6 Surprising Reasons You Can’t Fall Asleep

Our partners at hit show "The Doctors" dole out feel-great advice to zap common sleep problems.

By The Physicians of The Doctors
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine January 2014

Your pillow is too hot.

Resting your head on a cool pillow may help decrease core body temperature and help cause drowsiness. According to a University of Pittsburgh study, insomniacs who wore a special cooling cap fell asleep within 13 minutes (and stayed asleep for 89 percent of the night). This compared favorably with healthy sleepers who dozed off within 16 minutes. Researchers speculate that cooling the brain, which they’ve dubbed cerebral hypothermia, slows metabolism and encourages restfulness. Try putting your pillowcase in the freezer while you get ready for bed to achieve more restful sleep.

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There's a full moon.

It may not turn you into a werewolf, but a full moon can make you toss and turn. Swiss researchers found that people experienced a big dip in sleep quality in the four days before and after a full moon. (They slept about 20 minutes less, spent about one third less time in deep sleep, and made less melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel tired.) Granted, there’s not much you can do about this, but you can at least know when there will be a full moon and expect a slight toll on your sleep.

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You didn’t give exercise a shot.

Exercise can help us sleep better, but only if we stick with it, shows a recent study from Northwestern University’s Behavioral Sleep Medicine program. Insomnia patients who began an exercise regimen did eventually sleep longer and boost energy, but it took two to four months to see an effect. In other words, you can’t expect to run on a treadmill one morning and have a blissful night’s sleep that same evening. Aim for at least 20 minutes of physical activity a day, or a total of two and a half hours a week, per CDC guidelines.

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You started a new medication.

Insomnia is a frequent side effect of many drugs, including blood pressure medications, antidepressants, and steroids. The time of day that you take certain medications matters. We often recommend that patients take beta-blockers (for high blood pressure or arrhythmia) in the morning instead of before bed, for example. If your doctor prescribes a new drug, ask about the best time to take it.

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Your dog hogs your bed.

Even people with minor pet allergies may feel worse if their pillows and sheets are sprinkled with pet dander. This can cause congestion and increase your odds of snoring, which can make it harder to fall or stay asleep. One Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders study found that more than half of patients who sleep with their furry friends say the animals disrupt their sleep. If you suspect these symptoms are affecting your slumber, declare your boudoir a pet-free zone.

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You feel your partner’s pain.

In a recent study, partners of arthritis patients reported sleeping poorly on nights that their bedmates suffered higher pain levels. Couples with the closest bonds were the most affected. To ease discomfort, your partner can try solutions like a pillow placed between the knees to soothe back pain. And because anxiety can heighten the perception of pain, you both may sleep better after a calming routine such as a soothing bath.

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