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Sick of counting sheep? Five not-so-obvious causes of sleepless nights

It’s one of the more unfortunate facts of life, but everybody has an occasional sleepless night. You lie there tossing and turning, wondering what time it is, and wishing that you could just fall asleep already! Sometimes those still-wide-awake-at-3:00am moments seemingly happen for no reason at all, but other times they are due to factors that you can control. And knowing some of the reasons behind why you can’t fall asleep means that you can take steps to guarantee quicker trips to dreamland in the future.

  1. Lazy Weekend Mornings: As lovely as it is to spend some extra time in bed on Saturdays and Sundays, doing so can throw your internal body clock or circadian rhythm way out of whack. Think of how off-kilter you feel when switching time zones—the same thing happens here. Keep your weekend wake-up times close to what they are during the week and you’ll find it easier to fall asleep at an appropriate time come Sunday night.
  2. Rich dinners: Meals that take a lot of time to digest, like those high in fat and protein (cheeseburger, anyone?), can keep your body up working, which makes it harder to fall asleep. Opt for a lighter dinner, especially if you tend to eat later in the evening.
  3. Caffeine: You may think that an early afternoon cup of joe isn’t doing any damage, but it can actually still have an impact on your sleep cycle. Believe it or not, caffeine can remain in your system for up to 15 hours or more. A better plan: Have your coffee or tea first thing in the morning and stick to caffeine-free beverages for the rest of the day.
  4. Too many bodies in a bed: Sharing your sleep space with another person or pet can seem like a wonderful idea, but it can make it really tough to fall asleep. That’s because when your partner or pup shifts positions or snores, you end up being the one who stays awake. If you just can’t give up the sleeping arrangements, consider scaling up a bed size to give everyone more wiggle room.
  5. The temperature is all wrong: You may not realize it, but there’s a perfect environment for snoozing well and it’s a room temperature between 60 and 67 degrees. Anything too hot or cold can keep you up.

Nipping sleepless nights in the bud is important because having trouble falling asleep can escalate quickly into a more serious problem. The more tough nights you have, the more anxiety you feel around bedtime, and the more difficult it becomes to fall asleep (which makes you more anxious, which makes it tougher—see the endless, negative cycle?). If you start to feel stressed about still being awake, get out of bed and try to relax (reading, taking a bath, or listening to music can help get you to a calmer place). Only go back to bed when your eyelids feel heavy.

One quick note on sleeping pills and supplements: You might be tempted to start taking them, but keep in mind that they don’t always cure the root of the problem. In addition, drugs that induce sleep are not without their risks and even melatonin, which is natural, can negatively interact with other drugs that you might be taking. So don’t use a sleep aid without first talking with your doctor.