When you can’t get the sleep your body so desperately needs, you can become frustrated, irritable, and, obviously, exhausted. If you aren’t getting rest, there’s a reason why. We’ll help you explore the possible causes so you can learn how to support your body and make changes to get the rest you need.
How Does Sleep Work?
It's important to understand how sleep works before we understand what’s causing you to miss out on sleep. Not all sleep is the same, and in addition to needing sleep, you also need quality sleep.
As you sleep, your body naturally transitions into specific sleep cycles.REF#2149 Each cycle lasts between 70 to 120 minutes.REF#2149 These cycles are important because cycling through them supports adequate rest. The average person experiences between three to four of these cycles each night.
During each stage of sleep, the body experiences four different sleep stages, which are categorized into two separate types: non-rem sleep (NREM) and REM. REF#2149
- NREM Stage 1 (N1): This stage is experienced first and lasts anywhere between one to five minutes. REF#2149
- NREM Stage 2 (N2): The second stage of sleep lasts longer, between ten to 60 minutes. REF#2149
- NREM Stage 3 (N3): The third stage of sleep is also known as slow-wave sleep or deep sleep. This stage lasts from 20 to 40 minutes. REF#2149
- REM: The fourth and final stage of sleep is REM sleep. This stage lasts between ten to 60 minutes. REF#2149
Stage 3 sleep is when your body does most of its restoration and repair work.REF#2149 Stage 4 sleep is when your brain rejuvenates, processing and storing new memories and information. For total health and wellness, your body needs to cycle through all four stages of sleep.* That means that cutting your required sleep time short can be a strike against your health.
How Does the Body Prepare for Sleep?
Two functions of the body help prepare it for sleep: the circadian rhythm and the sleep drive. Both of these functions work together to help signal your body that it needs to rest and prepare the body and mind for rest.
Your Circadian Rhythm
The body’s internal clock, also known as the circadian rhythm, is a 24-hour cyclic system that helps govern your body’s alert and sleep times.REF#2150 The circadian rhythm relies largely on light to function.REF#2150 When the sun peeks through your window, your biological clock begins to stimulate wakefulness hormones, like cortisol, in your body. REF#2151
As light fades at dusk, the clock responds by signaling the brain to release sleep chemicals like adenosine and melatonin.REF#2151 Your work schedule, lifestyle habits, and even your location on the planet can all interfere with your circadian rhythm’s ability to function properly.
The Sleep Drive
The need for sleep is also known as your sleep drive. Think of it as an empty tank when you wake up after a good night of rest. REF#2149 As you stay awake and expend energy, the tank fills, causing the body to feel the need to sleep. REF#2149
Sleep drive is also related to sleep debt. Sleep debt is the difference in the amount of sleep your body needs and the amount of sleep you actually get.REF#2152 For example, if you need eight hours of sleep each night but only get six hours for two days in a row, you’ve accumulated a sleep debt of four hours.REF#2152 The only way to repay your sleep debt is with more sleep.REF#2152
The mechanisms of sleep are complex, which helps us understand that not sleeping could result from any small kink in the chain of sleep preparation.
What Can Cause Trouble Sleeping?
Not sleeping affects more than just your level of alertness the next day. Over time, you’ll experience compounded side effects of missing sleep like:
- Fatigue and lethargy REF#2153
- Stress and worry about sleep (over whether or not you’ll fall asleep, stay asleep, or be able to sleep) REF#2153
- Lack of focus and increased errors at work REF#2153
- Loss of emotional well-being, like feelings of stress, sadness, and irritation5
- Never feeling well-rested or energetic REF#2153
Sleep deficiency is also associated with some chronic health conditions, like:
- Heart disease REF#2154
- Obesity REF#2154
- Type 2 diabetes REF#2154
- Stroke REF#2154
- High Blood Pressure REF#2154
Uncovering why you might not be sleeping is essential to feeling well and reducing your risk of negative health impacts. Let’s unpack some reasons you might be experiencing sleep problems.
The worry and stress you experience in your day-to-day life may not only impact your quality of life during the day but also your ability to get a good night’s sleep.REF#2152 The body’s stress response helps us avoid danger and can even motivate us to push past our limits to meet a deadline — but chronic, long-term stress that goes unmanaged can cause a lack of sleep. REF#2152
Supporting a healthy stress response is integral to ensuring your sleep is well-supported. Stress releases cortisol, a hormone that the body uses to promote wakefulness.REF#2154 When mental health conditions like stress cause the release of cortisol at the wrong times (like before bed), you may experience trouble sleeping.
To support the body through trying times, use an herbal supplement like Stress Response®. Formulated with Rhodiola, Holy Basil, Ashwagandha, Schisandra, and Oats, this blend of calming herbs, along with your own relaxation techniques, can help prepare you for a good night’s rest. REF#2155
2. Your Schedule
Working overnight can impact your circadian rhythm and make embracing a consistent sleep schedule virtually impossible. REF#2152 Even if you aren’t a shift worker, you might experience daytime sleepiness and inconsistent sleep if you travel. Jet lag can also confuse the circadian rhythm, affecting not only your ability to sleep but also your sleep quality. REF#2152
If you travel and are desperate to get your body back on track, try going outdoors during the day or doing a little physical activity, like a walk. This may help reset your circadian rhythm and help you experience better sleep.
You can also use an herbal supplement like Sound Sleep® to help transition your body from awake to rest when you experience occasional sleeplessness. Herbs like California Poppy, Skullcap, and Passionflower are recognized by the USDA as natural sedatives, which can help prepare you for sleep. REF#2156
3. Screen Time
It may seem relaxing to space off in front of your television or scroll your social media feed to unwind after a long day, but you could be self-sabotaging without realizing it. Blue light, a short-wave, high-energy light source similar to a UV ray, can disrupt your sleep by interfering with your circadian rhythm. REF#2152
Remember that electronic devices are sources of blue light, which is also emitted from the sun. Exposing yourself to these light sources before bed may confuse your body and prevent the release of sleep hormones, making it harder for you to fall asleep.
Instead of the screen, you can try relaxation techniques, like meditation, reading a book, or listening to soft music.
4. Poor Sleep Hygiene
Your sleep hygiene refers to the habits you practice before sleeping each night. REF#2152 These may include how you prepare for bed, the condition of your sleep environment, and whether or not you go to bed consistently each night. REF#2152
Your sleep habits are important because they help support the body’s understanding of when it is time to rest and can help you transition from wakeful periods to sleep periods.
Bad sleep hygiene may include:
- Too much background noise REF#2157
- Not maintaining a consistent bedtime or wake time REF#2157
- A room that is too warm REF#2157
- Too much light REF#2157
- Engaging in stimulating activity too close to bedtime (like exercise, social activity, or watching television) REF#2157
If you aren’t sleeping, your sleep hygiene may need a little attention. The sleep experts at the Sleep Foundation recommend avoiding naps, following a consistent bedtime routine, and making gradual adjustments to help prioritize your sleep hygiene. REF#2158
5. Lifestyle Habits
Another way we might interfere with our body’s ability to sleep is through lifestyle habits that don’t promote sleep. Drinking a glass of wine before bed may help you fall asleep faster, but it typically won’t help you stay asleep.REF#2152 Drinking alcohol can disrupt your sleep patterns and cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. REF#2152
Another activity that can be problematic is exercise. Regular exercise is an important part of maintaining your physical health, but exercising too close to bedtime can interfere with your sleep. REF#2159
While exercise shouldn’t interfere with your ability to get enough sleep, exercising within three hours of bedtime may make it harder for you to fall asleep. REF#2159 The best practice is generally to make sure you plan your workouts at least three hours before your bedtime to make sure you don’t have any trouble falling asleep.
If you run out of time and run on the treadmill too close to bedtime, your core body temperature will likely be higher, which can also impact your ability to fall asleep. REF#2159 It can be easy to forget that your body needs time to fall asleep. On those nights when you fail to plan, plan to use an herbal supplement to help ease your body into rest.
Certain medications, like antidepressants or stimulant medications, may make it harder for you to sleep. If your healthcare provider has prescribed medication for you that is interfering with your ability to sleep, talk to them about your options and whether or not there is a different solution.
A Word About Sleep Disorders
Sometimes, it is just a few nights of missed sleep. Other times, you could be dealing with a sleep disorder.
Sleep disorders like sleep apnea and narcolepsy require the attention of a sleep specialist who can observe your sleep patterns and help outline a plan for you to sleep well and sleep safely. If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, contact your healthcare provider to discuss your options.
Getting the Sleep You Need
Sleep can be elusive, but it doesn’t have to be. Getting rest is often a matter of fixing underlying conditions preventing you from sleeping. This might involve going to bed at a different time, changing out your bedding for something more comfortable, or choosing to work out at a different time so that you aren’t disrupting your sleep.
When it seems harder to reach that restful state where sleep comes easily, try an herbal supplement. Gaia Herbs makes a variety of natural, holistic sleep aids designed to meet your body where it is, adapting your needs and helping you get rest when you need it.
Unlike over-the-counter sleeping pills, Gaia provides a way to support the body with plant-based alternatives that have been meticulously sourced, obsessively cultivated, and rigorously tested to ensure their efficacy and purity. That means that the ingredients we say are in our supplements are not only present but also in their purest and most potent form.
Rest isn’t always easy, but you can support your body and get a good night’s sleep with the help of Gaia Herbs.
- 1. Suni, Eric, and John DeBanto MD, "How Sleep Works: Understanding the Science of Sleep.", Sleep Foundation. Sleep Foundation, October 19, 2022. 1 1. Suni, Eric, and John DeBanto MD, "How Sleep Works: Understanding the Science of Sleep.", Sleep Foundation. Sleep Foundation, October 19, 2022.
- 2. Reddy, S., Reddy, V., & Sharma, S. (2022)., "Physiology, Circadian Rhythm", In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.. 2 2. Reddy, S., Reddy, V., & Sharma, S. (2022)., "Physiology, Circadian Rhythm", In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing..
- 3. , "Sleep/Wake Cycles.", Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine.. 3 3. , "Sleep/Wake Cycles.", Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine..
- 4. , "Sleep Debt.", CDC. CDC, April 1, 2020.. 4 4. , "Sleep Debt.", CDC. CDC, April 1, 2020..
- 5. , "What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency?", NHLBI.Org. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, March 24, 2022.. 5 5. , "What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency?", NHLBI.Org. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, March 24, 2022..
- 6. Thau, L., Gandhi, J., & Sharma, S. (2022)., "Physiology, Cortiso", In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.. 6 6. Thau, L., Gandhi, J., & Sharma, S. (2022)., "Physiology, Cortiso", In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing..
- 7. Panossian, A., & Wikman, G. (2010), "Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress-Protective Activity", Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland), 3(1), 188–224.. 7 7. Panossian, A., & Wikman, G. (2010), "Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress-Protective Activity", Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland), 3(1), 188–224..
- 8. , "Sedatives", USDA.Gov. USDA United States Forest Service. 8 8. , "Sedatives", USDA.Gov. USDA United States Forest Service.
- 9. , "What Is Inadequate Sleep Hygiene", Jefferson Health. Jefferson Health. 9 9. , "What Is Inadequate Sleep Hygiene", Jefferson Health. Jefferson Health.
- 10. Suni, Eric., "Sleep Hygiene", Sleep Foundation. Sleep Foundation, March 31, 2023.. 10 10. Suni, Eric., "Sleep Hygiene", Sleep Foundation. Sleep Foundation, March 31, 2023..
- 11. Stutz, J., Eiholzer, R., & Spengler, C. M. (2019)., "Effects of Evening Exercise on Sleep in Healthy Participants: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis", Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 49(2), 269–287.. 11 11. Stutz, J., Eiholzer, R., & Spengler, C. M. (2019)., "Effects of Evening Exercise on Sleep in Healthy Participants: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis", Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 49(2), 269–287..