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Why you can't sleep

Adventist Health Health and Wellness

sleep guide promoCome Sunday, March 12, our bodies will once again struggle to adjust to a one-hour time change. And although an hour doesn’t sound like much, this small change has been shown to have a negative impact on our health. Researchers have observed that in the days following a time change there is an increase in heart attack, stroke and even traffic accidents.

But don’t worry! These four tips can help make time change easier and less stressful on your body.

  1. Start from a healthy and consistent sleep schedule. Avoid tobacco, caffeine and alcohol at least four hours before bedtime.
  2. Start the change gradually. Go to bed about 15 minutes earlier and wake up 15 minutes earlier for each of the four days leading up to the time change (if it's fall, shift your sleep/wake times 15 minutes later on those four days).
  3. Use light to your advantage. Use bright light early in the morning to tell your body it's time to be awake, and avoid bright light in the hours before you go to bed.
  4. Consider using a melatonin supplement 60 to 90 minutes before the time you want to go to sleep.

Why you can’t sleep

sleep disorders statFor some of us, time change is the least of our worries! There are around 90 distinct sleep disorders that prevent people from getting the quality sleep they need to live healthy, happy lives.

These include serious conditions that require medical attention and treatment, as well as lesser sleep disruptions that you may be able to resolve on your own, using proven strategies and lifestyle adjustments.

Among the most common and serious sleep disorders are insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome. Sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome are often confused for or mislabeled as insomnia because symptoms are similar.

How do you know if you have a sleep disorder?

You may have a sleep disorder if you or your partner complain about:

  • snoring
  • holding your breath while asleep
  • gasping, choking or snorting

Or if you have:

  • difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • restless legs
  • sleep attacks during the day


A person with insomnia has:

  • difficulty falling asleep
  • difficulty staying asleep
  • wakes up too early OR
  • doesn't feel rested, even after a full night's sleep

To qualify as true insomnia, one or more of the above conditions must:

  • persist for at least six months
  • cause problems for you during the day such as fatigue, depressed mood, or decreased alertness and concentration AND
  • occur in an environment that offers adequate opportunities for good sleep

For example, if you're being kept awake by loud noises in your neighborhood, that's not insomnia. But if the noises stop and your sleeping environment is quiet and otherwise conducive to sleep, and you still can't get any rest, insomnia may be to blame.

People who have trouble sleeping and assume they have insomnia sometimes turn out to have restless legs syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder-where the inability to sleep is a symptom of their condition, rather than the core problem.

Restless Legs Syndrome

A person with restless legs syndrome has trouble falling and staying asleep because of an overwhelming urge to move their legs, which is usually worse at night. This makes it difficult to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. People with restless legs syndrome often describe the sensation

as burning or itching inside your legs. The feeling subsides with movement but returns when the legs are still.

If you move your legs or get up and walk around, these symptoms may go away. The discomfort may return when you try again to go to sleep. You may finally get to sleep, but later kick yourself awake.

sleep issues keep many Americans up at nightPeriodic Limb Movement Disorder

Some people experience disruptive leg movements that occur after they go to sleep. If you notice that your bedsheets have been moved around significantly, or your bedpartner reports seeing you kick your legs while asleep, periodic limb movement disorder may be the cause.

Restless legs and periodic limb movement disorder share triggers that can worsen the problem, including alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, antidepressants and antihistamines. All of these substances can cause restlessness in the legs. In fact, antihistamines are an active ingredient in many over-the-counter sleep medications-so instead of helping you to sleep, these pills can make the situation worse. Medical issues such as anemia, kidney disease or thyroid disease also can worsen restlessness in the legs.

People experiencing restless legs and periodic limb movement disorder can reduce their symptoms by avoiding the triggers. Ask your doctor if you may also benefit from medication for these disorders.   

Narcolepsy and Hypersomnia

Some people, despite getting enough sleep and not having another sleep problem, continue to feel excessive daytime sleepiness. This can be a disease called narcolepsy, which can lead to poor work performance, relationship problems and safety issues related to driving. Narcolepsy usually appears between childhood to early adulthood. People suffering from narcolepsy are often mislabeled as "lazy" or "depressed."

Hypersomnia is a disorder that is often grouped with narcolepsy. A person with hypersomnia is sleeping for an excessive amount of time during the day or having trouble staying awake during the day, or both.

Are you struggling with sleep? It may be time to call an expert. Call our sleep clinic at 503-261-4475.

sleep guide promoThis post is an excerpt from our Getting to Sleep Guide. Download the rest of the guide.