What To Do When You Can’t Sleep

Unlocking Restful Nights: Strategies for Overcoming Sleep Problems with Therapy Group of DC

If you toss and turn or wake up in the middle of the night, you know how hard it can be to have trouble sleeping. While there can be benign causes for lack of sleep, like drinking too much caffeine or having jet lag, there are some issues that may require medication or treatment to resolve. At the Therapy Group of DC, we have years of experience working with patients who need to get better sleep at night. In many cases, a trusted healthcare provider is the partner you need to improve your sleep habits. That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive blog post to help you get the sound sleep you need.

A woman is fast asleep under a lush brown comforter

Common Causes of Sleep Problems

There are many causes of sleep problems, which can make it hard to identify what’s causing your sleeplessness. Fortunately, we’ve learned a lot about how to address these issues, so you can get the relief you need. The first step is always going to be to get to the root of the problem so you can get a good night’s rest.

Sleep Disorders

So, let’s talk about sleep disorders. There are numerous sleep disorders that can naturally, affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. They can also cause you to wake up in the middle of the night or develop sleep anxiety before bedtime.

  • Insomnia: One of the most well-known sleep disorders is insomnia, which is characterized by trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. It can make you feel exhausted and irritable and impact your mood and productivity.
  • Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea is one reason why you may wonder what to do when you can’t sleep. It occurs when your breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. This interruption in breathing can last for a few seconds to a few minutes and usually results in loud snoring or choking sounds. Sleep apnea can lead to poor sleep quality and disruptions throughout the night, causing excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and even an increased risk of heart disease if left untreated.
  • Restless Legs Syndrome: People with RLS have an uncontrollable urge to move their legs, especially at night. Uncomfortable or painful sensations often accompany this.

If you’re concerned that you may have one of these conditions, the best thing to do is to see a sleep specialist.

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Mental Health Conditions

Numerous mental health conditions can cause a lack of sleep, leading to a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and worsening mental health symptoms.

  • Anxiety: Symptoms of anxiety include racing thoughts, worry, and restlessness. This makes it challenging to learn how to fall asleep when anxious or stay asleep throughout the night. Treating your anxiety can involve medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.
  • Depression: Many individuals with depression experience insomnia, characterized by difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early, or having restless sleep with frequent awakenings. Conversely, some individuals may face hypersomnia, where they sleep or nap excessively but still feel tired and lack energy. A therapist can assist you in finding coping mechanisms to manage these symptoms so you can work toward more restorative, quality sleep.
  • Bipolar Disorder: Mood disorders like bipolar can affect your sleep routine as well. During manic episodes, individuals may experience a decreased need for sleep and have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. On the other hand, during depressive episodes, they may have hypersomnia, feeling constantly tired and needing excessive amounts of sleep. Disrupted sleep patterns can upset the balance of their mood and exacerbate symptoms.


If you’ve ever wondered what to do when you can’t sleep from stress, you know that stress and sleep share a symbiotic relationship. When we’re stressed, our bodies produce cortisol, which is a hormone that activates the “fight or flight” response. The spike in cortisol can make it impossible to relax and get good sleep, which will lead to a lack of sleep quality and additional sleepless nights. When we have stress in our daily lives, it can also prevent us from winding down in other ways, like triggering negative thoughts or disrupting the sleep-wake cycle.

Lifestyle Factors

You do have to evaluate your lifestyle if you’re trying to end your sleep troubles. That means getting into healthy habits before bedtime and making smart choices throughout the day that won’t compromise your sleep quality. Regular physical activity is an integral part of that. Recent studies have shown that exercise can even be beneficial for those with anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental health conditions. Try to find an activity that you enjoy and work it into your schedule at least a couple of times a week, that way you’ll be more likely to stick to it.

Continuing to think about your daily habits with regard to what to do when you can’t sleep and what you eat and drink matters a lot too. For example, you should never drink energy drinks, caffeinated beverages, or sugary drinks late in the day or take any medications containing stimulants later than you’re directed to. Heavy meals at night can make it harder to sleep as well.

Importance of Sleep Quality and Sleep Hygiene

Your goal should be to elevate your overall sleep hygiene when you’re having trouble sleeping. Sleep hygiene refers to practicing habits and routines that promote healthy and restful sleep. It involves adopting a consistent sleep schedule, creating a healthy sleep environment, and following good sleep habits that are conducive to getting better rest. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, helps regulate the body’s internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm. This consistency allows the body to anticipate sleep and wakefulness, ensuring a more restorative and refreshing sleep experience.

You need to take practical steps like avoiding stimulating activities, such as browsing your smartphone, using a laptop, or playing video games, in the hours leading up to your bedtime routine. Instead, it is advisable to engage in a relaxing activity, such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing meditation or deep breathing exercises during your nightly routine. These relaxation techniques help calm the mind and prepare the body for sleep.

Creating a healthy sleep environment is another key component of good sleep hygiene and figuring out what to do when you can’t sleep. This involves ensuring the bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. Reducing exposure to noise, light, and excessive heat or cold can significantly improve the quality of sleep. Additionally, having a comfortable mattress, pillows, and bedding can also contribute to better sleep.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation

One of the most immediate effects of not getting enough sleep is fatigue and daytime sleepiness. Without enough sleep, our bodies and minds cannot function at their full potential, leading to decreased concentration and cognitive abilities. This can impair our ability to perform tasks efficiently and can even be dangerous, particularly when driving or operating heavy machinery.

Lack of sleep also takes a toll on our mental health. Studies have shown that it can lead to mood swings, irritability, and increased stress levels. It can contribute to the development of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Prolonged sleep deprivation can also affect our immune system, making us more susceptible to illnesses and infections. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to a higher risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Furthermore, sleep deprivation can negatively affect our memory and learning abilities. During sleep, our brain processes and consolidates information gathered throughout the day. Without enough sleep, this consolidation process is disrupted, leading to difficulties in retaining and recalling information. Poor sleep has also been associated with slower reaction times, impaired decision-making skills, and reduced creativity.

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Resolving Sleep Problems With Effective Treatment From the Therapy Group of DC

At the Therapy Group of DC, we have in-person offices in DuPont Circle if you need to find out what to do when you can’t sleep. We’ve also expanded our online and teletherapy options throughout our network of practices. Our therapists can help teach you about many techniques and sleep tips so you can boost the quality of your sleep and stick to a consistent sleep schedule. Some examples of techniques you can use to get your sleep schedule back on track include:

  • Talk Therapy
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Deep Breathing Exercises
  • Meditation
  • White Noise or Soft Music
  • Journaling

Over-the-counter medications like melatonin are used by many, but you may need prescription drugs to address certain sleep problems or health conditions. Medications can have side effects and they should only be taken under the supervision of your healthcare provider. They can ensure you remain in good health and monitor any symptoms or behavioral changes that you may need to be aware of. Finding the underlying cause of your sleep problems is the only way to get long-term relief from insomnia and guarantee that you get a restful sleep each night.

Whether you need to know what to do when you cannot sleep because of anxiety, how to fall asleep when stressed, or how to make effective and simple changes to your nighttime routine, you can turn to the experts at the Therapy Group of DC for assistance. Don’t keep living with your sleep difficulties, particularly now that you know how much they can impact your health and quality of life. Get in touch with us today, and you’ll be on your way to finding out what to do when you can’t sleep at night and getting a better night’s sleep!

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