Approximately one in five American adults fail to get enough sleep each night, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.1 Unfortunately, overtiredness can cause unwanted side effects that impact your overall wellness and quality of life—including your ability to get a good night’s rest.
If you’ve experienced the feeling of being unable to fall asleep, despite being sleep deprived, keep reading. We’re breaking down the possible reasons behind this phenomenon, as well as the steps you can take to stop losing sleep, fall asleep faster, and wake up feeling refreshed.
How Do I Know if I’m Overtired?
Although it may vary slightly, the average adult requires about eight hours of sleep per night to feel well-rested, alert, and ready to tackle the day ahead. Sadly, about 30% of working Americans get less than six hours per night on average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).2
When you skimp on crucial slumber, you’re likely to feel the effects of sleep deprivation the following day. You may feel excessively sleepy, irritable, unmotivated, and have a difficult time staying awake and focused during work meetings or at school. A lack of sleep can result in poor coordination, longer reaction times, and reduced vigilance. This makes overtiredness a safety hazard for driving or workplace accidents.
However, the effects of sleep loss aren’t only immediately noticeable in your daily performance—they can also have a long-term impact on your health. Sleep deprivation has been associated with a higher risk for certain health conditions and illnesses, including diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and heart attack. It’s important to note that, although good sleep is fundamental to your health, the amount of sleep your body needs and the effects of sleep loss can vary from person to person. For this reason, it’s essential to always consult with a qualified health professional if you can’t sleep at night or have ongoing concerns about your sleep health.
Why Can’t I Fall Asleep if I’m Overtired?
Your body is like an intelligent machine that’s programmed to function best with a particular amount of sleep. It has a variety of sensitive and intricate systems that can be thrown off balance as a result of sleep deprivation. For example, overtiredness can impact both your mental state and your body’s physical chemistry, which can then affect your ability to doze off. A physician or sleep specialist will be able to help you pinpoint the reasons behind sleep troubles, including why you’re tired but can’t sleep, when they arise. However, there are a few common culprits to be mindful of when you find overtiredness keeping you awake. Keep scrolling to learn more.
Findings in the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America 2020 survey show that stress levels are significantly higher today than they have been in the past.3 When you’re stressed, your body responds with a “fight or flight” reaction. This creates a hyper-alert feeling that can make it more difficult to sleep, even when you’re overtired. Signs of “fight or flight” can include an elevated heart rate, faster breathing, and an increased release of stress hormones like cortisol. A spike in cortisol can help you feel hyper-aware in stressful or threatening situations but can be problematic at bedtime, especially when stress isn’t managed properly.
Disrupted sleep-wake cycle
Your body’s internal clock—also known as circadian rhythm—helps signal when it’s time to transition into sleep and when it’s time to wake up through a 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. This sleep-wake cycle can be disrupted by various factors, such as pulling all-nighters or working late night shifts. When this cycle is thrown off balance, it can make it even harder to fall asleep and stay asleep without interruption. Paying attention to your body’s sleep-wake circadian rhythm is an important part of getting a good night’s slumber, especially if you’ve been skimping on crucial shut-eye. Research shows that melatonin supplements may be an effective option for aiding with sleep troubles caused by irregular sleep-wake cycles. This may explain why approximately 3 million American adults currently take melatonin supplements. These supplements may be particularly effective for individuals who regularly fall asleep very late and wake up late the next day (also known as delayed sleep phase syndrome).4
Poor sleep hygiene
Sleep habits can have a huge impact on your ability to fall asleep, even when you’ve missed out on Zzzs the night before. Sleep hygiene refers to the combination of healthy habits and environmental factors that set you up for the best sleep possible. This includes habits such as keeping a regular sleep schedule, building a soothing nighttime routine, turning your bedroom into a relaxing sleep oasis, and avoiding certain foods and beverages close to bedtime. Some signs of poor sleep hygiene include difficulty falling or staying asleep, fragmented sleep, or daytime sleepiness. If you regularly lack consistency in your sleep schedule and sleep quality, this may also be a tell-tale sign of poor sleep hygiene.
Tips to Fall Asleep When You’re Overtired
Simply put, there is no substitute for good sleep. Your body performs a number of important processes while you sleep that are essential to maintaining a healthy mind and body. If you find that you’re overtired yet can’t fall asleep at night, it may help to focus on healthy sleep habits and effective techniques to manage stress. Here are a few sleep tips to keep in mind.
- Try relaxation techniques: Managing daily stress is fundamental to a restful night’s sleep. If you’re feeling stressed, there are some basic stress management tips that may be useful—as well as techniques like progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), journaling, and breathing exercises.
- Put your devices away: Blue light exposure before bed can negatively affect your ability to doze off by throwing off your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Try finding tech-free ways to unwind before bed, such as a warm shower or bath.
- Watch what you eat and drink at night: It’s best to avoid large, heavy meals too close to bedtime, as well as beverages with caffeine or alcohol. Foods that cause heartburn can also make it harder to fall asleep, while consuming too many fluids may cause nighttime interruptions.
- Create a consistent bedtime routine: Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule and nighttime routine can help realign your sleep-wake cycle and make it easier to drift off at night. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day—including on weekends. If you find that you can’t seem to doze off after about 20 minutes or so, get out of bed and return only when you feel sleepy again.
- Avoid stressful activities at night: In an effort to avoid the “fight or flight” response that can increase alertness and keep you awake when overtired, stress management is key. Actively avoiding stress-triggering conversations or activities in the hours leading up to your bedtime can be a helpful method for winding down.
- Lean on your support system: Life can be full of stressors that can impact your ability to get those much-needed Zzzs. Reach out to your friends, family, or anyone in your support system to talk about what is troubling you.
- Learn more about proper sleep hygiene: There are many aspects to good sleep hygiene, many of which can vary depending upon your lifestyle and personal preferences. Taking some time to reassess your sleep environment and habits can help shed light on what’s keeping you up, despite feeling overtired. For example, you may be overdue for a new mattress or find that various sleep disruptors are keeping you awake at night.
If you’re experiencing sleeplessness that persists longer than two weeks, always consult with a healthcare professional, as this can be a sign of a more serious underlying illness.
Sometimes, when you can’t fall asleep, it’s nice to know that a bit of extra support is available when you need it. That’s why Unisom® is here for you, as the #1 pharmacist- and doctor-recommended OTC sleep-aid brand. You can count on us to help you fall asleep, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling refreshed,† with a range of options that include the below Unisom products.
Unisom Simple Slumbers® is our 100%-drug-free supplement, available in the following varieties: Simple Slumbers Gummies, Simple Slumbers Return to Sleep Strips, Simple Slumbers Immunity Gummies, and Simple Slumbers Restorative Sleep tablets. This product line features melatonin, which works with your body to help maintain its natural sleep cycle—and is formulated to help you fall asleep gently and wake up refreshed.†
Unisom® SleepGels®, SleepMelts®, SleepMinis®, and PM Pain all contain the histamine blocker sleep-aid diphenhydramine HCl. Blocking histamine production can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep. PM Pain also contains the pain reliever acetaminophen, which helps relieve minor aches and pains that may keep you awake.
Unisom® SleepTabs® contain doxylamine succinate, which is a clinical-strength histamine blocker sleep-aid that works in a similar fashion to diphenhydramine. Unisom® SleepTabs® can help you fall asleep 33% faster and get a full night's sleep.
Find the Unisom product that’s right for you and download the Unisom Sleep Diary.
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
This article is not a substitute for medical advice. Unisom is only intended to help with occasional sleeplessness. If you are suffering from ongoing sleep concerns, seek the help of a medical professional.
1. “Sleep Deprivation.” American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2008.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Short sleep duration among workers--United States, 2010.” MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report vol. 61,16 (2012): 281-5.
3. APA. “Stress in AmericaTM 2020, Stress in the Time of COVID-19, Volume One.” American Psychological Association, May 2020.
†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.