7 Reasons Why You Might Not Be Sleeping

“Help me! I can’t sleep!”

I see variations of the “I can’t sleep” post on Facebook almost every week. I know that some friends have serious health problems and need medical help: this post is definitely NOT for them. This is just a “hey, friends — if you’re having a tough time sleeping lately, here’s some easy baseline stuff to check that might have escaped your attention.”

These seven observations are based solely on my personal experience. I’m an excellent sleeper — but this wasn’t always the case. This is what works for me:  I hope it helps you.

1. Check your coffee intake. I notice that people who complain the most about sleep problems on Facebook also like to post frequent check-ins to trendy coffee houses. It seems so obvious, but near-constant coffee consumption may play a huge role with your inability to sleep. (I dropped down to two cups in the morning with breakfast. That’s it. If I make a mistake and have more, I usually pay the price in erratic behavior for the rest of the day. Decaf exists for a reason.)

2. Check your caffeine intake. As a label-reader, I was surprised to see “caffeine” listed on quite a few skin and hair products. I don’t use any of those and my skin and hair seem acceptable. Read labels: you may be unwittingly taking on caffeine in some surprising places! For more details on ‘caffeine in surprising places’, check out the caffeine content in a number of products at  the Center for Science in the Public Interest.)

3. Check your conscience. “People with a guilty conscience don’t sleep” was one of my dad’s sayings. And he’d always say it whenever I had a bad night’s sleep. As a teen, this would make me seethe — until I figured out what Dad said was true. (Proof: if you feel angry or upset when someone merely insinuates that you have a guilty conscience, that’s a huge giveaway. Burning with self-righteous indignation is going to keep you up at night. Don’t deny your guilt: acknowledge it and address it before you go to bed.)

4. Check your blue screen time. Spending too much time around electronic devices can mess with your head. If you can, shut it down. If you can’t, find out why you can’t. How can you put TV/internet/phone time into balance? Tools like flux help reduce the eerie blue glow that may be messing with your sleep cycle — but shutting your devices down altogether can be a viable option, too.

5. Check your humidity levels. Personally, I find that keeping the humidity at a comfortable and stable level is critical to a good night’s sleep. In the summer, we often manage high humidity with an air conditioner. But I’m often surprised to learn that many people don’t manage winter’s low humidity with a humidifier. Try it. Decent humidifiers are often inexpensive, quiet, and effective. (On the downside, they’re often a pain to keep clean.)

6. Check the noise and light. Keep your sleeping area dark and banish noise. I live in a quiet neighborhood, so I’m lucky. But I travel with earplugs and a sleep shade, just in case I end up in a hotel where I’m not-so fortunate. I don’t use sleep shades or ear plugs at home, but I do use light-blocking window shades to keep out light that may creep in from a full moon or shooting star.

7. Check your food, drink, & exercise. Moderation works for me. Eat too much and I can’t sleep. Eat too little and I can’t sleep.  Same deal with exercise. It took me some time to find a sweet spot of eating/exercising/drinking. However, I see some friends habitually post extreme eat/exercise/drink habits on Facebook, which inevitably leads to their “Help! I can’t sleep!” post. (If by drinking you think ‘alcohol’ — I do very well without it altogether, but too much is always a problem. I tend to drink a lot of water, but I need to stop drinking after 7pm…or else.)

These 7 tips might seem obvious, but you might be surprised at how much resistance you’ll get for suggesting a few of these ideas to someone who is complaining about a lack of sleep.

“I WILL NOT stop drinking coffee! I DO NOT have a guilty conscience. Plenty of people sleep with their iPhones – that CAN’T be it.”

If your first reaction is a cranky denial, just smile and say, “OK, cool. Just thought I’d mention it.”

Because you really don’t want to lose any sleep over this…