'I Want to Sleep But My Body Won’t Let Me': Why Does This Happen?

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When you feel tired, it should theoretically be easy to fall asleep. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. The frustrating experience of wanting to sleep but not being able to can happen for a lot of reasons. Here are some of the most common reasons for difficulty falling asleep.


When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol. You may already know cortisol as the “stress hormone,” but that’s kind of a misnomer. Its primary job is waking you up in the morning, keeping you alert, and elevating blood sugar levels to energize you for the day. It’s essentially the counterbalance to melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy and sluggish at night.

Stress can trigger an increase in cortisol because you need that energy and alertness to respond to threats. Unfortunately, that mechanism is best suited to dealing with immediate dangers (like a predator) where skipping sleep to fight or run away can save your life. For most modern causes of stress, like an excessive workload or a relationship problem, staying awake through the night doesn’t really help.


The best thing you can do to address this is to reduce your stress levels. Use this wakeful time to really reflect on what’s causing your stress. Then, come up with a plan for addressing that root cause.

You can’t always control every cause of stress, but taking control where you can will help. Maybe you can’t flake on the projects you already agreed to do at work, but you can be more mindful about taking on new responsibilities. Maybe you can’t cure a chronic health condition, but you can start a moderate exercise routine tailored to your ability level.

Mental Health Issues

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can also cause sleep problems. Whether chronic or acute, these conditions are stressful which means they trigger that same elevated cortisol release that keeps you awake at night.


Take care of your mental health. Consider seeing a therapist, even if you don’t think it’s “bad enough” to warrant professional support. Therapists can help you develop the skills to take better care of your mental health, whether or not you meet the criteria for a clinical disorder.

Beyond therapy, you can also practice self-care and reach out to friends and family. Doing things that make you feel nurtured and supported can help convince your body that you’re safe and not in immediate danger so there’s no need for the cortisol boost.

Poor Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to the set of habits and conditions throughout your day that impacts your natural sleep-wake cycle. Your body uses light and temperature changes in the environment to figure out what time of day it is and, by extension, how alert or sleepy it should be.

So in an ideal world, your sleep hygiene would include waking up to bright, natural sunlight, then gradually increasing your activity levels as light levels and temperature increase, peaking in the afternoon. Then, begin winding down your activity levels as temperature and light levels decrease before finally going to sleep in the dark.

Poor sleep hygiene is any part of your day that doesn’t match that ideal. Some of the most common culprits of poor sleep hygiene include:

  • Using screens that emit bright blue light, like TV or your phone in the evening.
  • Consuming caffeine, sugar, or other ingredients that cause a spike in energy or alertness later in the day when you should be winding down.
  • Waking up in a dark room.
  • A sedentary lifestyle where you don’t get much physical activity during the day.
  • Working, reading, watching TV or doing anything other than sleep in your bed.


Some of the best things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene involve being more consistent with your sleep schedule and making sure you adapt to light and temperature conditions to help trigger different phases of the cycle.

Here are a few tricks you can try:

  • Open your curtains so you can wake up to sunlight.
  • Try to spend about two hours outside in the sun in the morning or afternoon. For example, eat breakfast in your backyard and take your lunch break outside.
  • Dim or turn off lights when you’re at home relaxing in the evening.
  • If you’re not ready to give up screens at night, lower the brightness level and the sound volume. Also, consider trying to enforce a screen ban on yourself for at least the last hour right before bedtime.
  • Lower the temperature about one or two hours before bed, ideally to between 65⁰ and 68⁰ Fahrenheit.
  • If you can’t touch the thermostat, take a hot bath or shower about 30-60 minutes before bed so that the comparatively cooler air when you get out of the water causes a decrease in body temperature.

Menstrual Cycle, Menopause or Pregnancy

For people who menstruate, the monthly fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone can also impact sleep quality. When estrogen and progesterone levels rise, you might feel sleepier than usual. When they drop again, you might find it difficult to fall asleep.

These hormones tend to spike as you get closer to ovulation and then fall off after the egg is released, reaching their lowest right before your period. For the same reasons, the hormonal changes that come with pregnancy and menopause can also disrupt your sleep cycle. Heightened levels during pregnancy can cause daytime sleepiness and fatigue, while the sharp decline in those hormones during menopause can make it harder to fall asleep.


If you often find it hard to sleep right before or during your period, talk to your doctor about possibly taking melatonin or medication during this time. Your doctor might recommend a similar treatment when you begin menopause.

Circadian Rhythm Misalignment

Your body tries to stick to a relatively consistent 24-hour cycle. But sometimes, your internal clock doesn’t sync up with your environment. An easy example is jet lag, which occurs when you travel to a different time zone and struggle to adjust your sleep schedule to fit. However, this can also happen if you do shift work and your schedule isn’t consistent from week to week.

Another possible cause of disruption is what’s sometimes called “social jet lag” or delayed sleep phase syndrome. This refers to people whose internal clock is naturally out of alignment with the society they live in. If you need to go to bed at 10:00 p.m. to get enough sleep before work in the morning, but your melatonin and other sleep hormones don’t start increasing until midnight, you’ll struggle to force yourself into a sleep-wake cycle that fits your work schedule.


Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for this. However, your internal clock is not fixed. While it tries to stick to a consistent cycle, remember that it also responds to light and temperature changes in your environment.

By paying extra attention to your sleep hygiene, including using light and temperature to trigger wakefulness and sleepiness during the day, you can gradually reprogram your internal clock to better fit your daily routine. It won’t happen overnight. But if you’re consistent, you should start to notice a difference within a couple of weeks.

What Should I Do If I Can’t Fall Asleep?

A lot of the solutions above are more long-term fixes and prevention methods. In the meantime, here are some strategies you can try right now that may help you fall asleep tonight.

Do a Mindful Activity

If you’ve been lying in bed for more than 25 minutes without being able to fall asleep, get up and go to a different room. Leave your phone and any other screen behind and spend time doing a quiet, mindful activity in the dark or in low lighting. Mindful activities include things like:

  • Yoga
  • Reading a book
  • Folding laundry
  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Knitting
  • Puzzles
  • Drawing or coloring

Sometimes, when it’s hard to fall asleep, the worry you feel about the fact that you can’t fall asleep ends up making it even harder. A mindful activity that you enjoy can take your attention away from that worry and help put you in a calmer, more restful mental state. If you start to feel sleepy at any point, go lay down in bed again. But if you’re still awake 25 minutes later, get up and repeat the process.

Do Something Kind for Yourself

If anxiety or depression are keeping you awake, you can try reclaiming control of your mind by combatting negative thoughts with defiant acts of kindness. Just because your brain is trying to convince you that you haven’t earned rest or you don’t deserve to relax doesn’t mean you have to listen. If your brain is convincing you it’s all pointless or hopeless, you can still choose pointless joy over pointless stress.

Blatantly contradict that train of thought by doing something nice for yourself. Get up and take a bubble bath. Go sit outside and admire the stars. Paint your nails your favorite color. Toss your blanket in the dryer for five minutes so you can wrap yourself up in its cozy warmth. The negative thoughts might persist, but get in the habit of insisting that you’re going to choose joy regardless. 

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Rachael Green
Rachael is a New York-based writer and freelance writer for Verywell Mind, where she leverages her decades of personal experience with and research on mental illness—particularly ADHD and depression—to help readers better understand how their mind works and how to manage their mental health.