Tired But Can’t Fall Asleep? What to Do

Last Updated on February 14, 2024

by Marc Werner, Founder - GhostBed

Picture this: It’s been a long, exhausting day. You can’t stop yawning, and you finally climb into bed. You get comfortable beneath the blankets, close your eyes and wait to drift to sleep. But the minutes pass by–then the hours–and sleep never comes.

You know you’re exhausted, so what’s going on?

If you’re tired but can’t fall asleep, there could be several factors at play. Here at GhostBed, our mission is to make sure you get shut-eye, so we’ve put together a list of things to consider.

As always, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about sleep issues, so use this article to get the conversation going.

Man lies awake in bed at night, looking frustrated.

Why Do I Feel Tired But Can’t Fall Asleep?

When you’re tired and can’t fall asleep quickly, it may be your circadian rhythm–the internal “clock” that helps regulate sleep–is out of whack. Here are a few potential ways that can happen:

You’ve Changed Your Sleep Schedule Too Drastically

Especially when it comes to sleep schedules, your body likes consistency. That means it's preparing you for sleep by producing melatonin, dropping your body temperature and more in the hours before you typically go to bed.

If you usually drift off around 10 pm and have suddenly changed your bedtime to 8 pm, your body hasn’t had time to do its normal wind-down routine. So you may find yourself lying in bed staring at the ceiling.

If you’d like to start going to bed earlier, that’s doable! But make small adjustments to your schedule instead.

Going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night is a manageable way to change your routine without triggering insomnia.

You’re Too Tired

Yep, that’s right! You can be too tired to fall asleep. When you’ve accumulated “sleep debt” (which simply means not enough shut-eye), a few things can happen.

One is that being overtired can make your body stressed, anxious and aroused, since it’s had to fight to stay awake. So when it’s finally time to doze, it’s difficult to relax.

If your sleep debt has been incurred over a long period, it can also lead to imbalances in biological chemicals (like hormones and neurotransmitters) that regulate your sleep, making it hard to drift off.

Finally, being too tired may lead you to try to sleep during a time when you normally don’t–like the middle of the day. This too can lead to an inability to fall asleep, as we talked about above.

Man eating pizza directly out of the refrigerator at night

You’re Eating Too Much Too Close to Bedtime

It’s important to go to bed feeling satiated, as hunger can keep you awake too. But if you find you’re tired and unable to fall asleep, be mindful of oversized pre-bed meals.

A lot is happening in your body when you indulge in a big feast. Blood flow and energy are redirected to your digestive system to help you process food.

If you’re eating a meal high in carbs, your insulin can also spike and dip, leading you to feel sleepy. All of these things can make you feel ready for bed.

However, when your body is processing a big meal, your metabolism revs up, leading to a more “active” body.

Your body temperature also increases slightly, and taken together, these things can keep you up. Throw in discomfort and indigestion from overeating and you have a recipe for that tired-but-wired feeling that keeps you staring at the clock.

You’re Overly Stressed

It seems there’s no end to the ways stress can interfere with our well-being, and sleep is no exception. On the one hand, stress consumes a lot of energy, which can leave you feeling drained.

This is doubly true if you’re not getting the best nutrition, hydration and other self-care practices while you’re stressed, which many folks don’t.

Yet at the same time, stress tends to put your body into fight or flight mode–a state that’s triggered by the release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are designed to help your body perform in a state of emergency; the total opposite of drifting off.

It’s Time to Chat With Your Doctor

There are a variety of health conditions that can make it hard to fall asleep, even if you’re tired. Sleep apnea, neurological disorders and depression are just a few.

It’s also possible that medications you’re taking are affecting your ability to drift off. If you’re consistently missing out on shut-eye, it’s a good idea to give your doctor a call so you can solve the problem together.

Woman reading in bed by lamp light.

Should I Just Stay Awake if I Can’t Sleep?

Lying in bed for too long may do more to hurt your sleep than help it. So if you’ve been trying to drift off for more than 20-30 minutes, it’s okay to get up and do something else.

As far as what to do when you can’t sleep, opt for something relaxing. That means no stimulating screens (like your phone, computer or television).

If you have a snack, make sure it’s something that supports your sleep. Pair healthy fats (like almond butter or Greek yogurt) with carbs and protein. Opt out of anything with lots of sugar or caffeine–like chocolate.

You can try reading a book or magazine, stretching gently or listening to calming music. As you feel your body and mind relax, you can try to sleep again.

Support Your Sleep With the Best Bedding

Sometimes the explanation for poor sleep is that you can’t get comfortable in bed. If it’s been a while since you upgraded your mattress or pillow, that might be the solution to your restless nights.

The wrong bed can cause stiffness, pain and general discomfort that keeps you tossing and turning, even when you’re tired. So we’ve created a mattress quiz to help you find the perfect bed for you.

If you need more help finding your perfect sleep setup, our Sleep Experts are standing by to help you. Just send us a chat to get started!

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Marc Werner - Founder, GhostBed

Marc Werner

Founder - GhostBed

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Marc has spent the last two decades designing & manufacturing mattresses and other sleep products, drawing on a lifetime of experience working with the material sciences. With several patents to his name, he works closely with the GhostBed team to create products with the perfect balance of comfort & support. Learn More

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