Can’t Sleep? How to Fall Asleep

Research suggests basic forms of learning are possible while snoozing.

Sleep problems are very common. Between 30%-50% of the general adult population experiences insomnia symptoms, which are marked by unsatisfactory sleep quality and quantity.[1] In fact, if you’re reading this, you’re likely experiencing some sleep issues and wonder “why can’t I sleep?”

In a recent study, sleep duration was found to be associated with the very structure of our brains.[2] The study highlights that sleep duration is positively associated with the integrity of the white matter in our brain, and as a result is linked with our cognitive performance.

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If you find yourself struggling with sleep, check out this guide to help you sleep faster and better.


Why Can’t I Sleep?

Mental Causes of Poor Sleep

Physical Reasons of Poor Sleep

Sleep Disorders

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

How to Sleep Faster and Sleep Better

1. Meditate to Ease Your Worries

2. Write Down Your Thoughts to Set Your Mind Free

3. Create a Good Sleep Environment

4. Diet for Better Sleep

5. Develop a Morning and Evening Routine


Why Can’t I Sleep?

There are tons of reasons why your sleep may not be at its best. See the list below for any factors that might sound familiar:

Your mental state is closely linked to your sleep. Read on to get a better idea of how stress and other factors may be affecting your rest.


A recent study published on the Journal of Sleep linked exposure to stress to increased difficulty in falling and staying asleep. The study also found that the sustained worry can increase the chances of the eventual development of many common sleep disorders.[3]

If you suspect that your stress levels are so high that it negatively influences your sleep, lowering your stress levels can help you to get more restful sleep.[4]


Multiple studies show that anxiety is associated with poor sleep quality and insufficient sleep hygiene.[5] [6] Both having something you’re anxious about and increasing general anxiety levels were found to found to contribute to poor sleep. Anxiety can further contribute to increased stress levels, compounding how stress can affect sleep.


Both stress and anxiety can disrupt your body’s natural rhythm and create a vicious cycle. Experiencing stress and/or anxiety during the day leads to poor sleep at night, which then becomes a stressor for the following day, and the pattern continues.[7] The retention of this pattern is what can progress into sleep disorders.

Do you experience physical discomfort throughout the night or when you wake up? Don’t brush them off, they could be the reasons you are not getting a good night’s rest!


Lower back pain is one of the many chronic pain issues that is linked to poor sleep. [8] Physical pain can also spark a vicious cycle where pain causes poor sleep, then poor sleep makes your body more sensitive to pain, and the cycle continues. [9]

The reason behind your lower back pain can be hiding in plain sight – your bed!

One of the causes of back pain originates from the spine and surrounding soft tissues and is caused by strain on the back from certain motions or from maintaining incorrect posture while resting and using an inadequate mattress. [10]

Even your pillow can be a factor. A recent study found that people who used a less supportive pillow experienced head and neck, and shoulder pain that negatively affected their sleep quality.[11]

Other factors that can contribute to a poor sleep set-up include the temperature, the lighting and the noise levels of the room; which I will dive into later when I talk about how to create a good sleep environment.


You may be familiar with the effect of physical pain on sleep, but did you know that digestive issues can also affect your sleep?

Some digestive diseases like gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic disease, inflammatory GI disorders, and liver disease can result in short and poor-quality sleep.[12] This is because the way your body breaks down nutrients is also linked to your body’s system of regulating sleep.

You may not necessarily have a digestive disorder, but low-quality diet, irregular eating, and larger meals late in the day are all linked to short sleep duration.[13]

Sleep Disorders

If you’re concerned that you can’t sleep because you may have a sleeping disorder, definitely seek further advice from a medical professional. For now, read the following for brief summaries of common sleep disorders to give you an idea of what symptoms to be aware of:


Insomnia is marked by persistent difficulty with the initiation and/or maintenance of sleep or non-restorative sleep. People with insomnia also experience daytime functional impairment and distress. [14]


Sleep apnea is characterized by episodes of partial or complete obstruction of the upper airway during the night. This obstruction usually occurs with a reduction or complete cessation (apnea) of the airflow in the upper airways. [15]


REM sleep behavior disorder (or RBD), is a disorder that disrupts the normal function of the REM-phase of your sleep cycle. For a refresher on REM-phases and the rest of the sleep cycles, check out this article.

RBD disrupts sleep by affecting the muscle inaction (muscle atonia) that normally occurs during REM. This results in vocalization and dream enactment (kicking, punching). [16]

RBD dream content can include being chased, attacked, or defending their partner from attack. Consequent actions involve hitting, kicking or even attempted strangulation with vocalizations including screaming, shouting, or even laughing.

Due to the potential behavior that can be reenacted and the loss of bodily control typical of REM sleep, some with RBD may even wake on the floor having fallen out of bed.


What is shift work disorder? Shift work disorder (SWD) is defined as the presence of insomnia and/or excessive sleepiness occurring in relation to the work schedule of the afflicted. SWD can also be associated with reduced sleep time duration. [17]

Unsurprisingly, SWD afflicts shift workers, or those who work outside of traditional work times. The overall prevalence of SWD is estimated at 26.5% and its estimated prevalence is two to five times higher than anxiety, insomnia, or depression prevalence in the general population.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Some of you may have already heard about the REM sleep cycle, but what exactly does that mean for how long we need to sleep? Let’s breakdown the REM sleep cycle:

There are two phases of sleep: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM)

The two phases are divided into three stages, N1-N3

We cycle through all of these stages 4 to 6 times each night, averaging 90 minutes for each cycle [18]

Based on the REM sleep cycle, it’s recommended that most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night to allow our bodies to naturally complete 4 to 6 cycles. [19]

So, we know sleep duration is important because of REM sleep cycles, but what about the quality of sleep? There is a lot of information that you may have seen proclaiming one is better than the other. Luckily, a recent scientific review [20] provides us with a bit more clarity:

Short sleep duration and poor sleep quality are linked to chronic pain and are both risk factors for chronic kidney disease.

Poor sleep quality was specifically linked with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.

Better sleep quality was related to lower BMI in women, while men who slept for less than the recommended quantity (7 hours) had a higher BMI than those who sleep the proper amount

These facts show that poor sleep quality (restlessness, sleepiness during the day) is linked with psychological disorders and physical ailments. However, sleep quantity is still important for overall health!

Aim for restful 7 to 9 hours a night to reap the full benefits of sleep.

How to Sleep Faster and Sleep Better

Now that you know more about why you might not be able to sleep and what your goals should be for sleep quality and quantity, let’s look into ways that you can achieve your best sleep.

Disclaimer: If you suspect that you’re experiencing any of the sleep disorders mentioned in this article, seek professional help from therapists or doctors.

Otherwise, try out the following tips to learn how to sleep fast and sleep well:

1. Meditate to Ease Your Worries

Meditation is a way for your body and mind to take a break. The idea is to calm your racing mind and tune into the present moment with non-judgmental attention.

Mindfulness meditation reframes your mind to look at the present moment with patience and kindness so that you decrease negative reactivity to stressors in your environment. No wonder it is proven to help improve sleep! [21]

Click here to find guided sleep meditations to help you get started with mindfulness.

2. Write Down Your Thoughts to Set Your Mind Free

Journaling or brain-dumping can help “empty” your mind and clear the way for easy, deep sleep.

One strategy you can try is writing a to-do list – one recent study found that doing a to-do list at night helped participants fall asleep faster.[22] These findings may surprise you, but they are based on the idea that it is best to write down your thoughts rather than mulling them over in your mind as you try to sleep.

Try starting out like this:

Set a timer for five minutes

Jot down your to-do’s for tomorrow and over the next few days – you can write these in paragraph form or as bullet points

Make sure to use the full five minutes, even if you few thoughts are coming to you

Be as consistent as you can be!

3. Create a Good Sleep Environment

Cultivating your ideal sleep environment is essential for setting you up for a good night’s rest. Check out the following to see how you can improve your sleep set-up:


Body core and brain cooling are normal parts of the NREM sleep cycle that help regulate sleep and are also linked to our body’s energy balance. [23] To help your body along, try keeping your room temperature between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. [24]


Traffic noises are known to disrupt sleep quality and make falling to sleep more difficult. [25] Try using a curtain or using ear plugs if noises in your environment are preventing you from getting the sleep you need and deserve.

Alternatively, listening to relaxing music may help you feel more rested.[26] We have a list of 36 Songs That Will Put You to Sleep for you to check out.


Exposure to blue light beaming from your phone or laptop later in the day can throw off your body’s biological clock. [27] With the presence of blue light from your phone, laptop and various other screens, you might find it hard to avoid!

Try out these strategies and it may be easier than you think:[28]

Wear glasses with blue light lenses

Cut-off screen time at least an hour before bed time

Use red or orange reading lamp by your bedside, or even candlelit

You can also check out our 10 Best Sleep Masks for a Good Night’s Sleep to see how you can block out even more unwanted light.z