7 Surprising Reasons You Can’t Sleep Through the Night

And we're not talking about caffeine.

1 / 8

If you're great at falling asleep at night, but not so great at staying asleep, you're probably pretty frustrated. The scientific term for this condition is sleep-maintenance insomnia. And while you might know that caffeine, alcohol, anxiety, depression, stress and smartphone use can affect your shuteye, you may not be aware that certain medications, your room setup and even your pet can interrupt your slumber, too.

Never fear. Sleep medicine specialist and pulmonologist Robert Grant, DO, of Saint Joseph Mercy Health System in Livonia, Michigan, talks through surprising things that cause sleeping issues—along with ways to get back to bed.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

You’re taking certain medications

2 / 8 You’re taking certain medications

Some drugs, like decongestants, may cause you to wake up in the night, to have trouble getting to sleep or to become drowsy during the day. “It’s common to reach for the decongestants when you have a cold or you’re congested, but these types of medications are actually stimulants,” says Dr. Grant.

Here are some other medications that may cause sleep issues during the night:

  • Beta blockers and diuretics for high blood pressure
  • Corticosteroids for inflammation or asthma 
  • Nicotine replacements
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors for depression or anxiety

If you’re having problems sleeping and you’re taking one of these medications, see your healthcare provider (HCP). The solution may be as simple as reducing your dosage or transitioning you to a different prescription.

You have allergies

3 / 8 You have allergies

“People who have allergic rhinitis or nasal allergies, especially in the spring or the fall, may have difficulty breathing at night,” says Grant. Since allergies cause congestion, it’s likely you’ll wake up or snore.

Over-the-counter medications like antihistamines may help symptoms, but it’s important to discuss options with your doctor, since some drugs can aggravate sleep issues. Steroid nasal spray can alleviate congestion and help you sleep, too.

You live in a big city

4 / 8 You live in a big city

If you live in New York City, you may think you’re used to honking, car alarms, sirens and other street noises. But those disturbances could be waking you up in the middle of the night—and you might not even know it. “People who live in the inner cities tend to have more issues in the night, and are more sleep deprived than people in rural environments,” says Grant.

Grant says noise-canceling headphones or pink and white noise can distract you from the racket outside and provide a sense of calm. Pink noises are sounds with a consistent frequency—think crashing ocean waves, a steady stream of running water or falling rain. White noise is a combination of noise frequencies that together provide a steady background hum. Just make sure your machine isn’t blasting; turning it to a lower volume is best.

You’re listening to music or the TV

5 / 8 You’re listening to music or the TV

Blasting your favorite tunes or leaving the television on to sleep isn’t a good idea, says Grant. That's because when you're dozing, your brain still registers and processes sounds. “These noises stimulate your brain, and if you fall asleep with them on, you’re probably going to wake up during the night when you naturally enter a lighter stage of sleep.”

A quiet room is best, but noise-canceling devices and white and pink noise are both okay if you need a little something on in the background.

Your bedroom is too warm

6 / 8 Your bedroom is too warm

It’s hard to sleep when you’re hot—and there’s actually some science behind why. “When you go to sleep, your body temperature is higher,” says Grant. "Throughout the night your body temperature will drop to what we call the core level, or the lowest it’s going to be." Your core temperature is typically at its lowest point about two hours before your normal wake-up time. If your room is too warm, you won’t be able to reach that level. That may interfere with your circadian rhythm, or body clock, and cause you to wake up.

Make sure to set your room temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. It sounds chilly, but it’s better to be cold and bundle up than to be warm and wake before you want to. Your sheets matter, too. Cotton sheets are lightweight and breathe better, which can help keep your body temperature down.

You snuggle up with Fido at night

7 / 8 You snuggle up with Fido at night

More than half of dog and cat owners allow their pups to sleep in bed with them. And while cuddling with a pet may comfort you and lower your stress levels, Grant says it’s not a good idea. If your cat or dog wakes up scratching, barking, meowing or moving around, it can wake you up, too. If you have asthma or allergies, your pet can make congestion and coughing worse.

If you don’t have allergies or asthma, having the family feline in your room is fine, says Grant—but she should be on the floor (and if you have a dog, the crate is fine, too). Just be sure to give her extra attention the next morning.

You have a health condition

8 / 8 You have a health condition

In addition to well-known sleep disorders like apnea and insomnia, some medical conditions can cause nighttime problems. “Parkinson’s patients have excessive limb movements called leg motor restlessness during the night, so their sleeping tends to be on the lighter side,” says Grant. Noise caused by tremors, as well as dreams or nightmares triggered by levodopa medication, can also interrupt sleep for those with Parkinson’s disease.

Along with exercise and a regular sleep schedule, Parkinson’s patients can work with their HCP to adjust medication dosage, or discuss whether melatonin supplements or prescription sleep aids should be added to their diet.

Menopausal and postmenopausal women may have sleep issues, too. “After a woman goes through menopause, sometimes we see an increase in symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS),” says Grant. Hot flashes can also disturb sleep.

RLS could indicate an iron or vitamin deficiency, says Grant, so your HCP may recommend upping your intake of iron, vitamin B12 or folate. Simple lifestyle changes like cutting down on caffeine and alcohol are also recommended.

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