplements could help improve your sleep quality as well as help you to fall asleep in the first place.

Remember, everyone is different, so what works for one person may not work for you. If you have tried these tips and still can’t sleep, talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist for personalised advice and treatment.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, you don’t have to suffer in silence. At Hormones and You, we offer melatonin capsules to help you regulate your circadian rhythm and let you get the sleep you need each night.

Take our online consultation now and begin your journey to banishing your sleepless nights for good.

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